Pride before a fall. It's as old as the Bible (I think it may even be from the Bible) and a great summary of how you can be quickly blindsided by situations. One minute you're cruising, the next you're bruising. You are probably already imagining times yourself when you thought you had that particular problem licked, that student supported, that colleague comforted, that family member set on the right road. You may have been feeling pretty good about yourself - and then. Crash. It all falls apart. And the very thing you thought you had nailed, rears up and bites you on the proverbial. It can drive you crazy or, if you let it, it can teach you. I had such a "lesson" lately.
It was just a day or two after a "restorative" intervention with a hammer-yielding six year old. I was so happy with my response I even wrote a blog about it (I really should have seen this coming shouldn't I?) Hubris, the Greeks call it, or excessive pride. Anyway, it turned out to be another valuable lesson. Everyday is a school day and the trick is to be open to new learning. I thought I'd share this one with you - in slow motion. I'm going to take you through the thought processes (or lack of), and eventual resolution to see what was going on under the bonnet, with both me and the six old.
It was lunchtime and I was serving the kids at the table. No. 1 and no. 2 were sorted with their food and I was asking no. 3 (the 6 year old) whether he wanted the egg-white with his rasher and pudding (I was an egg-yoke kid myself, but hey, if we were all the same it'd be very boring). Anyhow he's fiddling with a small piece of Lego he's brought up from the playroom and isn't in the most responsive mood. That's when it started! It's always the small things when you look back. My internal monologue at the time was something along the lines of - WTF, I've been working all morning, at the desk, making calls, important work, while he's been just playing Lego. And now, I've put lunch together and he can't be bothered to even answer me. Hold on a minute there small fry. I'm the adult here and you're the child. And so I ask a second time. "Do you want egg? Yes or no?" There we go. Now I've made it so easy for him he can just answer me, while still putting his piece of Lego together and then we can all sit down to eat. Problem averted (Hubris or what?). Sean, the six year old in question, presumably by now sensing the rise in my tone and corresponding frustration, responds with an "in a minute". And off I go. Externally it's "I'm just asking a simple question, yes or no. Now answer me". Internally it's a case of Jesus @£$%^&, here I am standing waiting for this guy who's playing his Lego and he can't be bothered to answer me, and now he's giving me attitude? I can't believe this. He's making me look like some kind of idiot waiter here. This is not on, and I'm not standing for it.
A couple of exchanges more, and with some parent martyrdom references thrown in for good measure, I am literally carrying him to the bold step. Literally. This is not good. I mean, for starters, we retired the bold step about 2 years ago. Now something else starts to stir inside. Oh God what am I doing? I'm carrying a 6 year old in my arms because he didn't answer me. He's too big for this. I'm too big to be doing this. If anyone saw me, what would they think (you don't actually have to answer that). I am going to have to do better than this. How did I get like this so quickly. I'm not like this. Jesus this is embarrassing. It just came out of nowhere. I'm not supposed to fly off on one like that. Thank God he's taking this so well. I'd have killed me if I did that to myself. Ok, let's get back to the kitchen and regroup. Alright, take a breath and sort this embarrassment out. How did this start? Everything was going well until I offered the egg. It just doesn't make sense he'd respond like that. As for me and my response, it was a bad moment but I can turn this around. I will turn this around. Didn't Michelle Stowe have a Tedtalk where she turned a moment like this around? That worked well. That's what I'll do. I'll talk to him. I'll ask him what was going on. Because that definitely didn't make sense. Maybe I'm at my desk too much, this remote working isn't all good, and not checking in on them enough? I don't know. Let's just talk to him.
After another minute or two, when normal functioning resumes, I go down and ask him "what happened that you didn't answer me when I asked you about the egg?" And he starts to tell me how he and his older brother were in the middle of some Lego Stars Wars game and were making little landing craft and his brother had finished and he hadn't and so and so on........and I'm thinking oh God he was in the middle of something and he needed help in parking the game and moving on to meal time. He actually had real needs there. It had nothing to do with me. He had needs around connection with his brother, needs around mastery of skills, needs around transitioning between tasks, needs around communication and frustration tolerance. Needs, needs, needs. And he can't communicate all them yet, especially if he's swamped. He's six. And there's me getting all authoritarian and potentially shaming him, when I'm supposed to be teaching him. This is hopefully just a near miss, in that I hope there's no damage done to our relationship here. I tell him sorry for losing patience. By this stage he's already moved on and is asking me about Kylo Ren and Rey (Star Wars characters for the uninitiated) and I'm thinking, whew, near miss. Going to do better next time. In case you're wondering too, I did let him know about answering people when they are offering food but it was definitely me who had the learning to do in this case. Marshall Rosenberg says there is an easy way to differentiate between a request and a demand. The test is in how you respond if someone says no. If the "fangs" come out, it was never a request in the first place. It was a demand. I hadn't asked, I had demanded. And my response proved it. Recognising feelings and needs is a lifetimes work but it's the best, the most worthwhile and most enjoyable work you'll ever do.
This was just a moment in time but life is made of a continuous stream of such moments. Restorative language and practices can help you navigate on the stream. And when you go off course (and we all will) it can help get us back on track.
That's Restorative Practice
(with thanks to Thom Garfat)
My name is Joe Power and I am the RP development officer for Limerick. I thought I would write about my experiences in developing my own understanding of RP, as well as in trying to spread it across Limerick. The reason for this is that I find that both my own and other people's experiences are remarkably similar and there could well be some opportunity for others to benefit from these thoughts (or ramblings!!). Anyway I hope you gain something from it.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.