If there's any justice in the world, there is a support group somewhere for children of bloggers. This forgotten (although I suspect they have never been thought of in the first place) tribe are doomed to be eternal source material for the parents' creative efforts, whether they like it or not. Their achievements and, more significantly, their faults are published for all to see whenever matters of childhood arise (or when writer's block rears its ugly head). Such is the case in today's blog. Firstly, I address the following preliminary line to my 6 six old son, Sean. "Sean, if you happen to be reading this in 10 or 15 years time, I apologise for any embarassment caused and humbly suggest that there is always the possibility of forming your own support group in Limerick if none currently exist".
Longstanding readers may recall this is not the first time my youngest son has featured here. Previously there was an occasion when the then 5 year old started to use his toy hammer, a metal toy hammer no less, for purposes other than which it was intended, namely on his older brother and sister. Well, it turns out that the six and half year old version has recently graduated from toy hammers to lump hammers (to anyone unfamiliar with construction tools, just think small sledgehammer here). Now, it's probably every father's ambition to have their son show interest in his DIY efforts. My wife and I even have a few cute photos of young Sean's construction/demolition attempts. However swinging a wrecking tool at your older brother is where cute firmly ends, and medical bills begin.
As it turned out I was actually a witness to "the assault" on the day in question. It happened quite suddenly as these things do, when Sean, feeling excluded from his brother's game, decided to make his feelings known - yes, you guessed it, with the aforementioned lump hammer. In his defense, if any exists, it was more a tap than a swing, making contact on his brother's lower back. Obviously, though, any contact on the person with a construction tool is going to do damage and I can only imagine it must have connected on the bone, such was the reaction. Poor Michael was in floods of tears for a good 10 minutes. Cue, a deep breath and a long restorative conversation.
The conversation itself was relatively straight forward. Over time we, as a family, have developed the habit of using restorative questions whenever issues arise, to the point where it is now almost a default setting. This doesn't mean we ask all 6 questions every time but rather we try to get at the story and what harm occurred and, most importantly, get the individuals concerned to be part of repairing that harm. Usually, with three children under 11 this will end with some sort of apology and, occasionally, a token act of reconciliation. However, on this occasion, both my wife and I were clear that this needed more than the usual sorry. (This is not to denigrate a good "sorry" by the way. Far from it. If an issue arises between two children and they resolve it to their full satisfaction with an apology, why would we adults ever feel the need for any form of additional punishment?)
On a further slight digression, I'd like to say that in the course of my work I am often met with a statement that goes something like this. "You can't use the questions with the younger children or younger classes, they don't have the language". Well, if it's not in poor taste, I'd like to pick up that lump hammer and bust that particular myth firmly now. Sean, after some genuine guilt and remorse, said that he knew he had a temper and didn't like the way he reacted. In a further display of surprising self-awareness he added that he really didn't want to do the things he did. He just felt unable to restrain himself. These weren't the exact words of course, but the message was clear. He didn't set out to nearly put his brother in hospital. It was born out of frustration and an inability to manage himself. Furthermore, to my mind, he was also saying that he needed help with managing his emotions. Nobody wants to act out like this. It's always a sign of a skill not learnt.
You're probably wondering what we did with him by now. Well I'll tell you. We went about trying to teach him to manage his emotions and develop his coping options. You wouldn't expect someone to drive a car without being taught. I mean we don't even allow employees lift boxes without a manual handling course now. Children need to be taught what they don't know. And sometimes it's a good idea to try different ways of teaching a particular skill. This particular strategy you may not find in the parenting books. With his consent, we agreed that we'd deliberately antagonise him 5 times later that day, and give him the opportunity to put his new plan into practice. Now, before you get the wrong idea, this was with his consent and was, as it transpired, a bit of fun too. The idea was simple. I, as the "bad cop", would antagonise him in some small way and he would then use his plan of calling this unwanted behaviour out ("hey that's not nice") and going to his mother, the "good cop", to get help. This way, he would actively develop the skills he needed in a low-stress environment, so he would then be more likely to employ them in times of higher stress.
The results were more than a little comical. The first time I flicked some water at him while he was watching TV. It took him a minute to remember what we were at, before he named it and went to his mother. My wife was, at that time, talking to our third child and forgot to thank him, as she was meant to do (if we're going to come down on negative behaviours, we need to be equally good at praising positive ones). After that we got a little better. I would, for example, take a book he was reading, turn off the television or take one of his sweets. And each time, he would call it out and go to his mother, and be praised in the process. To be fair though, by the fourth time, the novelty was starting to wear off and we wound it up. It had all been quite light-hearted and he may have been beginning to see it more as just some fun with daddy than as an attempt at addressing his behaviour. I wondered even if the original message may, in fact, have been lost. Still peace and good relationships had long since resumed, so we all moved on.
That night, after all the kids were in bed, however, Sean came back down with this message on his sketch pad, further proof if it was needed that even 6 year olds are capable of reflection and benefitting from restorative practices.
(I appreciate it may be difficult to read so here it is - "I am sorry for doing bad thing to Michael. From Sean").
That's Restorative Practice
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.