Monday, April 17, 2006

Shame and the Restorative Approach

Why is it important to use restorative tasks when a child has hurt others? Why assign a task that offers the child the chance to learn, and the chance to reconnect with others, to make amends for the harm he has caused? An abused child is shame based. He is sure that the abuse he suffered was some how his fault. When the people a child depends on to survive are abusing him, it is life saving for the child to believe that the abuse is caused by something he has done. This is a better choice than believing that the people you need are crazy. If it is your fault, maybe you can somehow figure out how to change and stop it. It is better to believe that you are a devil living in a world of angels than to believe that you are an angel living in a world of devils.

After an explosive episode the child struggles with feelings of shame- an increase of the sense that he is a useless, worthless person. Traditional punishments, such as isolation in a room away from adults, increase this sense of shame, and thus increase the likelihood of more aggressive behavior. People who are feeling deep shame feel they have nothing to lose. They distrust relationships, and believe “if you really knew me you would hate me”. They act to say: “let’s get this over with now- I’ll show you how bad I am, and you will leave or hurt me like everyone else”.

Restorative tasks that offer a way to reconnect and make amends teach a valuable skill that we all need: what do you do when you have messed up? It is possible to do something wrong and set it right. It is possible to have a problem in a relationship and then to fix it. This is not something these children have previously experienced.

When a child makes a meal for the unit he has disrupted, when he does a chore for the staff he has harmed, when he teaches a computer game to the child he has attacked, he is left feeling a little better, a little stronger. He is connected to others. He has given something valuable, from his own efforts and talents. He feels he may be worth something after all. He has a reason to try to act safely next time. He has a tiny ray of hope.

©2006 The Restorative Approach is a servicemark of the Klingberg Family Centers, Inc.

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