Yesterday my blog post sparked quite a bit of interest and discussion which is amazing. There is a worry among educators that by using systems such as ‘time in’ rather than time out/detentions/exclusion, what we are doing is rewarding the negative behaviour – a more common approach that I myself implemented as a teacher was to ignore the negative and praise the positive. The hope with this approach is that children will learn that they only get attention when they are doing something positive and so will begin to replicate those behaviours.
I want to challenge this thought. If children learn that they are only given attention when they do something positive, what does this say to them about any time they are doing something deemed unacceptable – that they are not worthy of attention. When we ignore the negative behaviour, that is what we are aiming to do – ignore the ‘behaviour,’ but a direct consequence of this is that we are also ignoring the child. We HAVE to start seeing the two as separate. The child and the behaviour are not one. We have to start thinking about how we deal with the child AND how we deal with the behaviour – two fold.
So, here is an example. Mother’s Day this year, if you have read my blog post on this already, you will know I had a really tough day with Tom. When M went to get him to bring me my present, I overheard Tom saying – ‘No, I don’t want to. I don’t want to give anything to her.‘ This of course upset me. I have spent the past 5 years doing everything possible for ‘him’ and why could he not, for just one day, give me a bit of recognition. Those were the thoughts running through my head at that moment in time. I could have easily gone in and had a rant about ‘who makes your breakfast every day, who gets you washed and dressed, who takes you to school, who does your washing, who makes you dinner everyday and takes you to all your after school clubs?’ I could have easily gone down that road, and I’ll admit that I did. I was pissed off and I am human. However, on reflection, this was completely the wrong thing to do – I was seeing the child and the behaviour as part and parcel of the same thing. What if I had taken a different approach though and separated the two – this is what it would have looked like. The behaviour on the surface looked like it was saying ‘I can’t be bothered giving ‘her’ anything, the day is not about ‘me’ and so get lost’ – it appears a very selfish response and that was the mindset I was stuck in, seeing it as a personal attack on me. But it wasn’t. The behaviour was saying ‘I can’t cope with the someone else being the focus of attention’ – that is what his behaviour was trying to communicate. What about the ‘child’ aspect then – for this we need to look at the reasons. He couldn’t cope with someone else being the focus for attention, because in early experiences, he was always bottom of the pile with regards to who got the attention – he was severely neglected while others in his house were given the attention. Mother’s Day, Father’s and birthdays, where one person is the focus is a trigger back to his past.
So how then do we deal with that – how do we deal with the child and deal with the behaviour. Firstly, we have to tell the child that we understand and that we are there to help. Let them know that you understand they are behaving in X way because of Y. In this case, I can see that you are finding it hard today because it is someone else’s special day, I know that this must be very difficult. To to help make you feel a little better, why don’t we go and make a cake that we can all eat together’ – herein lies the ‘time in’ aspect instead of punishing the negative behaviour.
As I openly said, I didn’t take the approach that I am advocating, but this is because it was heat of the moment and I am able now to reflect upon it and think about how I would do it differently next time.
The past couple of weeks have been extremely challenging because my children are struggling with the approach of the end of term. This for them means lots of change and their anxiety is bubbling away. I have however had some successful implementations of ‘logical lessons’ and so for that, I am delighted!
Last Tuesday morning at 6.30am, M headed off to work and shortly after, I headed in to the shower. Both children were still asleep. When I came out, I noticed a missed call on my phone from one of my neighbours. I assumed that she maybe wasn’t well and wanted me to take her son up to school. I saw there was also a voicemail so listened to it – my neighbour was explaining that Tiny was at her house in his pyjamas and with a sheet wrapped around him……this was 6.45am!!! I phoned her back straight away in a panic and she explained that her doorbell had rung, and when she answered the door, Tiny was there curled up on her front path saying that he was scared and couldn’t go home, because his house was filled with monsters…….Yes, my mouth was as wide open as yours is now! I threw my clothes on and went to meet her bringing Tiny back home – my front door was wide open, from Tiny unlocking it and wandering away off, all unbeknown to me. I can’t even begin to think about what could have happened. I am so grateful to my neighbour.
The temptation was to give Tiny a huge big lecture about his behaviour, how dangerous it was and enforce a punishment that was ‘severe’ enough to let him know that what he did was really bad. But that is not what I did. Firstly, I text M and said what was my immediate reaction i.e WTF?????? I then took a little bit of ‘time out’ for myself to work through in my head what had happened, why it had happened and more importantly, what I needed to do about it. I knew that Tiny had been having quite a lot of nightmares about monsters but that he was absolutely obsessed by watching all things Scooby Doo! I guessed that he had just woken up from a nightmare, couldn’t find me and in a half asleep panic, had gone to find safety. The logical way forward would be to stop him from watching Scooby Doo, but I also knew that what was of the utmost importance was the words that I was going to use with Tiny. I had to begin with the ‘understanding.’
I told him that I understood how scared he must have been after having a nightmare about monsters and how dreams can seem so real. I explained that I was in the shower and so hadn’t realised that he was up or indeed away, and that I was just as scared as he was when I found out that he wasn’t here because he could have been hurt walking to his friends house. I said that I was there to keep him safe and that I knew he was struggling a lot with nightmares about monsters. I talked about how I knew he loved Scooby Doo, but that there were often scary monsters in it. I then explained to him that in order to help him with this, we would go through the DVDs, picking out ones with monsters in, and we would put these away for a little while so they wouldn’t scare him. This was not seen by him as a punishment. However, if I’d said ‘that’s it, no more Scooby Doo films for you’ – that would have created a complete meltdown. After school, I also got him to spend lots of ‘time in’ with me where I asked him to draw pictures of the monsters and talk me through them all and we then folded these up tightly, wrapped a ‘happy things to dream about’ picture around them and put them away with the DVDs. It’s only been a week, but since then, we’ve not had any monster nightmares. By using this approach, I saw the behaviour as communication saying ‘I can’t cope with my nightmares about monsters’ and I saw the reason – Scooby Doo films. I acknowledged the behaviour and the reason and helped with suggesting a solution for moving forward.
Another example came just last night while I was actually writing my blog post about logical lessons! I heard and almighty crash from Tom’s bedroom and whilst running to his room I shouted ‘what was that?’……THAT was the TV being ripped down from Tom’s wall, along with a big chunk of the plaster board. He has a sofa in his room, but insists on standing right up at the TV, leaning on top of it (as you do when you are a 10 year old boy!) We have repeatedly warned him not to do this as it could cause it to fall…..and so it had. My inital reaction escaped me ‘FOR GOODNESS SAKE TOM, HOW MANY TIMES HAVE YOU BEEN TOLD NOT TO HANG ON THE TV’…….at this, Tom scampered into his bed, pulling the covers over him – flight mode. It is a rarity now that we see ‘fight’ mode (i.e a response of punching, hitting, kicking) which is great, but that doesn’t mean that flight mode is anything more positive. I knew right there that I had to shut my mouth (or at least my shouting) and take a ‘logical lesson’ approach, which went like this….. (deep breath taken…..and another – calm facade restored), ‘Tom, I can see that this was an accident. You were playing your Xbox, holding on the the TV and the force of that was too much and it has pulled the TV down. I know that you will be upset about this, and I know you didn’t mean for it to happen. It was just one of those things. Now, there is unfortunately a problem. This TV doesn’t have a stand which means the only way for it to be in your room is for it to be attached to the wall. This means I will have to unplug it for now, take it out of your room and it will only be able to come back in once your Dad has the time to fix the wall. Can you come and help me to unplug it and move it away to somewhere safe (time in). As I said all of this, Tom sat on his bed gazing at me and was able to take on board and listen to everything that I had said – and accept that there was a logical lesson in what had happened. No punishment dished out by me, which he would have seen as a direct attack on him, the ‘lesson’ or if you want to call it (although I am now averse to this word) consequence was that for the next week, he will not have a TV in his room because his Dad is not able to fix it until then. Had I continued the way I was SO tempted to go, before I luckily stopped myself, it would have led to tears, tantrums, most likely violence and a hell of a lot of shame caused by my vernacular. Don’t get me wrong, there is an element of shame in there -he is feeling so very sorry for himself just now, but it is self pity as apposed to a loathing that I have directed him towards.
The subject of ‘time in’ is one that is cause for debate. Instead of giving time out, does this actually reward the ‘bad’ behaviour. My strong belief is no. Time in actually allows the child to learn instead of being shamed. Again, it all comes down to the language and how we explain the ‘time in’ to the child – ‘time in’ could actually be punitive if its implementation is given in a negative way. For example, my boys fight. They love to go out and play in the garden together, but within 10 minutes (if I’m lucky enough for it to be that long), they are arguing and becoming physical with one another. Usually it is Tom who will start with the winding up, Tiny will retaliate, Tom fights back and before you know it, Tiny has his teeth sinking in to Tom’s arm. So, in steps Mum who was just about to start filling the dishwasher to intervene. Punitive approach could take one of two forms. Tiny can be given time out in his room for biting Tom, or even more punitive (and totally unrelated to the actual offence) he could have his Kindle removed for the day. Alternatively, I could use ‘time in’ which is much more preferable, but could with my wording still be given as a punishment. ‘Tiny, you clearly can’t play nicely with your brother, so you will come inside and do some chores with me’……..that is ‘time in’ but my wording is very negative. So how should it be given? How about this….
‘Tiny, I can see that you are finding it difficult to know how we play gently with one another. I can also see that you are wanting to use your teeth. Let’s go and have a look in the fridge for some lovely crunchy carrots and you can let me hear the crunches while I finish filling the dishwasher. Once we have done that, lets have a chat about what happened and next time you are feeling upset by something Tom has done, discuss what you could do differently. Tom now has a sore arm and is also feeling upset and so lets think of ways that you could help to make him happy again.
In the punitive approach, the aim was to remove Tiny from the situation. In the ‘logical lessons’ approach, the exact same aim was achieved, but not only was it done in a less ‘shame based’ way, but I actually think Tiny would learn so much more from it!
By taking this ‘logical lessons’ approach, we are stopping ourselves from being ‘reactive’ to the behaviour as most common behaviour management systems would encourage us to do, and instead listen to the behaviour and provide the support children need to actually ‘learn’ from what has happened. Punitive approaches simply try to ‘modify’ behaviour, they do not ‘teach.’
Nobody is perfect and it will be challenging to stick with this logical lesson approach all the time. Ive already told you about how I have failed miserably on numerous occasions with it. The more we reflect and the more we try it, the better we will become. It is absolutely at it’s most difficult within a classroom and and so I thought I would have a think about some examples of behaviours that are likely within a class, the ‘language’ that could be used to recognise that problem and the logical lesson to implement. I am in no way an expert, but from vast amounts of reading, research and personal reflection of my own failings, this is what I believe to be a valuable approach.
Violence (e.g kicking) – I can see that you are struggling to keep your hands and feet to yourself and that you are wanting to use your feet. Let’s go and get a ball and kick that for a while. Whilst kicking the ball, discuss what happened, how you understand that they may have felt cross, how you know that such and such would have been disappointing etc etc – logical lesson is that the child they kicked is upset and they need to think of a way to change that – make a card/poster or such like for the child they hurt.
Persistent talking in class when everyone is to be quiet (I often find that this is the fear of silence!) – I can see that you are finding it difficult for the classroom to be in silence. Lets put on some music while we work so that you don’t have to fill the silence.
Attention seeking ( behaviours that they are doing to deliberately get your attention) – I can see that you are struggling to work on your own today. That is okay. Lets work together on this piece of work. We will do numbers 1,2 and 3 together and then I will get you to try numbers 4,5 and 6 on your own while I go and help X who also needs some help.’ If you get stuck while I am away, here is something you could do while you are waiting on me to come back. When you leave the child to work independently, leave something belonging to you so they know you are coming back (coffee mug, your pen etc)
If the child is showing distress and is going in to crisis, then this absolutely is a time when they should be taken away from the situation but again it all comes down to the language – I can see you are having difficulty with being in the classroom right now. Lets go for a walk/ to the clam down room/safe space and see what we can do to change this.
I read a wonderful book last week called The Whole Brain Child by Dr Dan Siegel. It talks about connection and redirection. So you connect with the child – I can see you are finding X difficult, I know how disappointing that must be – you are showing recognition for the what the behaviour is saying/showing. You then redirect – lets go for a walk, lets go and chat about what happened, lets put X back and then move on to doing Y. It talks about left and right side brain and how if someone gives a left brain response, we match that side with our immediate response and then guide them to use the other side of their brain too in order to move forward using the whole brain. It is utterly fascinating. You can get this book following the link below.
So to sum up, we need to stop being reactive to children’s behaviour and instead, ‘listen’ to the behaviour and use language conducive to helping them to move forward in a non punitive way – using logical lessons. We should stop ignoring the ‘negative’ and only giving attention to the ‘positive’ – just think what could happen if we could lend our ears to the ‘negative’ and listen to what that behaviour is saying, show recognition of it to the child and guide them forwards.
A few months ago when I was at an Usborne Books conference, we had a workshop by the amazing Andy Cope who writes about being happy. He talks about 2%ers and mood hoovers. 2%ers are people who always try to see the positive as often as they can. They are ‘happy’ people. Mood hoovers are exactly as the phrase implies – they see the negative in everything and are pretty darn miserable. When Tom pulled the TV off the wall I almost became a mood hoover…..I was all set to go with the “look at the wall, look at the mess, think about how much it is going to cost to fix this, I knew this would happen, blah blah blah blah blah.” Instead, I stopped myself. I took a deep breath and whilst I can’t say I was able to look for the positive in the situation (I’m not sure there is one), what my approach said to Tom (thankfully not literally though) – ‘Do you know what Tom, shit happens, lets move on!’ That is the greatest lesson we can teach children. Yes you did X, shit happens, lets move on and not even go down the line of causing you shame and focusing on all the negatives.
So let’s move forward, chuck these punitive approaches in the gutter, and start being 2%ers. Here’s Andy’s book to get you started!
Please do give me your feedback – could you see logical learning having an impact in your school?