RESTORATIVE CONFLICT RESOLUTION
WE SUPPORT YOU TO HAVE THE COURAGE TO CONNECT TO RESOLVE CONFLICT
ACCESSIBLE, AFFORDABLE, ENGAGING
WE SUPPORT YOU TO HAVE THE COURAGE TO CONNECT TO RESOLVE CONFLICT
ACCESSIBLE, AFFORDABLE, ENGAGING
There was a knock on my door. “Have you a minute?” Lisa said as she edged open my door. She looked angry. Very angry actually. “Of course” I said as I put down my pen, swung around towards the empty chair in the corner and gestured for her to take a seat. I took a deep breath and braced myself for the SFD.
The “Shitty First Draft” as Brene Brown (a shame and empathy researcher from Texas USA) calls it. Brene, if you don’t know her, is my favourite story-teller and knows just a little bit about shame, blame, and leadership. Her teaching tells us so much about how to be restorative when working with teams, complaints, and breakdown in effective communications.
The Shitty First Draft. We all have it. We all do it. We all need it. It isn’t a judgement on you as a person if you have lots of them. I have a library of them – all unpublished. If you ever see me driving the M2 in Northern Ireland you’ll see me orating them in the car. Every. Single. Day. My husband to be, JP, is a seasoned audience of my SFD’s. Patient, kind, generous of spirit, and one of the best reflectors I know, he is my editor of SFD’s.
The Shitty First Draft is your first and most emotional response to an event which threatens some sense of your security. They are usually gift wrapped in past pain, insecurities, fear, and tied with a colourful bow which reads “I’m not good enough.” And before you think this is a gift just for the girls. It isn’t. Guys have Shitty First Drafts too. They just don’t talk about them as much as girls do, which is a great sadness to me considering the suicide rate in men and the raft of research which suggests that women’s propensity to tell their SFD to, well just about anyone who will listen (including a random granny at the bus stop who just asked how your day was going), is a protective factor in mental health. We all need an editor for our SFD’s, and good leaders accept this (often unacknowledged) responsibility with the wisdom that it will build stronger and more resilient employees. It is the “support” function of your leadership role.
Lisa sat down. She took a deep breath and said:
“I hate working here. I am so fed up with this. Do you know what they did?”
“To You?” I asked, checking myself against the fourth rule of braving leadership – Vaulting.
“Yes to me!” she replied
“Ok, good,” I thought, we were within the boundary of talking about things that belonged to Lisa to talk about. In practicing restoratively, "Vaulting" is keeping confidential things that are spoken to you, but which do not belong to you, and equally important, not listening to things that are spoken to you which do not belong to you or the person talking about them. It goes to the core of integrity – of being trust-worthy. Bottom line is if you or the person talking to you, isn’t involved in the trouble you are sharing, if they don’t impact you or them in some way – then mind your own business and frankly, stop being a gossip.
And so out it came, the SFD, words tumbling over each other. How, ever since she had spoken out against the expectation that everyone should work overtime, and she had chosen to not work overtime, because she had children to care for, “they” had ignored her. Whispers fell to silence when she walked in the room, covert looks were passed over shoulders and although nothing was said, she could feel the judging stare as she packed up her bag at 6pm every evening and left the office.
“They’re bullies – they don’t understand what it is like to juggle children and work. I’m going to put in a grievance.”
Now the Shitty First Draft is a double-edged sword. They are dangerous if they become your truth. And they become your truth through unchecked repetition either to yourself or to others. And so this effective and crucial leadership skill of processing the SFD is not just for managers and HR. Everyone should be trained in it. Because often we choose to tell SFD’s to selective people whom we know will agree with us, we keep them secret from people who will actually process them. And yet, in organisations that have great leadership, the task of processing the SFD is a cornerstone in building a compassionate culture, where creativity, solutions, harmony and collaborative productivity resides, and avoiding the shaming, blaming culture where those things come to die.
The unarguable pre-requisite for the SFD is permission to tell the SFD in the first place, safely, and without fear of judgement that you are “hysterical,” “weak,” “a complainer,” “can’t cut it”, or you “need to grow a set.” Don’t even get me started on what the “set” to be grown is… Balls? Breasts? Both? Neither? Who knows? But the message is clear, “you are less than when you express feelings.” The list of judgements which can come on the back of the SFD when your team are not explicitly trained in the value of it, in the right place with the right people, is long and often the experience is harsh, punitive and destructive.
Now, I’ve covered permission giving and receiving as part of trustful container building before, so I won’t labour it again here. You can read it on our blog here, and learn a quick exercises on how to build it in the resources section of our website here. But let’s talk about what you should do when someone brings you their SFD.
Listen to the SFD
Unfettered. A little like a tummy bug that needs to be expelled from the body, just let them get it out. Don’t try and work out what is in it just yet. Just let them say it out loud. I use lots of these:
Tell me more
Can you say more about that?
This takes a wee bit of time, so remember your boundaries. If you don’t have the time right there and then, schedule a time and acknowledge the importance of respecting their story enough to give it time.
Acknowledge and Empathise with their feelings
Acknowledge and empathise with the feelings they are expressing. Naming them is important in building emotional literacy so that they are able to verbalise the emotion rather than demonstrate it. Did you know that only 20% of adults can name more than 3 basic emotions to describe their feelings? That means 80% of us can only name, 1, 2 or 3. And when we can’t verbalise a feeling, we tend to act it out in the manner of a 3 year old stamping their foot.
Find the emotion. Name it. Check it. Without stepping over the boundary, into their feelings (sympathy). So lots of these types of acknowledgements:
"This sounds really difficult for you – you feel treated unfairly, I understand how angry you are."
"I hear you saying how rejected you feel."
"You sound hurt and isolated."
But never this:
“I know exactly what you mean, I felt totally furious when that happened to me. It’s horrible isn’t it?”
This is sympathy. Not helpful. Because now you are both wallowing in the SFD and sinking fast.
Reflect and reframe the basis of their feeling as a consequence of their unmet needs
Learning how to reframe SFD’s as having an impact on your needs as is a key skill in restorative practice. We have a very snappy title for it – “Restorative Language.” Good eh?
Different to blaming language, where the feeling is connected to the other person’s behaviour, in restorative language we connect the feeling to our needs. Identifying your needs which are impacted by someone else’s behaviour, allows you to express much more clearly what is and isn’t a boundary for you in a concrete, professional and assertive way. The difference can be seen in Fig 1 & 2 below.
Restorative Language follows a very simple formula.
For example you might say in response to Lisa’s SFD:
“So when Julie and Aoife stopped talking as soon as you came into the room you felt hurt and suspicious because you need to feel like you belong in this workplace too and if there is a problem you need to be able to address it transparently?”
“So when you pack up your bag in the evenings, you feel judged because you need to be valued for the work you do when you are here and not for the choice to put a boundary around your home life?”
The above way of reframing feelings as connected to our needs rather than someone else’s behaviour helps us to feel more in control of ourselves, express our needs more clearly and take the personal out of what often feels (and sometimes is) very personal to us. Often we go straight to blaming language which connects our feelings to their behaviour and sounds more like this:
“Every time I walk into a room and they stop talking they make me feel like crap.”
This contributes to a sense of not having control over our own feelings because we have given power (in our heads) to someone else to “make us” feel something. And of course this just isn’t true. So having someone help us to make sense of that SFD and start to identify which needs of ours have been offended or infringed upon helps us to identify what we then can do about it.
Bridge the Gap With Them
This is where you help the person to identify what request they must make to best secure their needs being met. It’s the “would you be willing to…” request made clearly and directly after an assertive assessment of how what is currently happening is impacting on their needs.
So the above restorative statement above extends to become:
"When you stop talking as soon as I come into the room
I feel hurt and suspicious
because I need to feel like I belong in this workplace too.
If you are upset with me, would you be willing to talk about it privately with me? "
Of course, when you do this you are making yourself vulnerable to a refusal, a further rejection. This is the bit that takes the courage. There are some things you can do to maximise the chances of the person agreeing to your request.
In my experience, when you use this very clear way of communicating, taking radical responsibility for your own needs in expressing what the problem is for you, instead of pushing your feelings back onto them, I have found people generally work in harmony with you. Of course not always. So let's look at 3 possible outcomes:
When this last example happens it is disappointing but surprisingly it won't bother you anywhere near as much as you think it will. It has less power to impact you, because you now know this is about them and their issues and not you or yours. Because for you, your SFD is no longer tied up with the bow that reads “you are not enough as you are,” and that shaming message, at the end of the day, is most often the real crux of the problem.
LJ Sayers is a restorative practitioner and trainer, a mum, a partner, a mediocre saxophonist, and the chief quality controller of all chocolate in her household.
Relationships are difficult. Even good ones. I want to tell you a story about a young person I worked with, had a great working relationship with in fact, but which went horribly wrong one wet afternoon in August..
I'd been working with this kid for nearly two years. He was a great kid, but had a lot of difficult trauma in his background. He arrived at the office for a meeting and it was as clear as the nose on your face that he was under the influence of something. He was disorientated, paranoid and angry, but couldn't quite explain what he was angry about. Now bearing in mind I was a seasoned Social Worker of nearly 15 years at this point, I did the one thing you should never do when a person is in a state of anger. I told him to "calm down." I know. Let's all do the eye roll and accept we are not perfect. His explosion was immediate. A torrent of abuse let rip at me in front of colleagues, members of the public and other young people, and as he left the office he spat on me. A great, big, wet, gob that landed right in the middle of my face.
I was stunned. It was public and I felt so humiliated. To put you in the picture, my ego and pride had a big part to play in how I experienced this damning display of rejection by a young person I was fond of, I had built a good working relationship with and whom I had worked hard to support. My humiliation came from three places.
Sometimes these are the hardest humiliations to recover from. The one's where people you have connected with suddenly and confusingly disconnect from you. In the interests of radical responsibility let's break down what my part was in this.
Trying to tell someone what you want them to feel instead of connecting, empathising with them and reflecting what they are presently feeling is a sure fire way to disconnect from someone - it is a sure fire way for them to unconsciously realise that you aren't hearing their communication and it is a sure fire way for them to up the ante and communicate in an escalated way what they are feeling again in an attempt to get you to hear them - in this case with a great big gob in the face. Nil points to me.
Failure to receive communication is one of the most common reasons for misunderstanding, one of the most common reasons for escalating behaviour and one of the most important reasons to learn restorative listening skills in working with, well anyone. The ability to put aside the "story in your head" and really slow it down to listen to what a person is feeling is a lot harder than we think.
So now that I had played a part in rupturing this relationship, I had a choice. I could attempt to repair it or I could bin it. Well obviously I wasn't binning it. I had worked too hard to cultivate a relationship of respect with this young person, and I was adult enough to see that I had played a part in the rupture. This is in no way to absolve the responsibility of the young person in spitting on me, or to give him a free pass on this behaviour - it is a horrible behaviour, has a huge impact on someone's self-esteem and whilst this was before Covid, in the current climate it is dangerous.
So let's pause for a second and look at this from the shared story, the non judgement and the restorative angle. This wasn't a relationship that was ruptured just for me. This was a relationship that was ruptured for him. And while I was humiliated and impacted, so was he. We both had a part to play, we both were in the relationship together and we both had to solve it together.
I was surprised by the amount of people who were in support of "charging him with assault," Surprised, not because it wasn't assault - it was by any interpretation, but because it wasn't the most effective way forward for him or me and I thought in the field I worked in, people would get this. I needed him to hear how hurt I was, I needed to say it and have him validate it so I could move on with getting back to the business of working with him. But I suspected he also needed to explain why he had hurt me too, and have the opportunity to learn that his poor choice of behaviour does not equate to the destruction of relationships when it is framed with courageous understanding and real talk. I also knew I needed to apologise to him for missing the opportunity to connect with him and his distress, and I was pretty sure he needed to apologise to me too.
I found my support in a colleague, who also worked closely with this young person, who also had a relationship with him and knew him for better things, and who also respected the importance of restorative practice in talking about actions, harm and needs, not broken rules and laws which in no way dealt with the human beings behind the rupture. She agreed to facilitate the restorative meeting between me and the young person. She prepared him to meet me, reassuring him that this was to "sort things out" not to punish him. Reassuring him that I and she believed that he had made a mistake that he could put right, but that he needed to hear how he had affected me.
I don't mind admitting to you that I was nervous walking into the room that day. I had thought a lot about what I would say, how much I would share, how vulnerable I would make myself by telling him the truth about the feelings that I had when he spat on me and the impact it had on my family. I also knew that I owed him an apology and that put me in a vulnerable position too. It was not lost on me, just how much we both had in common walking into that room to talk to each other.
When I opened the door that afternoon, he looked up at me and the shame and regret was palpable. I put my hand on his shoulder as I passed around the back of his chair to get to mine and gave it a squeeze, trying my hardest to say "we are in this together." He put his head down.
My colleague opened the meeting, thanked us all for coming and reminded us all why we were there - not that I think any of us were in any confusion about it. He looked like he was about to bolt out of the room, so I said "I don't know about you, but I'm really nervous." His shoulders sagged, he let out a breath of air and said in a rush, "I'm so sorry." I nodded, but waited, I knew we needed to go through the process. I knew I needed to go though the process, and I knew he needed it too.
He told his story first. How a breakdown in a family relationship sent him into a tailspin, he went on a bender, took a cocktail of drugs and came into the office that day on the downward spiral of coming off them. He said he had a bleary recollection of feeling angry and that I was out to get him just like everyone else and he remembered spitting on me. "I'm so sorry" he said again. I nodded. "So am I," I replied. "I let you down, I didn't really listen to how distressed you were, I just wanted to get you out of the office before you kicked off, it's partly my fault that you lost it and I'm really sorry that you didn't feel supported by me." A range of emotions flickered over his face, surprise, embarrassment, and then reassurance. We were connected again, by the very nature that we both had a part to play in what had happened and a realisation we both needed to apologise and repair this.
I then told my story. I explained I knew he was under the influence of something because his personality was not recognisable as the young person I knew and respected. I then told him how humiliated I felt being spat on in front of my colleagues, members of the public and other young people. I explained it was because I believed I was good at my job, and nothing communicated I was a failure quite like a young person spitting in your face. I told him that the most difficult thing however, was not being able to kiss my son goodnight until after I got the all clear from the Doctor that his spit which had landed on my face and in my eye hadn't communicated any infections to me. He looked shocked and quietly said again, "I am so sorry."
My colleague, gently and quietly asked him what exactly it was that he felt sorry about it. "For you not being able to kiss your wee boy night night." I felt validated. He had completely understood that it wasn't what he had done that required the apology, it was the impact of it that required the apology. He had totally heard me and validated my right to feel hurt which told me that what happened to me shouldn't have happened to me, I didn't deserve it. Even as an adult this is so reparative. But I also felt shame. Shame that he could demonstrate this empathy and connection, yet I had failed to do it for him. Sometimes we think kids, especially boys, can't hear sensitivity, or reject it. But in a private and safe space I think it is so important for children to hear sensitivity and boys especially. I told him he had more compassion and courage than me, and I was truly sorry that on that day I had shut him down when he needed me most to listen to him. I asked him to accept my apology and he did. There were tears, to be fair it was mostly me and his family supporter, he was way too cool to cry.
If you want to learn more about the frameworks for repairing harm and thinking about the shared story, and the parts we all play in conflict when it occurs, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more, or sign up for our Online Restorative Practice in Action course.
LJ Sayers is a restorative practitioner, trainer, mum, partner, mediocre saxophonist and and chief quality controller of all chocolate in her house.
The Double Circle: A Collaborative Problem-Solving Approach
A collaborative problem-solving approach I really like and have used in the past with schools, businesses and in Justice Settings is that of the Double Circle. After all, the only thing that is better than one circle, is two circles. This works on the idea of an inner circle surrounded by an outer circle. Those in the inner circle are the people who are impacted by the problem you are trying to resolve. They might be the child, the teacher(s) and the parents, it might even be a group of staff who are struggling with changes in your school or have a problem to resolve which was identified by an Educational Inspection. Those in the outer circle are the resources. They are there to offer options to resource the plans or needs which the child, family, teachers and others in the middle identify, (see diagram below).
Much like a family group conference model, the Inner Circle meets first to talk about what problems are being experienced and what people need to move forward positively. After this has been identified, the Outer Circle joins and works to resource any needs that the Inner circle couldn’t resource on their own.
Here is an example of a Double Circle we ran at a rural Secondary School back at the end of 2019 and the action plan which the Double Circle came up with as a strategy to resolve a 16 year old girl’s truancy from school.
The Circle (all names have been changed to protect anonymity)
Crystal has been referred to Educational Welfare because her attendance at school had dropped so dramatically in the last 6 months. Her History teacher was vexed because he saw great potential in Crystal and so he asked for a circle to be offered to Crystal and her family to try and support her back into school. An early preparation conversation between Crystal and Mr O’Donaghue revealed that Crystal’s mum was suffering from depression following the death of her Grandmother, and her father was often working away, (he was a long distance lorry driver) so Crystal at the tender age of 16 was being relied on to cook, do laundry and support the younger children with homework.
In the Inner Circle was Crystal, her mother Margaret, her father Patrick, and her two aunts, Marie and Claire as well as the History Teacher Mr O’Donaghue. In the outer circle was Crystal’s Head of Year, Miss Albert, The Education Welfare Officer, Alicia, and a local youth worker, Paul.
After welcomes, introductions and reassurances at the beginning, the Inner Circle began with Mr O’Donaghue explaining why he had called the circle, speaking fondly of Crystal and her fun and bright nature in his class. He posed the question of “What’s Happening?” that Crystal was not coming to school regularly.
There was a very awkward silence and it was clear that Crystal was conflicted, her eyes darting between her mum and dad. The Inner Circle was stuck. Mr O’Donaghue tried again reassuring everyone that this was a safe place to talk and everyone here believed in the importance of all working together to give Crystal the best of themselves. But still the Inner Circle was stuck.
Mr O’Donaghue tried again – this time, working from a basic knowledge of what he knew was going on for Crystal, he shared his own story. He told everyone how as a 15 year old he had struggled to always be at school on time because his parents had separated and his dad took the only car the family had with him, so he had a 2 mile cycle to get to the bus stop. And in a rural setting, he remembered one particular day when he was furiously kicking the “pedal to the metal” only to see the back end of the bus pull away around a corner. The next day in a fit of anger he said to the bus driver “would you ever give me an effing chance – I’m trying to fit in a 2 mile cycle to get to you on time and you left 5 minutes early yesterday morning.” The bus driver, a calm and grandfatherly sort, had laughed and said “son, you should have said – I’ll give you 5 minutes leeway in future.” Mr O’Donaghue laughed as he said “I never realised it at the time, but that Bus Driver gave me the best chance I had back then – I guess none of us can do it alone.” This is a beautiful example of building common ground and connection and it was transformative. Crystal laughed, the Aunt’s laughed, even Patrick laughed, and he didn’t look like a man who had cause to laugh too often with his rough hands and his furrowed brow. There was a pause before Mr O’Donaghue asked again “What Happens in your house that makes it difficult to get out the door in the morning?”
Crystal quietly said that she just “didn’t have enough time to do everything that needed done.” By the time she had “sorted the wee one’s in the evening, made sure they had something to eat and their homework done and their clothes set out and tidied for the next day, she often missed out on getting her own homework done. Or it was sloppy and untidy.” She paused and then looking down at her hands and picking at the skin on the side of her fingers, she said “I hate being told off all the time for being careless and untidy when it’s just not true. It makes me feel pissed off most of the time and I don’t want to be here.” Mr O’Donaghue nodded and replied, “when actually you are caring for everyone a lot, that must feel very thankless and tiring.” Crystal nodded, head still down, tears splashing into her lap. Her father looked so uncomfortable, his face had turned the colour of his t-shirt, a muddy red colour. Mr O’Donaghue looked him straight in the eye and said “I can’t imagine how hard it must be to be torn between working to look after your family and wanting to be there to help your daughter cope with all she has on her plate. What can we do to help?”
Patrick looked like he would burst – he blurted out “I don’t know – it’s all fallen apart, Margaret lost her mum – it’s been really hard”, he patted Crystal’s mum’s hand awkwardly as she started to cry, “I don’t know what to do,” he shrugged. Now this is where silence is a beautiful thing, but as anyone who has sat in silence with someone else before, you know it can also tip over into feeling painful and punitive, so be careful to keep connecting and reassuring people but without stepping into the space and directing the conversation. Mr O’Donaghue held the space beautifully. He made a few reassuring murmurs and said “I know it is hard.”
Then one of the Aunt’s, Marie, explained that her sister had been struggling to cope since their mother had died last year. Mr O’Donaghue turned to Crystal’s mum and said “I know what it is like to lose someone important – I fell apart when my mum died two years ago – it is so hard to get your head above water, what can we do to help?” Until this moment, Margaret had been struggling to say that she felt deep rooted shame that she wasn’t “cutting it” as a mum, something she had always prided herself on, but she felt so angry and lost at the death of her own mother. In a waterfall of words, tears, and pain out came Margaret’s total devastation at the untimely loss of her mother to cancer. A rock in her life, the lynchpin of the family and now she felt completely desolate and lost. Mr O’Donaghue’s empathy and understanding was the catalyst to encouraging Margaret to share out loud her shame and regret that she was not able to be the mum she knew Crystal needed. When she took a breath, Mr O’Donaghue said “right now.” “What?” said Margaret. “You can’t be the mum Crystal needs right now – but you will get back there again with support,” said Mr O’Donaghue. This is a lovely example of understanding, of being real and of recognising that it is OK that we are not all perfect, all of the time. This, I think was the moment I wanted to clone Mr O’Donaghue and put him in my pocket to take to every school I ever visit.
Mr O’Donaghue then asked Crystal directly, “Crystal, what do you need to come to school in the mornings?” Crystal shrugged and then said “I need to not be tired and have had time to do my own home work.” “And what else?” said Mr O’Donaghue. “And to get my head shired” came the simple reply. (For those of you joining us from outside Northern Ireland this is a colloquialism meaning to get out of the worry in your head and have some fun and relaxation so that you can be refreshed) “Anything else?” asked Mr O’Donaghue. There was a pause before Crystal said with a break in her voice. “And I need to know mum is going to be alright.” Mr O’Donaghue nodded.
“Ok,” he said. How do we make this happen? Who can help? He wrote up the four things Crystal had said she needed up on a flipchart.
The Head Of Year from the Outer Circle suggested a referral to a bereavement counsellor, and when Crystal’s mum shook her head in rejection of the idea of talking to someone, Crystal, bolstered by the support of other people in the room, tearfully said “I can’t keep doing this on my own mum, you need to get help.” Aunt Marie then suggested that Margaret might feel happier talking to their priest initially, until she felt more able to approach a specialist support group. Aunt Marie committed to making an appointment for them to see the Priest together and going with Margaret for the first few times until she felt more comfortable. Margaret seemed more able to cope with this suggestion and agreed to give this a try.
Patrick then admitted that he had been taking on a lot of overtime in the lorry driving, because it was so uncomfortable to watch Margaret fall apart. “I don’t know what to do with her,” he said clearly uncomfortable with all these feelings flying about the room. He turned to Crystal and said “love I promise I won’t take on any more overtime, I’ll be at home more often to give you a break.”
Ms Albert, the Head of Year then suggested that perhaps Crystal could avail of the homework club which ran on Monday’s and Wednesday’s after school. It would perhaps help her to find some quiet time to concentrate on her homework. Crystal hesitated and Aunt Claire immediately said, “Don’t worry, I’ll pick the younger one’s up and take them until tea time – it’ll give you a break too Margaret, and you can focus on getting better and maybe having a tea ready for everyone when they get home.” Margaret nodded.
After listening quietly for the whole meeting, Alicia, the EWO simply said, “I am amazed at how strong you are Crystal and what a great family you have around you. I feel like you need something for yourself. To just have some fun. My own daughter attends a dance and drama group – is it something you would be interested in? Crystal nodded and Alicia offered to get the details of the group and check out any funding sources available to get Alicia registered onto a programme. Again, concerned about her mum and the younger children, Crystal hesitated and Paul the Youth Worker suggested that both the younger children attend their youth club which was open 4 nights out of 7, to give Crystal the time to chill out with her own friends and pursue the drama and dance programme if that interested her.
The circle naturally came to a close with Mr O’Donaghue asking Crystal again if there was “anything else?” Once he was satisfied they had developed a workable plan, Mr O’Donaghue asked would everyone be prepared to connect with him by phone in 4 weeks to see what progress had been made, and after gaining agreement, Mr O’Donaghue promised to send out the actions from the circle meeting.
This is what Crystal’s Circle Action Plan looked like at the end.
LJ Sayers is a restorative practitioner, trainer, mum, partner, mediocre saxophonist and an excellent chocolate quality controller.
(Credit: errantscience.com) Totally check this guy out - super funny stuff.
Impostor Syndrome, Courage and Curiosity
Leadership is tough. Brave leadership is really tough. But also worthwhile. You can lead from a place of “expertness” – the all knowing person who has all the right answers. I’ve tried this, and can I tell you, it is damn scary, very lonely, and frankly a lot of nonsense.
Because any teacher, parent or business leader worth their salt, knows that the more you learn the more you realise you have to learn. It is just not possible to be all knowing or to have all the right answers.
So, what happens when you fall into the seductive pit of “I am an expert?” Well unless you have the confidence of the single bull in the cow pen, you start to develop “Impostor Syndrome.” Impostor Syndrome if you haven’t heard of it before are the crippling feelings of inadequacy that persist despite external proof of competence. Impostor Syndrome has been my dark enemy for many, many, years and I still struggle with it today. In fact you can be guaranteed as you read this I am sitting at home repeating a gratitude mantra to myself to prevent me from falling into the dark pit of self-doubt as to whether I should have ever thought I was good enough to write a Newsletter about Restorative Practice and Themes. I think we all have it to some degree. The dark hours after an interview, or meeting, or class, when you rehash all the things you said and shouldn’t have, that you didn’t say that you should have, that you forgot, that you spent too long labouring that you… urgh - it’s exhausting!
One of the best ways to combat Impostor Syndrome is to accept that we are not experts in anything. We are just part of a team of people who have something to contribute and if you can get out of “I’m the holder of answers, knowledge and the right way to do this” and step into collaborative leadership which is curious and courageous, then you have a solid foundation to discover and create teams and projects and schools and families which will develop, create and pivot as challenges come their way. Talking about your Impostor Syndrome is a huge step towards this. You will be stunned at how many people of all genders, ages, cultures and backgrounds and of all degrees of success experience it.
There are ways to build this into your school or organisation. But be prepared, this will take effort and will be uncomfortable. Here are three of them which Brene Brown talks about in her "Daring Leadership" programme:
Name it: It's tough to do this, but the discomfort is short lived, mere seconds in fact. You might say something like: "That's one way of thinking about it, and you often have great answers, but you will lead more effectively if you can ask the right questions. We can work on this together."
Teach Curiosity: Make learning curiosity skills a priority. Like any skill, it has to be practised. I still work on this daily. Asking questions, and trying not to talk to much! There are three great books in the recommended reading list in our September Newsletter, on how to build curiosity skills (subscribe above to get this direct to your inbox).
Acknowledge & Reward the IDK's: Acknowledging and rewarding the "I Don't Know's" gives your team and children such immense power to be a learner, to be on a journey (growth mindsets) instead of in the "right" or the "wrong" camp (fixed mindsets). You can say things like "I don't know either, how can we find out?" Or "That's a great question, hey everyone, listen to this great question - what are your thoughts?" Or " Now that's a question which brings a fresh perspective, nice work - what do you need from me to follow that path?" Or " That's a brave question, thank you, I appreciate that. let's talk about this for a while."
Curiosity and Courage are my two central values. They are both hard. Curiosity requires me to give up expertness in favour of being an eternal student. To reduce my giving answers behaviour and instead ask questions like “tell me more”, “and what else?” and “how do you see this?”, and “what are your ideas on how to tackle this problem?” which inform and help others and myself to become more clear on what we have, what we need and how to go about achieving it.
Courage is even harder, it challenges me everyday to do the difficult things, to publish the newsletter, to reach out and ask someone for a referral or recommendation, to challenge a colleague who I believe is acting irresponsibly or who hurt me, or who devalued me. To tell my partner I feel less connected to him than usual, to say out loud, “I don’t feel good enough today”, to ask my son “how do you really feel about me getting married again?” and really listen to the answer!
When people are unconscious of their Impostor Syndrome thoughts they can easily fall into behaviours which are covert and hidden, to try and protect themselves by covering up mistakes, pretending to be a knower or expert in something that they just aren't, telling lies to themselves and sometimes others, and having cold clammy sleepless nights feeling the fear of “when will they catch me out and realise I’m an Impostor?”
The Harvard Business Review highlights why it is important to spend time learning about your Impostor Syndrome thoughts and understanding where they come from. (If you are interested - most of them come from our core shame and sometimes trauma, (see earlier Newsletter Articles for more on these areas). They note how a range of early life shaming messages can make some people more susceptible to Impostor Syndrome in later life. These messages are conveyed (with no malice, I should add) in schools, families and communities, when children are very young and they internalise these messages as they grow and develop into teenagers and adults. You can read the HBR article with great onward links here
For me courage and vulnerability certainly helps. These are not different things, they are the same thing, just different sides of the coin. To be courageous you have to be vulnerable. This is why when a child comes to a parent or teacher to say sorry, or is willing to just sit in the same room as someone they hurt and hear what they have to say, I am awed by how much courage they have. And, when it is a child who has no reason to trust any adult in their lives, who has been hurt, let down, rejected, scorned and humiliated most of their young lives and they still turn up in a room to face a person they have hurt and perhaps learn something very upsetting about the impact of their behaviour, I am hands down, straight up, humbled by their courage and bravery. And I tell them this. Don’t ever sniff at how much courage it takes a person to put their hand on a door handle, push it open and step into that place of vulnerability. And while we are talking about it, you don’t outgrow vulnerability when you get older. If you really practice courage then you grow towards it. Taking more risks, leading from the unknown with curiosity to learn.
In our free Online Introduction to Restorative Practices Training (click here) you can learn more about how shame and feelings of “not being good enough” impact a child’s internal world and external confidence. You will no doubt recognise your own shame behaviours and Impostor Syndrome scripts in there too! You can also learn some of the ways in which you can combat it.
You can learn more about our face to face training by contacting me at email@example.com
LJ Sayers is a restorative practitioner, trainer, mum, partner, mediocre saxophonist and excellent chocolate quality controller.
Mrs Tanner contacted me to ask for help around her Year 9 class. There is a lot of stealing going on." She went on to explain that money had gone missing on numerous occasions and complaints from parents were beginning to become a regular occurrence. "I’m pretty sure I know who it is, but I can’t prove it" she said. Do you have any ideas what we could do? "Sure," I replied. "Let's try a circle." Mrs Tanner facilitated while I supported.
Circles are a great way to address harm and conflict when the behaviour is impacting a group of people and it is especially effective when you don’t have a clear admission of responsibility. Because circles are not focused on a specific person’s actions which harmed another person or group and rather then are focused on the best interests of the group as a whole, they are really effective in situations where no one is taking responsibility.
Mrs Tanner prepared the class by explaining in their weekly class meeting was going to take part in a “circle discussion” about the upset some students had about things going missing at school. She was to advise the students that they could choose to sit out of the circle if they wanted, but she really hoped that the whole class would take part.
She explained the circle rules to her students so that they were clear about what to expect:
This is what happened.
Mrs Tanner asked the students to "Circle Up" and introduced the circle topic and the talking piece. She then phrased the first question and passed the talking piece to her left. As the talking piece was passed around the circle, the students began to share how they felt about their possessions going missing and money being stolen. They expressed their hurt, their disappointment and how it undermined trust in each other, creating suspicion even of people who probably hadn't done anything wrong. As the students began talking about what they believed might lead to someone taking things from their friends, Mrs Tanner drew out comments from her more emotionally compassionate students about some children feeling "less than" and "having less than" their peers and how difficult this must be.
The students conversations developed into a deep and meaningful conversation about how money and possessions didn't define whether you were popular or "good enough" in their eyes rather being trustworthy, reliable and loyal were characteristics they celebrated in their closest friends. Mrs Tanner chose this moment to take a short break for comfort. She asked the children to return in 10 minutes ready to address the last question of "what they could each do to reduce the likelihood of their things being taken in the future." When the class returned, the circle continued with each student asked to give examples of what they could do to reduce the likelihood of further stealing. Examples given ranged from "I could look after my own stuff better," to "I could be more watchful of my friends things for them too," to the most beautiful comment which came from a young 13 year old boy who said "I could make sure that my friends don't feel less than me just because they have less than me." There was more than one tear shed in the room that day and I don't mind telling you that some of them were mine.
I followed up with Mrs Tanner six weeks later. Not one further incident of theft had occurred in that time.
Emotional Explosions. Like wrestling a bag of wasps. What should you NOT do and What SHOULD you do?
Ever heard yourself telling someone who is as mad as a bag of wasps to “calm down?” How did that go then? Yeah I thought so. Me too. As a seasoned social worker of 20 years I heard myself say this to a young person once. And yes, I got stung. Hard.
Telling someone to calm down when they are clearly not in control of their emotions at that moment is like poking a bag of wasps, insulting their mother's, and then opening the bag! Not pretty, very noisy and someone always gets hurt!
Telling someone what you want them to feel when they are clearly feeling something else is futile. This is because all behaviour, (whether it is inconvenient, convenient, pleasant or otherwise) is communication. And if you haven’t received the message (and shown that you have received the message) then the person trying to communicate with you will escalate the behaviour until the message is received.
This is why ignoring your child’s inconvenient behaviour is just not effective. It will escalate it as they try to connect with you, or they will redirect it somewhere, sometime or to somebody else. So what can you do? Well it’s simple. To coin a catchphrase - "Say what you see". Don’t describe what you want them to feel, describe how they are actually feeling. Examples might be...
“You are furious, I can see that, what can I do to help?”
“You seem really angry with me, I’m sorry you’re feeling so mad.”
“You are so disappointed about the party being cancelled, I know, I would feel that way too, but please don’t kick the back of the car seat.”
You may have to repeat the displayed feeling several times but as you correctly identify their feeling the emotion dissipates a little each time, and as you match the newly reduced emotion with a different word, you are helping your child to connect feelings to words - you are teaching emotional literacy - a key skill for emotional regulation. Here's an example in helping a child who was picked last for the school footie team and appeared at their mother's car after school ready to kill dead things:
“You are FURIOUS!!, something must have happened, tell me about it.” And then,
“You are still SO mad, I can tell this is a really big deal for you.” And then,
“You are angry, that is understandable, you must feel hurt by being picked last.” And then,
“You are disappointed and feel left out and unimportant, and those are hard feelings. I get it. You will always be loved and included in our family.”
This builds emotional regulation and intelligence skills where your child will start to recognise that the feeling they are experiencing is disappointment not anger, or hurt, not anger, or panic not anger.
Anger is a pseudo-emotion. That is one we use to express other more complicated, vulnerable and difficult to express emotions. It is an easier emotion to express, it is effective in that it gets the attention of people and it communicates something is wrong. But it isn’t really the crux of the matter and if we are to really soothe and help our children solve their problems, we need to get to the crux of the matter. If you are interested in learning more about how to communicate restoratively and to effect better connection with your children, students or partner, reach out. We'd love to help.
LJ Sayers is a restorative practitioner, trainer, mum, partner, mediocre saxophonist and excellent chocolate quality controller.
We often see self care as an indulgence. But it really isn't. It's a routine and necessary practice to ensure the safety of our body, mind, and soul. Here are 7 simple self care tips that you can start to build into your daily routine to self care.
I know I go on and on and on about boundaries. But they are so important. Like next to oxygen itself important. Otherwise you will end up used, abused and burnt out. Set. Your. Boundaries. What do I mean by this? Plan your time realistically, schedule regular breaks, input joy and pleasure into those breaks (even if it is just one Fortnum and Mason Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookie), don't over promise and under-deliver - (it's a serious motivation killer), and learn to say NO.
Set time aside to check in with how you are feeling. You can use a simple form of restorative questions for this. What am I feeling? How is this affecting me? What do I need? How can I do this?
Plan it or Let it Go
If it is within your control - plan it. I use a simple frame to do this, (see below). If it is not within your control - Let it go!
Recognise that Fear is the Shadow of Gratitude
When we fear something it is most often because we have something of value that we don't want to lose. Turn it on it's head and shine a light on that shadow of fear by identifying what it is that you have that you fear losing. Then say thank you for being lucky enough to have that. The Gratitude Attitude.
This might mean getting up 30 minutes earlier to enjoy the first cup of tea of the day in peace and quiet. It might be a work out routine after work, or a 30 minute meditation before bed. It might even be to write a list of things you want to achieve the next day (but remember, don't over promise and under deliver - even to yourself!)
Pay Attention to Negative Self Talk
Monitor your self talk. We are prone to the negative self talk which is so subtle and insidious, but oh so dangerous at eroding our sense of value and worth. The "I can't", "I'll fail," "Who Do I think I am?" "What's the point?" language which over time translates into a sense of us not being enough. Don't do it. When you hear yourself saying negative things about yourself in your head, imagine you are saying it to your best friend. What would they say back to you? This is the advice you should listen to.
Hug it Out
This is a particular favourite of mine. I'm a hugger. And there is so much evidence out there that hugging calms the nervous system and helps us to co-regulate. Find someone to be your co-hugger, Covid bubbles permitting. (And always ask permission otherwise it's just not cool and quite possibly illegal).
LJ Sayers is a restorative practitioner, trainer, mum, partner, mediocre saxophonist and excellent chocolate quality controller.
Let's face it, if the answer on to how to move back into schools safely, meeting the education and mental health needs of students, parents, and teachers was squirrelled away in the Principal's office, not one of us would think twice about creeping in there, full on ninja style, and stealing it. And we would probably find ourselves waiting in a (socially distanced) queue behind everyone else with the same desire for answers. But what if everyone is looking to you for answers and you don't have them? You wouldn't be the first school leader who found out what was happening in your school on the 6 o'clock news. That's not a comfortable place to be.
Despite not having the answers to all the questions, there is still a need for School Leaders to lead in this journey of uncertainty and to do this in ways that are inclusive and build resilience. The first step in this journey is admitting that you don't have all the answers, but that you are doing everything you can to get the right information, and to share that fully with your staff, parents and where appropriate your students. But this is an unfolding situation and you have little idea of when or what you might be facing in the next peak. I travelled the Amazon river in my early thirties, and had a very sage guide called Julio who, when asked what sort of weather we should dress for that day, replied "all of it". And so we prepare.
Be Prepared to Collaborate
In preparation you must collaborate with the people you are leading. And not just to tell them what is happening, but to ask them where they are at right now, where their children, students, parents are at right now. What their biggest fears, worries, and wishes are going forward. And then you need to do the same with the parents, and with the children. They will all bring something different to the story, a different angle, a fresh perspective, a nugget of importance that might just be the key that opens the door to a way forward in meeting education needs alongside mental health needs.
It is tempting to diminish the need to do the ground work of mental and emotional health support in favour of getting back to basics with Maths and English, but we know from years of research that until a child feels safe and secure they cannot work on belonging and self worth. And that until they feel that they belong and are worthy, they will not have the confidence to take a risk to try something that realises their potential. Asking "What do you need from me going forward?" is a crucial question. This is not a promise to deliver outcomes, it is a question to understand needs. "Seek first to understand and then to be understood." as Stephen Covey: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People famously said.
Hold Values Close
Good leaders hold their values close at times of struggle. Get really clear on what these values are. Make sure you have buy in from your team. Make sure your parents, your staff, your children understand what they are. Is it safety? Is it life long learning? Is it safety and love? Is it striving for the best? Is it reaching your potential?
Give Permission and Promote Accountability of Others and Themselves
Good leaders also create safe spaces and permission to share needs and struggles. Now, most teachers, in fact most people, I talk to about the importance of permission do a little eye roll here. "Of course people have permission to speak openly!" they say. But do they really? Think about this. You can have the best model in the world which pushes a permission agenda encouraging you to talk openly about fears, anxieties, upsets and conflict, but if you don't cultivate this everyday, lead by example and hold others accountable when they don't protect the permission culture, you will not only completely ruin the permission, you will actually further dis-empower people to speak openly. I have seen this done with a throwaway comment made by a leader or about another staff member or pupil, denigrating them, dismissing them, or a decision they made. I have seen it done by colleagues and peers and it went unchecked by a leader. This creates fear. Fear to speak out and have your view respected, not just right now, while you stand in the room, but after you leave and are no longer there to defend yourself. And fear as a culture will create more shame and silence than you could ever imagine. Because those people watching and listening to you being denigrated or dismissed or eye-rolled at after you have left the room, will never have permission to speak their truth safely.
Listen, Listen and Listen
Good Leaders organise time to consult with everyone. To seek out the views of everyone, not just the talkers and the confident kids and parents. To find ways to hear what the less communicative students, parents and teachers think. Provide different ways to be heard, publicly, anonymously, verbally, in writing, through text, phone call, the means of soliciting the views of others are many and varied. Two ears one mouth. Enough said.
Are Kind to Themselves
This is by no means the least important. Good leaders know that they have to self care. They know that a burned out leader is as much use as a handbrake on a canoe. Take regular breaks, ensure you have a day when you aren't taking phone calls, writing contingency plans, measuring out 1 metre distanced desks or developing strategies for the toilet run. Whether you have a faith or not, keep one day sacred. For you.
LJ Sayers is a restorative practitioner, trainer, mum, partner, mediocre saxophonist and excellent chocolate quality controller.
Do you ever find yourself standing in front of people, holding your breath, trying very hard not to say the words that you are feeling? Me too.
I don't know about you, but for me these moments are laced with fear. Fear that I will burn my bridges, get my card marked, appear like a victim, appear like a bully, lose control, be wrong, be right, cry, stumble, say the wrong words, be laughed at, be ridiculed, be rejected, excluded, humiliated. The list goes on, and it is long!
Our biggest challenge to speaking our truth is our belief that being vulnerable is weakness. Vulnerability, that moment when you put yourself out there with no safety net, risking judgement and rejection is not weakness, it is courage beyond belief. Practising that courage is painful. But there are boundaries you can work within to survive doing this hugely important but difficult work in yourself and with others.
LJ Sayers is a restorative practitioner, trainer, mum, partner, mediocre saxophonist and excellent chocolate quality controller.
In this case example from a primary school in Northern Ireland, Ms Creighton, shows how a problem solving circle can be used to harness the cooperation and collaboration of a group of children. The first skill I love about Ms Creighton's example is her self awareness that her feelings of irritation stem from her own needs being impacted and her recognition that the children's chatter was simply inconvenient at that point in time and that in other circumstances their engagement with each other would have been very convenient). Turning away from the blaming approach she engages her second restorative skill, the grace to invite the children in to solve the conflict of needs that they were in together, together.
The noise in the class had risen several times and Ms Creighton was struggling to hear the children reading at the front of the class. She was feeling frustrated, distracted and more than just a little stressed. She could feel her anger rise. She checked her emotions and quickly asked herself three questions. "What do I need?", "Why do I need that?" and "What happens if I don't get it?" She took a deep breath and moved to the front of the class.
She raised her voice slightly, smiling and said "Girls and boys! Let's circle up." Without any fuss, the children, all around 7 or 8 years old, shuffled forward and sat in a haphazard circle. All eyes on Ms Creighton, she said "I have a problem and I need your help." The kids gazed at her. She continued, "I love it when you talk about your work, but at the moment the noise in the room is so loud that I can't hear your friends reading to me and I need to be able to hear their reading so I know how they are doing. Can you help me solve this?"
The children began to talk, one after the other moving clockwise around the circle. "We could put our fingers on our lips Ms." "We could whisper Ms." "We could put our heads down and go to sleep for a while Ms" (I love this kid - he is my kind of kid).
Ms Creighton smiled and responded to each of the suggestions, "That's a good idea...that might work...not sure about that one but its a lovely fantasy isn't it? "
Then she asked the children, "How will we know if our solution is working?" Again the children made suggestions. "You will be able to hear Ms Creighton...you won't have to ask us to circle up again... the room will be quieter..."
"Excellent work boys and girls. Now one last thing, what can you all do to make sure this solution works?" One by one they all made a commitment to whisper or to be quiet. The class returned to their seats, and Ms Creighton returned to the front of the class and the children began reading again. The noise rose again, and with just a glance from Ms Creighton, a few children shushed their friends and the noise subsided again.
LJ Sayers is a restorative practitioner, trainer, mum, partner, mediocre saxophonist and excellent chocolate quality controller.
As we all begin to move towards our new normal in the school setting, teachers, children and parents, are all wondering how to manage the losses of Corona Virus and how to take forward the opportunities that have come from this experience.
Talking Circles are a great starting point. We have all experienced loss. For some of us it has been the loss of a friend or family member who has died because of the Virus and for some of us it has been a loss of connection with friends and family or the familiarity and security of our normal routine. For some of us it has been a loss of reprieve and distance from abusive family members whom we have had to stay in lock down with, or the loss of a predictable meal once a day at school.
Being able to express these losses in a safe place will be a key starting point in beginning to restore a sense of understanding, of control and of safety. Circles give teachers, parents and children an opportunity to express these losses so that we can begin to connect with each other again and find our common interest in planning ways to look after each other and heal as we move forward.
It is important to do this work before returning to the curriculum of schooling. Children, parents and teachers have all experienced an undermining of their feelings of security. And there still exists fear and uncertainty around the virus and if or how you might infect or be infected by one another. We know that when people are pre-occupied with their basic needs of safety and security, they cannot focus on engaging, problem solving or learning.
Google Classrooms, Zoom Meetings and Microsoft Teams among other digital platforms have been used to engage in live ways with children, and whilst these are great ways to communicate from distance, we must remember that for many children and parents, smart phones and digital platforms are not accessible. Poverty, poor network coverage and digital know-how, all have an impact on how accessible these formats of communication are.
So bear in mind that if you do choose to do a circle through online platforms before returning to the school room, take note of those children or parents who did not, or were unable to join and make sure you connect with them to ask the same questions, even if this means doing a "socially distanced" circle in the first week of a return to school. And don't forget your teachers, classroom assistants, and support staff.
Some Guiding Principles
Here are some suggested questions, loosely based on the restorative script which will help guide your discussions.
Don't forget to highlight the Circle Agreements for everyone before beginning. There are many variations of these, but as a core set of agreements I like:
Stay safe, and take care of each other, LJ
LJ Sayers is a restorative practitioner, trainer, mum, partner, mediocre saxophonist and excellent chocolate quality controller.
A famous and experienced pianist took a break in the middle of a concert to chat to his audience. Whilst chatting, a child ran onto the stage and began to bash away at the piano, to the wide open mouths of the audience. The pianist, smiled, turned and sat down beside the child. Then he began to play alongside him. Using his competence and knowledge of the piano he began to compliment the notes the child hit, building on them and the beginning of a beautiful song emerged. The child smiled and played more intently, listening to the famous Pianists notes, watching his fingers, copying his riff’s. They played for a few more minutes before they stood up together and took a bow, connected by their shared music and attached to each other in this new relationship of collaboration.
Teaching is just like this – as is any role where you provide discipline (from the Latin verb “to learn”). But how you do, and who does this is up for grabs. I’m a pancake wizard. It is my calling on this earth to provide perfect and yummy pancakes. On our kitchen wall it is written “I love you… I made you pancakes.” I started to teach my son how to make them when he was about 5. Now he will remind me regularly, “butter in before the milk or it will go lumpy.” He’s nearly 10 and he is still mastering the “flip” but he’s getting there and nowadays we eat more pancakes than we do clean them up off the floor. Progress. Learning. But he also teaches me things. Like yesterday he taught me how to build my dream home in Minecraft. It has two, completely glass walls overlooking a lake below. I doubt very much if it is architecturally secure, but it looks amazing.
One of my step-sons (to be), given a reprieve from GCSE’s this year because of Corona-Virus, took on the challenge of supervising my 10 year old’s school work while I am out working. He is remarkably good at it and is now nick named “The Professor”. I watched his style – he was all “I don’t know J, let’s try it out together and see if it works.” Curiosity and Collaboration – two of the most important things in learning.
Whether it is the story of the pianist you remember, or the pancakes, or of 16 year old’s supervising 10 year old’s school work, remember that learning discipline works best when you use curiosity and collaboration alongside the expectation to discipline – when you are “with them in it.” If you are interested in learning more about social discipline styles and the impact they have on a child’s capacity to learn as well as on the environment in which they learn be that the classroom or the kitchen table, then check out our online Introduction to Restorative Practices in Education Settings here: https://sayers-training-services.teachable.com/purchase?product_id=1951147
Group Discounts are also available – just contact Linda on 07805093965 to find out more.
Why do we find it so hard to say no? Being a “people-pleaser” I have struggled with this all my life. And I don’t mind telling you it has landed me in some difficult situations, some of which were just downright risky. So why is it so difficult to just assert our true feelings about something and say “No – I disagree,” or “No, Don’t Do that to me,” or “No, I won’t do that for you.” Why are we sometimes so loose with our personal boundaries? Let’s dial back a few years to unpick this a little.
Toddlers are switched on. They get that they can say no and so they do. Without fear or favour. Just “uh uh.” “Nope.” “Not happening.” “NO!”
And then a few months after we are through with the dramatic eye rolls and chuckling to our friends about how cute wee Callie is saying “no” to everything like she is practising for government, we suddenly realise that shit just isn’t going to get done if wee Callie says “no” all the time.
And so we begin to “socialise” them. We manipulate their needs and behaviour for our convenience and we teach them that “no” is not a desirable word. That it isn’t nice, it’s wrong, perhaps even bold. We teach them not to make a fuss, to just button that lip and get on with it. We teach them that grown up’s, people who are bigger than them, have the final say about whether their “no” really matters or not.
Now like all parents, we don’t get a manual, we often haven’t a clue what the hell we are doing and mostly we are just repeating the histories of our own childhood. We think we are teaching children how to be sociable, how to get along in life with others, but really what we should be doing is teaching them how to explain why they don’t want to go to bed, put down the video game, share their favourite toy, kiss their auntie (don’t get me started on emotionally coercing your kids to kiss random relatives that they don’t want to), or why they don’t want to take their pants off their head.
Instead we skip this step and go straight to the convenience of a quick fix. A guilting and shaming of the “no” word, of exercising the right to make a choice. We say “don’t defy me,” or “it’s naughty to not do as you are told” or (my worst one) “no one will want to play with you if you don’t share your toys.” We communicate that by saying “no” we risk disconnection or worse, rejection. And what do kids want more than anything else? To belong and connect. And so they conform. They learn to say “yes” when they want to say “no”. And big people are pleased and little people reinforce their belief that “no”’is a bad word.
At the lower end of the continuum this creates teenagers and adults who are overwhelmed by saying yes to too much, who have a fragile ego based on “if I don’t say yes to everything then I will not be good enough to be liked.” But imagine it at the worst end of this continuum. Imagine it for a child who learns not to say no when they are uncomfortable with a predatory adults behaviour, or a teenage girl or boy on a night out who doesn’t want to make a fuss and says yes when they really want to say no, to alcohol, to drugs, to sex.
Basically, we are conditioned to say “yes,” to be agreeable, compliant, obedient, helpful and facilitative. Educating our children and ourselves in how to exercise our free will (with positive loving morals) and to say “no” is an important life skill. Learning to say no has been one of the best things I have done for my self-care. I still find it difficult, but I am learning to sit with that difficulty and face down the demons of rejection and displeasure of others.
When was the first time you realised you were not colourblind? That you think, interpret, and value the world in colour? That you are also part of racial discrimination through your ignorance to be aware of it?
For me I was about 21 / 22. About to start my social work course full of ideas about how I might “change the world.”
It was watching Matthew McConaughey as a white lawyer making his final summing up in the trial of Carl Lee Hailey, a black father who shoots the men who raped and battered his 10 year old daughter. It was when he said “now imagine she is white.”
How did you feel when you watched that film? Did it highlight something uncomfortable for you?
I watched that film feeling angry and horrified about the rape of Tonya by two white men, but until those words were uttered I was unaware that I watched it as a white woman. It was very uncomfortable realising in that moment that I was inherently part of a system, an institution, a group, that saw ourselves as more valuable, important, worthy, than black people.
If we are to really change the world, it begins with admitting who you are and what your cultural inheritance has placed in you. And then working every day to change you.
Storytelling sometimes gets a bad reputation. It is seen as exaggeration, day dreaming or telling lies. But I believe story telling is more about promoting the painful or joyous parts of an experience rather than exaggeration, about visions of better futures rather than day dreaming, and about transforming a difficult experience into a desire for what it should of, or could have been, rather than telling lies.
Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of recording in the world. People used it to educate, to pass down family history, cultural traditions and moral values. Obviously over the years stories change, interpretations are made according to the culture or politics of the day, sometimes words are changed, replaced or erased.
There is an interesting challenge to be considered around the journey of stories and who it is that holds centre stage in the telling of stories that reach the masses, which change, replace or erase the words and direction of stories in history and ultimately the story that is told in future generations. When people of one race (or predominantly one race) hold this power, and we do not challenge this or push against it, we are complicit in the smelly water of generational and institutionalised racism. Promotion of the voices of others is a requirement of someone who calls themselves anti-racist or anti anything for that matter. It needs to have many positions which are “against” the predominate other. It is not a neutral or passive position.
Storytelling is a very powerful medium for communicating experiences, ideology, and desires of the past, present and future. In restorative practice storytelling is central to understanding the experiences of all involved in relationships with each other. Here are 3 ways you can use story telling within restorative practice in anti-oppressive ways.
I would love to hear your recommendations for more.
He fell over again today. I mean, how many times do I have to pull him back up again before he gets this? I think he is doing it deliberately. I have decided I’m not going to help him anymore. If he doesn’t want to learn well that’s his problem.
This is ridiculous isn’t it? Would you ever give up on teaching your child the skill to walk? No of course you wouldn’t. Behaving in a socially acceptable way, being in relationships with others and knowing how to get your needs met without harming others is a skill that needs to be learned and taught just like walking.
But still I get asked, (way too often) at what point do you stop “doing” restorative practice? At what point do you say “this just isn’t working let’s stop”. The answer is never. I always work to restorative principles and values – even when the child is not engaged in resolving the conflict or harm they have been involved in or caused. Children learn by watching, by trying and failing and making mistakes. And they do it at different paces arriving at skill mastery at different times from their peers.
I see glimmers of responsibility or accountability all the time from children who have been written off as having “no empathy”, “no conscience.” The difference? They show these glimmers with people they care about, and respect, people they have a relationship with. This tells me that the first step to teaching anything, whether it is how to walk, how to behave or how to do trigonometry, is to develop a relationship with the child first.
There is no doubt in my mind that there are children who are harder to reach and harder to teach, and let’s not get all sanctimonious here – it is never their fault, so there is no child who is not deserving of someone who will reach for them and teach to them. No child. Even the ones that drive you round the bend!
“And if those children are unresponsive, maybe you can't teach them yet, but you can love them. And if you love them today, maybe you can teach them tomorrow.” Jeffrey R Holland
If you would like to know more about how to work restoratively with children who will not engage in resolving the conflict reach out for a conversation about our Introduction to Restorative Practices Workshops or our Developing Restorative Practices Workshops. And if you just want to check out what it is all about before you commit that’s ok too, you can do this by purchasing our most popular programme of 2020 since lockdown, “Online Introduction to Restorative Practices” here:
Broken Promises – The Couldn’t / Wouldn’t Phenomena
The “Couldn’t” “Wouldn’t” Phenomena.
So what do you do when it all goes Pete Tong and the child who caused harm doesn’t do what they agreed they would? You’ve been through the restorative process and it worked really well, the two children in conflict told their respective stories, they developed understanding of what happened and how it affected each other and agreements were made to repair the harm and prevent similar harm from happening again. And then the promises get broken. The child doesn’t turn up for their therapeutic input with the school pastoral care, or they stop making the small restitution payments for the phone they smashed belonging to their friend, or they start bullying again. What do you do?
Sometimes, in fact often, these broken promises get met with the “it didn’t work – Restorative Practices are rubbish” condemnation from those who participated. And yet is this really fair? Particularly with children? What adult, as a child, hasn’t made a promise and then reneged on it, or made a half-assed effort? For that matter, what adult, as an adult, hasn’t made a promise and then reneged on it? Children are learning. They are still forming their character and moral compass as they go through life, and it is perfectly natural for them to break promises or lose motivation.
So what do we do? We hold them to account. We teach them to keep the promise, and (just in case you were wondering) it doesn’t matter if it was an important promise or not, whether it was made by a 5 year in a pinky promise, or by a 17 year old in a formal promise to pay restitution for a jacket ripped. It doesn’t matter if it was a completely unfulfilled promise or an almost fulfilled one. What does matter is that we hold them to the promise they made, in the spirit they made it. This is important not just for the person they hurt and made the promise to, but as a life skill. Someday our children will be asked to commit to paying a mortgage or rent for a home they live in. They will be asked to commit to a person to respect, love and honour them. They will be asked to commit to turning up everyday for a job that they will receive money for doing. And if we don’t teach the importance of keeping their commitment, they may well end up homeless, lonely and with no prospects. Teaching commitment is a life skill which reaches far beyond The Promise.
Let’s look at what is going on when children fail to keep a promise they made.
When children fail to keep a promise they have made there can be a variety of reasons why. It isn’t necessarily that they just couldn’t be bothered, although this is sometimes the case – I have a 9 year old and two teenage steps sons and believe me – sometimes they just can’t be bothered!
From my days back in Youth Justice, when we used Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA) to enable highly vulnerable young people to achieve, I have always found the frame below really effective in helping me to figure out how to handle a broken promise.
This basically works on two axis (the “Could Not” and the “Would Not,”) with a broken commitment or promise in the middle. The first thing we need to do is figure out why they have broken the commitment in the first place because this will direct whether we are going to be having a support conversation with them or an accountability conversation with them.
The Could Not Continuum – Capability or Crisis.
Capability is where the child has perhaps promised something which was too ambitious in the first place, or perhaps the child’s circumstances have changed and they are no longer capable of meeting the commitment in the form it was initially promised. Examples of an over ambitious commitment may be where a child promised to pay back the full cost of new blazer they ripped in a scuffle rather than pay for the professional repair of the jacket by a seamstress. Or perhaps they were making regular repayments for a repair of a school blazer they ripped, but a parent was made redundant and now his parents need most of his part time wages or pocket money, to help support the family.
Crisis is where something has happened which has temporarily prevented a child from doing something they promised they would. For example perhaps a child agreed to stay behind after school once a week, for the next 4 weeks and help the school janitor paint graffiti off a school wall, but on week 3 she doesn’t show up because her Granny was taken into hospital the night before and she had to go straight home and look after the younger kids so her Mum could go and visit her Granny.
In both of the above examples, and many more like them, a support conversation is invited.
In the first example your purpose is to either increase the child’s capability by resourcing them with the knowledge, skills or resources that they need to complete the promise they made, or perhaps by altering the boundary around the promise made – such as extending the period of time over which the child might make restitution for the damage he caused. It is never to dismiss the promise made as not important.
In the second example your purpose is to provide temporary relief of timescale, reinforce the promise made and help the child to strategise how she could have prevented this being a broken promise by sharing her crisis with a trusted staff member to ask for her day to be swapped to a different day or the timescale extended. Again, it is never to dismiss the promise made as not important enough to be followed through.
The Would Not Continuum – Commitment or "Chancer"
Commitment is where the child has lost focus on the reason why they made this promise in the first place. Commitment tends to be very high when a child is faced with the impact their behaviour has had on another person and they will most often feel genuinely remorseful and motivated to resolve the harm they caused at the time they made the promise. But we define commitment as maintaining the action to complete the promise long after the feelings, which were present when you made the promise, have passed. And in the fast paced life of a child – this can pass pretty quick! That doesn’t mean they are bad, or unaccountable, or liars, (or any other judgey-type labels) – it just means they’ve lost focus and need to be reminded through an accountability conversation.
The Chancer position is when a child is just chancing their arm to see if they can get away with not doing what they said they would. Now before we all nod sagely and knowingly and a little bit patronisingly, lets just put this in perspective. When was the last time you said you would meet your friend and go to the gym with them to get fit and then you made an excuse at the last minute because you’d had one glass of red wine / bottle of beer too many the night before? We are all chancers from time to time. It’s natural and it's physiological! The human brain is hard wired to take the easy route - it is how the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems in the body work. When something is hard the brain looks for an easier route, the path of least resistance.
The Accountability Conversation
In both of the above examples, and many more like them, an accountability conversation is invited.
In the first example your purpose is to re-engage the child with their commitment and often a simple conversation about their promise will be enough to refocus and motivate their commitment to completing the action. However, it is worth bearing in mind that this might have to be repeated several times if the commitment they made is a long term one taking place over several weeks, so I would advise (if it is appropriate) to keep reparations short and sweet and if they are longer for more serious harms, then build in a quick 10 minute review at intervals.
In the second example your purpose is to re-engage the child in the feelings they had at the time of making the commitment , taking the child back to the reasons why they made the commitment, holding their word up as honourable and asking them to respect themselves by honouring their word. Challenge the child to rise to your expectation and hopefully their own of being an honourable person who keeps their word. It is never to dismiss the promise made as not important.
Regardless of whether the conversation is a support conversation or an accountability conversation it is crucial that we hold children to account for the promises they have made. It is important that we highlight the impact that a broken promise has on us now and on them in the future. And it doesn’t matter if it is a little broken promise or a big one, or an almost completed promise or a just engaged in one – the important point is that we all need to learn to be accountable to others if we are to live in more peace and harmony.
If you would like to learn more about this way of managing conflict and holding to account in your school, you can complete our Free Introduction to Restorative Practices in Education online course here, and entering the coupon code August2020
Or you can contact Linda for more information on tailored workshops on 07805093965.
LJ Sayers is a restorative practitioner, trainer, mum, partner, mediocre saxophonist and expert chocolate quality controller.
One of the most common questions I encounter when working with educators in building restorative practice into their schools is “what do you do when a child flat out denies that they are responsible for a harm that has been caused?” This question goes to the very heart of why restorative practice is a culture that needs to be cultivated and not just an intervention applied at the point of conflict.
To understand what to do about this when it happens (and it will happen) you have to first understand the motivation behind why children (and adults) deny responsibility for something they have done that has caused harm to others. While the research on motivation for telling lies lists hundreds of reasons why someone might lie, from protecting others to tact, when it comes to school based examples there are a handful of common motivations.
This is probably the most common reason for telling a lie when a child is confronted with the direct question about what happened. If the child believes there will be a punishment following an admission then there is an increased motivation to tell a lie to avoid punishment. The lie is not an attempt to avoid responsibility (and this is an important distinction) the lie is told to avoid the punishment.
Concealing reward or benefit
In this case the motivation is to conceal the reward or benefit the child obtained by breaking an explicit or implicit rule which they were expected to follow. This could be anything from having stolen something from a peer to having peeked at their neighbours test sheet and copied the answer. This lie is told mostly to protect the self from the shaming of the person "as less than" that often follows being discovered to have done something which "is less than." Again an important distinction between "being less than" and having "done something less than."
This is a common motivation when the child feels guilt about the impact of their actions but also fears that they will be shamed for that impact, rather than understood. An example might be the child who denies they were given the homework instead of admitting that they did not have enough money to buy the supplies to complete it. Whether a child experiences having less than as shame or embarrassment is largely dependent on whether they see “having less than” (embarrassment) as an indication of “being less than” (shame). Children will work harder to hide shame than embarrassment, so always bear in mind that if you suspect a child is lying to you, ask yourself what shame they are risking in telling you the truth and how can you separate having less from being less.
I have a beautiful memory of an Art teacher at my high school who during for the last two periods of every Friday from when I was a first year until I was an upper sixth year, we painted, drew or modelled, still life of food stuffs. Fruit, vegetables, eggs, cheese and once a whole chicken still in the supermarket wrapper. And at the end of that class she would casually comment in her thick Ballymena accent (for 7 whole years) a variation of “Anyone who wants to take that off my hands would you? I’m only gonna have to bin it otherwise.” And always there was one or two pupils who would say “Sure Miss, I’ll get rid of that for you.”
Protecting someone else from harm
In this case the motivation is that the child does not want to get their friend into trouble. It might be because they can identify with their friends reasons for having acted as they did, and so in some way they approve of their actions. Or it can be that they feel the need to adhere to a “bro-code” even if they disapprove of their friend's actions. This one is difficult because on some level we, as a society, approve of the characteristic of loyalty to protect a friend from harm. This is apparent from the derogatory words we use to describe someone who does tell on a friend like “snitches”, “rats”, and a local Northern Ireland one - “tout.”
Pain is the name of the game
Ultimately the underlying purpose of all of these motivations is the same. The purpose of avoiding pain which could be physical, social, or psychological pain. Human beings are hard wired to seek out pleasure and joy and to avoid pain and distress and our brain psychology has many ways of achieving this. Therefore the temptation to tell a lie, when faced with pain as a possible outcome of telling the truth, is a very strong one and it is not limited to children. We all have the capacity to tell lies, omit truths, or deny knowledge of something when the motivation to avoid a temporary painful experience outweighs the benefit of an admission.
If children believe that your intention behind discovery of “What Happened” is to punish, shame or cause pain (physical, social or psychological – even indirectly and unintentionally) then there is a strong motivation to avoid responsibility by denying fault. The Admit Nothing, Deny Everything, and Ask for Proof phenomena is likely to be even more acute with children (or adults) where they have had life experiences which have reinforced punishment or pain as a response to admitting responsibility or being found guilty of something. This is very prevalent in cultures where community reprisals have been historically or are currently active. Children who have strong unresolved shame behaviours are highly motivated to avoid pain through any means necessary to protect their physical, social and psychological being.
But what if you build a culture where children believe your intention is not to punish, but to curiously understand what happened so you can help them to repair harm, rebuild relationships, and develop strategies to avoid future problems by meeting the needs which led to the harmful event in the first place? This sounds more complicated than it actually is. Most teachers I encounter in my training have these skills already but perhaps aren’t thinking about them explicitly or applying them deliberately in a consistent model of practice. As a result, when they are tired, their defences are down and they are “winging it,” (and lets be honest – we all do this from time to time because we are human too), then the wheels come off and we undo great progress we had previously made with children who are less confident about telling the truth and not being shamed and judged as a result. Don’t worry, if you have ruptured a relationship with a child through a momentary lapse of your superhero powers, you can repair this with daring to be vulnerable enough to admit to them that you got it wrong – and the impact of this on your relationship with them is so powerful you will wish you apologised more!
Building a restorative culture to reduce denial, lies, and avoidance?
So what are the key features of building a culture where children can feel able to risk being honest, knowing that there may be a temporary experience of discomfort but with a more permanent pleasurable outcome in the long term?
If you would like to know more, or try out some of our courses which develop the skills to practice restoratively as well as learn the restorative interventions check out our online Introduction to Restorative Practices here, or contact Linda on 07805093965 to book a workshop.
LJ Sayers is a restorative practitioner, trainer, mum, partner, mediocre saxophonist and excellent chocolate quality controller.
I remember my Dad telling me one day "parents don't always get it right." I don't remember what he had got wrong, but I remember the power that his apology had in that moment in validating a sense of injustice.
Build a child's sense of identity, who they are, what sense they make of their experiences and how the build resilience to cope with what the world will throw at them in the future, is so important. And yet as a parent I often get it wrong too. Even with all my training and experience, I still have days when I am Just. Not. Cutting. It.
I sometimes hear myself dismiss my son's concerns. Most often it is a misguided attempt to soothe his fears. But sometimes it is to "deal" with something quickly and get it "fixed" and "move on" because it is inconvenient for me to spend the time to really deal with his fears there and then.
Sometimes I feel intensely uncomfortable in just sitting with him and his fears, connecting with his worries and knowing I can't soothe them through wishing them away, but only through feeling them with him, validating and hearing him.
This article is really helpful in identifying things we commonly say to our children that do more harm than good.
In today's world where many children have so much and others so little, it has always been important to me to teach gratitude and gratefulness for the privilege we enjoy. For the many of us who have kids who want for very little - this comes with a challenge for parents. A challenge to ensure they don't become entitled. A challenge to ensure that they have what they need, but don't get everything they want. A challenge to ensure that they still understand what it is to earn something, to struggle for something or to go without, to wait and have patience, to prioritise one desire over another, to live in the real world. Because some day they will have to make their own way, hopefully teaching their own children these lessons and recognise they had privilege so that they can have gratitude for it and use what privilege they have to promote the needs of others.
Christine Carter said "If we want to be happy and raise happy kids, then we need to practice gratitude. The art of being grateful or we may end up feeling more entitled than appreciative. When we feel entitled we often stew about unfulfilled expectations. Disappointment is not a happiness habit, gratitude is."
There is a whole rake of research which shows that children are happier, healthier, more content, optimistic and more resilient when they feel gratitude regularly.
What can you do to teach gratitude? There are loads of ways but here are the 7 we use in our house.
1) Have your family count things they are grateful for. You can do this round the dinner table - we ask the kids to talk about one thing that they really enjoyed, felt good about each day or thankful for each day. What I love most about this is our relationships with each other are often the top feature in this discussion.
2) Use a gratitude jar. Fill this over the year with things that you notice about each other that you like or love. When you feel a little low, or angry or undervalued in your relationships - open the jar and share one or two of the contents with others. It will lift your spirits immediately and it's a great switch from seeing the negative in others (and yourself) to seeing the positive.
3) Lead by example. Comment on all the beautiful things you love and see in the world. Your children will start to do the same. My Dad used to do this and now I can never look at a mountain and just see a mountain - now I see every colour of purple and green and blue in that mountain. For me, I love the sunrise, autumn, that first glimpse of our home after a day at work, the smell of a peat fire, the glow of Christmas trees, the first hug of the day, the last hug of the day.....it goes on and on.
4) Get the kids to do an appreciation scrap book. Or if they are a bit older and like technology (like our three do) then give them your phone and tell them to get snap happy taking pictures of all the things they love on your family walk, around the house, out of their bedroom window, - you will be amazed at the beauty and happiness a child sees through their eyes. (I once got 436 shots of a blue and yellow trainer on my Iphone because Jacob thought they were super cool).
5) Express your thanks through service to others - it might be donating your time, your un-played with toys, your money, your skills, but giving something that would otherwise be of value to you gives children a great feel good factor. I love this pay it forward ideal. We have a Secret Santa who leaves potatoes, carrots, brussell sprouts and onions on our door step every Christmas. For the first year I wracked my brain trying to figure out who it was who made my Christmas with such a simple but generous gesture - then I realised it didn't matter who it was that did it - it mattered that I paid it forward. Now every year we select someone and under ninja like cover (great fun) we leave them a gift on their doorstep. It could be anything from warm slippers to a bottle of booze - the point is - we do it in secret and it makes us feel amazing and I know it will be paid forward thousands of time without any expectation of compensation.
6) Do something nice for the world, pets, animals, wildlife. Cook peanut butter balls for the birds, make a hedgehog feeding station, or crossing tunnel. Or you could just talk about the importance of recycling!!
7) Make a blessing table cloth or wall - we have a blackboard painted on our kitchen wall and the kids love writing messages on it. You can do this or use a white table cloth and get the kids to write the things they love and are thankful for on it. Every so often get it out and serve a fun dinner on it. Get them to sign their names and dates on it as they add to it. You can also ask visitors to do the same.
Have a great day everyone. LJ
Emotional regulation is the skill we learn to manage the occurrence, intensity and expression of our emotions.
The first step in regulating is being aware of the emotion we are feeling. Many children don't learn this skill, especially in these modern times when we are more disconnected than ever from our children's emotions, which are often played out and learned in their interactions with TV, gaming and social media. Their emotional vocabulary is becoming more and more limited and this poses a serious challenge for their ability to properly recognise what they are feeling and then managing it.
Emotional regulation is the foundation skill required to be able to then develop emotional intelligence in our children. Emotional Intelligence is the skill of being able to recognise in others their feelings and emotions and use that knowledge to think, problem solve, behave towards others and be in relationship with them.
Failure to be able to regulate emotions can create difficult behaviour in children such as anger, aggression, and anxiety leading to acting out (towards others) or acting in (towards self) behaviours.
Brene Brown points out that it is impossible to give a child what you have not got yourself so being able to regulate and manage your emotions is key for children to learn this by observing you.
She goes on to say that the job of parenting is not about "knowing it all" and teaching your children what to do. It is about being with them in their struggle, feeling with them, talking to them about their feelings and emotions, naming them, and confirming for them that they are real and normal, and helping them to build skills to problem solve these for themselves, sometimes even to just build the resilience of being able to tolerate the painful feelings. Feelings and emotions, once named and no longer kept secret and silent, lose their power to shame us. And it is shame that is the most detrimental emotion of all.
Shame. Do you have it? Here's the thing. We all do. Some of us deal with it better than others, yes, some of us are more aware of it when we experience it and process and recover from it more quickly or more whole-heartedly. But we all experience it. It does not discriminate between those who have money and those who don't, between race, religion or gender, between young or old or educated or not. It is experienced by us all, and often on a daily basis. So what is it? How does it affect us and what can we do about it?
Shame is the most base and powerful emotion we experience when something goes wrong in our lives. It has a powerful impact on our self esteem and our self confidence.
It is usually experienced in response to an event that presents evidence that we are "not good enough." These events can be anything from someone hurting you deliberately, to the loss of a loved one or the ending of a significant relationship. The message we internalise is that we are "not good enough to be loved," "not good enough to be respected," "not good enough to be protected," "not good enough to be prioritised."
The variety of ways in which shame can present in our lives as multiple, minor everyday events, or one off, major, life-changing events, mean that we cannot avoid experiencing shame. All of us. Even well adjusted adults, teachers, parents - me and you. They can be experienced at home within our families, in the community with our peers, and in school.
Take a moment to think about the last time someone communicated to you, either with their words or their behaviour that you "were not good enough." It might have been someone tailgating you on the way to work and you felt unsafe, it may have been harsh words spoken to you by your partner and you felt unloved, or it may have been someone using the last of the milk this morning, and you felt unimportant. In all of these examples, you felt "not good enough" to be protected, loved, valued.
As a result of this you will have presented a shame behaviour. It may have been very subtle or it may have been quite extreme. Shame behaviour or responses are an attempt to seek relief from the discomfort of feeling "not good enough" by behaving in one of the following four ways - what we call shame responses.
1) Denial or Avoiding, (with the purpose of not confronting the shame feeling and replacing it temporarily with another feeling)
2) Withdrawing, (with the purpose of not having to deal with the public face of the shame you have experienced or the risk of someone finding our about your private shame)
3) Attacking others, (with the purpose of discharging negative internal feelings and transferring them out of you and onto someone else)
4) Attacking ourselves (with the purpose of punishing ourselves for being not enough).
Each of these shame responses can be exhibited singularly or in combination and they can present in a range from mild to extreme. Below are example of a mild and an extreme example for each.
To Deny or Avoiding Behaviours
A mild example might be to pour a large glass of wine and ask your partner to watch escapist drama on Netflix with you so you don't have to think about whatever has shamed you, whereas an extreme example would be to engage in a serious drinking binge, or to be involved in addiction or other life risking behaviours such as poly drug misuse, joy riding. Anything to switch the feeling of shame with another feeling of temporary excitement or pleasure.
A mild example might be to take a sickie from work or school, whereas the most extreme example is to withdraw from life, to feel so shamed by an experience or set of experiences that the need to withdraw permanently and irrevocably from feelings of any sort becomes preferable to living with the feelings of shame.
Attacking Others Behaviours
A mild example might be to swear at someone under your breath, through more serious behaviours like bullying or trolling on social media. More extreme examples would be to seriously assault someone, the most extreme of all of course being to kill another person or living animal.
Attacking Self Behaviours
A mild example of attacking self would be the negative self talk, sometimes spoke aloud, sometimes just a voice in your head that says "You're rubbish at this," "You'll never get that job - don't even both applying" or "look at how fat you are" through to more extreme examples such as self harm.
Recovery from Shame Experiences - Time and Perspective
Time and Perspective are two things that assist us to recover from these shame behaviours.
Having the time to process, and recover from one shame experience before another is anticipated is crucial. This is why children sometimes have extreme reactions to minor disappointments or upsets, because they have experienced a layering of shame events and have had no time to recover from one before the next has arrived. Then when someone scratches the surface there is a gush of shame responses that come out in response to all those which have not yet been recovered. Helping children (and yourself) to build in time to process shame feelings is a fundamental self care strategy.
Being able to gain perspective is equally crucial. This is usually done in communion with others as perspective requires you to get outside of yourself and see this from another person's view point. Therefore strong and trustworthy social networks are fundamental in assisting individuals to see that there are different ways of thinking about an event that happened to you other than that you were "not worthy" of love, protection, thought, help etc.
So what can you do about it?
Shame survives in secrecy. It grows when you can't get perspective on it. So talk about it. Find a trusted other and tell them that you are feeling less than, not good enough, ignored, undervalued, not pretty enough, not clever enough, not protected, or any of the other shame feelings you have. Talking about that feeling carves out the time and space that you need to start processing it, to start measuring the evidence against the reality. And doing it with trusted others allows you to get the perspective that your own negative self talk won't let you have. And if you see someone else struggling with shame, help them to carve the space and time out in their relationship with you to talk about the feelings of not being enough, and help them to gain perspective by testing the evidence with them.
Shame has huge implications for individuals ability to meet their potential, to achieve in both your professional and personal life and so it merits thinking about what your pattern of behaviour is when you experience shame and how you process it, whether you carve out time and space for perspective. If you want to know more about shame, and how it impacts on a child's ability to learn and reach their potential, then reach out for a conversation about our restorative workshops and online training at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ever felt like your child has just unloaded a full artillery of bullets on your head just because you ran out of ketchup? Ever felt like the student in front of you hates you as he unloads reams of words that even the Urban Dictionary would have difficulty putting in print? Has it left you reeling? Bewildered? At a total loss as to what to do, say or feel?
Developing emotional intelligence in children can be an overwhelming and daunting journey. But so crucial in creating well adapted, strong and capable children.
Here are 4 first steps to begin your journey.
It can be so hard to live in the knowledge that you can’t “do” anything about the pain, struggle or challenge that the child in front of you is in. But what if you consider that your job is not to protect them from that pain, struggle or challenge, rather your job is to help them cope with the feelings of shame that come from these struggles and challenges? To enable them to gain perspective, tolerate their difficult feelings and learn that they will survive the big emotions they are currently experiencing. What if you began to realise that the most valuable “what can I do” is to empathise with what they are experiencing. Just being understood helps small (and big) humans let go of troubling emotions. If the reaction seems out of proportion then remember we all bottle up big feelings until we are in a safe enough place to let them go. And if you are that safe haven - then you are doing something right. But it can still sting like a bugger when those feelings are all laser focused in your direction at once.
Empathising doesn’t mean you have to agree with the child, but you do have to appreciate the situation from their side. They may have to toe your line when it comes to house or school rules, boundaries are important and children need them to feel safe and secure, but they are still entitled to have feelings about your rules. And as long as they aren’t breaking any other rules such as damaging stuff or physically harming people then give them a private space to express their feelings to you. And remember, what you experience as anger (a surface or psuedo-emotion) is always underpinned by a real emotion - for example hurt, disappointment, sadness, fear or frustration and sometimes in my case, hunger!! We've all heard of hangry right?
Why this encourages emotional intelligence:
* Feeling understood helps children to feel soothed. Over time that neural pathway you are teaching them to strengthen is what they will use to soothe themselves as they get older. The more you soothe them the stronger that neural pathway gets, a little like a new path that gets carved out on a trek by years of people using that shortcut through.
* Children develop empathy by experiencing it from others. Role modelling - plain and simple - children will learn more from what you do, than what you say. My son is a classic example of this, with his Autism he is a visual learner, and he is into repetition BIG time. I see and hear my behaviour in him daily often in the exact words that I use, which admittedly can be a little self confronting, especially when its a frustrated word that has slipped out and been muttered under my breath. He has ears like Batfink!
* Helping your child to think about their experiences and what happened that they feel this way about it, teaches them to connect triggers, to feelings, to behaviours. Being able to name the feeling allows them to express it which externalises it so they don’t have to bottle it up internally like a pressure cooker. When a child can say what they feel, they can communicate problems more clearly and immediately to others, which prevents the escalation of behaviour which goes a little like this. I have a scowl on my face because I am not happy. You don't see my scowl? OK, now I am stomping around with a scowl on my face because I am not happy. You don't hear my stomps or see my scowl? OK, now I am stomping around, with a scowl on my face and kicking things because I am not happy. You don't see my scowl, or hear my stomps or see me kicking things? Ok now I will scowl, stomp, and kick YOUR things. Ah! Now you notice I am unhappy. Pro tip - when you see the unhappy behaviour - name it straight away, over time children will learn it is safe to name feelings, and that when they do, things get done to help.
2) Allow expression
Don’t dismiss, trivialise or shame your child’s feelings. “Big boys don’t cry” or “shhh don’t make a fuss” are stifling responses to a child’s way to express their emotions.
Firstly it shames them, which has a very destructive impact on their self identity, and secondly it encourages them to deny the validity of their feelings. For more on this check out our training on Restorative Practices in particular the process of shame, unresolved shame and the impact on growth mindsets.
Just think how important it is in today’s environment of increasing suicidal ideation in children, that we don’t prevent our children from getting big emotions out and not bottling them in until they can no longer cope. Repressed feelings don't fade away, like feelings that have been freely expressed do. Instead they spill out uncontrollably, and unexpectedly when a child suddenly hits another child, starts to have nightmares or develops anxious behavioural patterns.
By the same token think about the message we are sending to a child who is feeling scared of a predatory adult if we teach them “not to make a fuss”. Children, especially young children aren’t able to differentiate between what is something you should make a fuss about and something they shouldn’t. Instead, teach that the full range of feelings is understandable, part of being human and have the right to be expressed, even while some actions must be limited.
Why this encourages emotional intelligence:
* Your tolerance of your child’s emotions helps your child to tolerate their own emotions too. This tolerance is what enables us to sit with the emotions until they can accept them and then move on. This is emotional regulation.
* Your acceptance enables your child to realise that emotions are not shameful or bad, and that they can with time and support change, reduce or become less acute. They also learn that everyone has difficult feelings and even the not nice parts of our personalities do not make us bad, just human.
3) Listen to your child’s feelings.
All behaviour is communication and if you don’t listen to and reflect the child’s feelings back to them, they will continue to express their feelings in every escalated ways until the message they are trying to communicate lands and you get it.
Once they feel they’ve been heard, they will let them go and get on with their life. This means creating an environment in which your child feels you are genuinely present and listening to them. So put the phone away, turn the TV off, ask the question.
Why this encourages emotional intelligence:
* The natural flow of human emotions is like a surfers wave. They flow through us, overwhelm us, and then fade away again. My previous post on grief, loss, divorce and corona virus deals with an example of how important and effective it is to listen to and name a child's difficult feelings. When we deny them they get stuck inside us. Children are not yet skilled in handling their strong emotions, so they try to avoid them until they feel safe enough to experience them.
* When we help our children feel safe enough to feel and express their emotions, we not only relieve the toxic stress they are experiencing in their brains and bodies, but we also help them trust their own emotional capabilities, so that they can handle bigger stuff like social and intimate relationships as they get older, without destructive tantrums or repression.
4) Teach problem solving
Emotions are messages to communicate needs and wants. Teach your child to tolerate the emotions so they can express their needs and wants while realising they may not have them all met all of the time, and once they aren’t in the grip of intense emotion anymore, to problem-solve and take action if necessary.
Most of the time, once the child feels their emotions are understood and accepted, they quieten and lose their intensity. This creates space for problem solving.
Sometimes, kids can do this themselves. Sometimes, they need your help to formulate possible options. Resist giving them the answers unless they ask or there is an immediate safety issue as this communicates that you believe they are incapable of handling it themselves and this will create a fixed mindset of “can / can’t” instead of a growth mindset of “can’t yet.”
Why this encourages emotional intelligence:
* Children need to practice how to find constructive solutions to problems and that means we have to model it for them and allow them the space to struggle.
* Research shows that empathising with children is not enough because they still feel lost and overwhelmed in their their emotions. Teaching them to respect their feelings as alerts about things they need to do differently in their lives increases their sense that they have the ability to influence and change their experiences. This personal power (so important for every human being's sense of safety and security) or self-efficacy is crucial in children feeling capable, confident and empowered.
LJ Sayers is a restorative practitioner, trainer, mum, partner, mediocre saxophonist and excellent chocolate quality controller. You can contact her for more information on training and consultancy services at email@example.com
My favourite film is "It's a Wonderful Life." I think the story of how Clarence (the Angel for those who haven't seen it) shows George (the suicidal hero) how many lives he had touched and what those lives might have been like had he not been there to touch them. Whilst a wildly fantastical film, there is so much truth in the lesson that "you don't always know the impact you have on others." Sometimes you will be lucky enough to find out in your lifetime. Sometimes you won't and it will be your children or grandchild that hear the stories of the impact you made. All you can do is make sure that whatever you do in this world, you try as best you can to make a good impact on those around you.
My high school was an excellent school. The teachers were genuinely interested in children and I have more that one memory as a young teenager of teachers who reached out to sensitively support children who were struggling. I am immensely proud that one of those teachers who is thought of so highly is my own dad. I am also so glad that he is still with us to hear the gratitude for the impact he had on others. Social media is not all bad!!
This morning I woke to a conversation in which I was tagged in Facebook. It lifted my spirits and I immediately reached out to Bobbie to ask if I could share. This is what Bobbie had to say:
..."At Ballycastle High I was in Glendun and our house colour was yellow. I never did Physical Ed, I managed to get out of it. So in first year I would spend most of my time in the greenhouse at the back of Mr Saywers (sic) class. He was very good to me and did his best to teach me some common sense and initiative. I learnt a lot there and I would like to say thank you to him for going the extra mile with me and having the patience and determination that he had to reach out to me and give me the confidence and strength to redefine myself rather than being defined by my illness....he taught me to have some initiative and in all honestly when I think back it was much more worthwhile I didn't do PE and much better for me that I was in the greenhouse instead....I really appreciate everything he did for me...he also taught me to have respect for others." Bobbie Gibson.
I am immensely proud of the teacher my dad was (and still is to my son - and well - also me). I am thankful that he gets to hear how he touched the lives of others.
Tell me - which teacher made the biggest impact on you and how?