Monday, February 04, 2008

What to do about Ashley’s Gossiping?

A Residential Treatment Center we have worked with recently sent us the following inquiry:
A school staff member asked for a restorative task for Ashley. She was trying to get some more insight to what would be a good one. Ashley has had several task in the past for gossiping and passing notes and they have not seemed to help any. She wanted to know if contacting the police department and asking what constitutes an assault charge and the legal ramifications would be a good idea. She was also thinking about her past task and what she put on them. One of the task was about what gossiping does for you or makes you feel. Ashley stated that she loved the attention she got, the drama that is created, helped her to get friends, and that she loved talking to others. These behaviors have to deal with all the drama that she has been in this week. One staff member made a suggestion that Ashley should only be able to talk to staff (for like one day) and have no verbal contact with her peers unless it is for a group/activity on the structure. Another liked that idea but we both thought it may be a little on the mean side but may help. We were asked if we had any suggestions.

What would you suggest?

My colleague Steve Brown replied:
Depending on how serious the note passing and gossiping were, I’m not sure this would rise to the level of getting a restorative task at Klingberg. It might be managed in other ways such as: having other kids talk directly with her about how it feels to be gossiped about; having her stay close to adult (sit near teacher in class) so that they can prevent note passing, etc
If she were to get restorative tasks, I would focus on the adaptive function of the behavior- to get desperately need attention, feel power by creating drama, have friends. So tasks such as: Interview 2 adults about how they get attention they need without making others angry; make collage of magazine pictures showing people getting attention in positive ways; interview adults about how they make friends without doing so by gossiping about others; role play getting to know friend in "non-catty" way. For the therapist, I’d be curious about why she likes drama so much- she feels powerful when causing it? If there’s chaos around, it feels like her family. Craziness and chaos distracts her from painful feelings.

Finally, you’ll get lot farther rewarding positive opposites of gossiping rather than punishing -- when you see a shred of positive peer behavior, comment on it, praise it, high-fives etc.

I added that Steve had given them some great ideas. I would agree that this would not be most impacted by a task, and that not talking for a day would probably not accomplish anything. The girl shows considerable insight into her behavior, and I would work from that. My suggestion would be to figure out ways to help her experience the benefits she needs in less destructive ways. Examples of that would be putting her in charge of a project in which she must organize and lead peers, having her lead small groups, having her teach or assist younger kids in academics, having her take a survey of the kids on some important topic, having her write an article for a newsletter that involved talking to various kids about something such as friendship- for example, write an article interviewing kids about the best friend they ever had and what makes a good friend- then publish the article in some agency publication. Any way she can use her leadership and ability to spread information for the good will help her develop functional alternatives.

An example would be: Ashley, we are having an assembly today- can you get the word out- we know you are good at spreading information.

Also, if her gossiping hurt a particular person in some way I would ask her how she could be especially kind to that person today, give Ashley some candy to share with her, have them do a project together, have Ashley help that person with a subject if there is one that Ashley does well. etc.

One other thing I want to say is- having Ashley talk only to staff would further increase her shame, further increasing her need for this behavior. We want to look for things that can make her feel better and more worth while, thus decreasing her need to connect through gossip and hurting others.

And, we might give some thought to how often we see this same behavior in the adult staff, and times we ourselves have done it, to remind ourselves how tempting and engaging it is and how hard it is to eradicate.

Any one out there have any more ideas? Just click on "comment" and add your thoughts.

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