Sunday, September 30, 2007

Are Restorative Tasks Punishments in Disguise?

When programs first begin to use the Restorative Approach™, staff often think of restorative tasks as punishments by another name. This leads them to attempt to create tasks that take as long as their traditional punishments did. Staff are still thinking that the power of the tasks lies in their deterrent value; in other words, that the kid will stop doing the behavior because the tasks will be so hard and they will not want to have to do them. In other words, that the tasks are punishment. This leads to the piling up of tasks, and continuing hopelessness on the part of both the child and the staff.

Instead, let’s go back to our theory of what is wrong, and what do we actually think will promote change.

Why are the children hitting people and throwing chairs and running away and cutting themselves? Is it because they lack motivation to change- that the previous punishments they have received for doing so have been inadequate?

No, it is because they are doing the best they can to solve current intolerable problems.

They do not have safe, strong trustworthy attachments in which they can relax and learn new skills, and they never have. They do not know how to resolve problems that arise within relationships. Trauma has changed their biology, sensitized their nervous systems, and left them hyper-reactive. They have not been taught the basic human feelings skills: how to hold onto the belief that someone loves you; believing that you are worth the air you breathe; and what we do when we experience strong emotions.

Because of this, they over-react to current setbacks, do not believe that anyone can or will help them, and have no way to manage their emotions. So they act out.

Will punishment help all this? No. The children have already been punished. If that would solve these problems they would be over them by now.

The Restorative Approach™ is designed to provide what will help:
Attachment- safe, regulated relationships in which people speak from their heart and are honest about the relationship effects of behaviors, and are Respectful, Informative, Connected and Hopeful.
Containment of hyper-reactivity: an environment structured for success with available regulated adults helping children become regulated.
Teaching of feelings management skills: Opportunities to develop relationships. Active effort towards creating inner representations of those relationships. Many different methods to experience competence, help others, examine shame, surface what is shameful, and to see delight in another’s eyes when they look at you. And feelings management: active teaching of noticing, naming, soothing, distracting, and utilizing feelings.
Teaching of relationship repair skills: when something goes wrong between me and another, there is something I can do about it.

The power of change happens in these areas. The restorative tasks should be designed to take a small step in one of these tasks- it could be in any area. Often, the learning piece is in the area of feelings management: what was I feeling? What happened? Or, it could be feeling worthy of life: make a list of my skills and good points.
The amends piece works in the area of attachment, relationship skills, and also contributes to self worth.

So the idea is not to make up a task for every thing the child does wrong. The idea is to figure out what we think is going on in a given event, what skills is the child lacking, and assign a task that will help develop these skills. It does not have to be aversive. It has to be our best guess at something that will work- help the child learn a little something new, and be a little more connected with the people around him.

It is not fear of punishment that will change the child. It is developing the relationships and skills that will allow her to weather current set backs without having to resort to such desperate behavior.


Anonymous said...

This also means, as you have discussed in previous posts, that the adults in the situation must be the "bigger person" and must admit their own vulnerabilities and shortcomings. They must let go of their own anger or sense of "fairness" when the child acts out so that they can stop looking for punishment and start looking for healing.

Anonymous said...

you have far too much confidence in the internal goodness of a person. The restorative approach might work if the person truly wants to change, but many do not. They love themselves too much. Their basis for choosing right or wrong is based on whatever they think will satisfy their needs of the moment. What would they rather do...tell the truth or tell a lie? The answer is whatever gets them what they want. The restorative approach will work in some cases (when the kid truly sees that his behaviors have been wrong and wants to change) but they. do. not. work. on kids that do not see that they need to change.
I've heard people say that statistics have shown that negative consequences have little affect on people. Since when do statistics trump common sense? Who are we kidding? What is going to motivate a person to stay away from a hot stove? Encouragement and Restoration or negative consequences?

Mark said...

Whatever happened to owning the consequences of our actions and teaching the child to do the same? Adolescents being who they are - naturally exploring limits and needing boundaries - will have no motivation to change negative behavior if there are no consequences to it; their choice, not the adult's.