"How do you deal with children who do not like praise?"
I think if there are “bright spots” of behaviour, you mention it, but the choice you have, I think, is whether you mention it publicly or mention it privately. My feeling on this is when the spotlight in the room of 32 people, 32, 33 human beings, when the spotlight falls on that individual, they get nervous, it escalates them, it arouses them, they know all the eyes are on them (never underestimate the power of eye contact - the penetrating gaze of others).
When everybody looks at this one young person and you're saying, "Didn't you do such a good job?" And EVERYBODY is looking at them, it doesn't matter what you're saying at that moment, the behavior is reverting to the primal level - “everybody's looking at me”.
So I would say the option with that is to do private praise, just very gentle, very low-arousal, whereby those eyes don't all turn and the spotlight doesn't fall on that one person. One great idea here is using a private praise card.
“Suggestions for working with a child who's openly telling you that his parent has said he doesn't have to do what we say?”
My answer to that would be about relying on the social contract. What we're trying to do is build a social contract that's horizontal across staff at the school, students at the school, and then parents of the children of the school. We've got to try and build a powerful social contract across all three domains horizontally.
If you're not getting support from home, then you have to rely on all the other children in the classroom, all the other children in the school, and then all the staff, all if you like, singing from that one hymn-sheet, which is the social contract.
I think the answer is sometimes we need to see these situations as teaching moments. We suggest, "Oh, so your dad has said you're not supposed to listen to us. Okay, well, let's look at different parts of life. What about driving a car? Do you think everybody needs to follow the same rules (the Social Contract of driving) or not?" And you just use such moments as teaching points.
How do you deal with the child who refuses a lot? Refuses to come in after play, refuses to tidy up, refuses to complete learning?
I would say that the persuasion sequence (described above) and being consistent with it. So for me, when I've sat with teams and I've said, "Right, what consequences do you apply? What consequences do you have?" And we often get people shifting in their seats and looking at the ceiling and wondering what are the consequences in this service? You've got to find rewards that work for everybody. If there’s a child who refuses to come in after play, you might need to find a specific natural consequence for that - a consequence that clearly links to the behaviour or conduct in question, so that the link is crystal-clear.
So you sit down as a team and you have a really good think, "Well, what is a natural consequence for not coming in after playtime is finished?"
Sometimes when it comes to these difficult interactions, we use it as a teaching moment.
How can you use teaching moments to solve behaviour or conduct issues?
For example, I was at a special school recently where they have physical interventions happening quite a lot. And one of the teenage boys was getting really embarrassed by the fact that one of the team who was having to restrain him when he gets really out of control was a woman. And he'd been brought up in a household where women are not(allowed to be) stronger than men and women should not be able to control men. And even though he's already out of control and needing to be restrained in that environment, it was really starting to trouble him that one of the people exerting control over him was a woman.
And the team asked me, "How do we deal with this?" And I said, "Well, look, it just sounds like a teaching moment for me. Let's sit down with the class and talk about can women be strong and let's look at the Olympics and let's look at different domains and attempt to even that assumption out and take away the underlying assumptions"
Ultimately, the core of that was some kind of shame around the fact that he had these erroneous beliefs about women and so on.
So in that specific situation where a child says they don’t need to follow the rules.. "Well, do people need to follow rules? And let's just explore that. Well, what happens if nobody follows the rules?" And that's a teaching moment.
"What do you suggest for those children who display disruptive behaviour and who like the ripple effect it has on the other children?"
We call that the audience effect. Audiences influence conflict and they either influence conflict positively or they influence conflict negatively from our point of view. So what that means is you can have an audience who's standing there going, "Go Jimmy, do more, say it again, do something else funny." and they're not helping you to sort the situation and to remove the risk.
Or you can have an audience who when you turn to them and you say, "Hey everybody, it's corridor time." And they all know what that means and they go, "Oh, okay." And they stand up and they go with somebody or sometimes without somebody and they go and stand in the corridor to remove the audience from this one child who is using the attention at that moment. And when the audience goes or they're separated from the audience, you often see a huge change in behaviour, for the better.
The first point to say is that you can have an audience that is helping you or you can have an audience that is hindering you. And just knowing that can be really quite key. Depending on the level of disruption that's happening, you can decide to separate the child from the other children or separate the other children from the child, which is often less physically intrusive.
"What could be done if part of school is a trigger for behaviour? For example, at breakfast club, the excitement and having less structure seems to make the child spiral in actual lesson time."
Where I first came across this problem was with a child who would get really aroused and excited on his way to school in the morning, so he'd come to school in the morning, walking along the road, his friends would shout from passing cars, he'd see the other children on the way to school and he would get really, really amped up. By the time he arrived at the school gates, he's already escalating towards some kind of release. He's going to need to run and jump and bash and crash something at some point. One of the things that we look at with those children is staggering their access to those times.
So they either have slightly less time in that space where they're getting overexcited, let's say, or they go to that space. Did you mention the breakfast club? That's going to be difficult. But they go to that space and they have it slightly separated from all the other children who are all being very excited.
You try to reduce stimulation by managing the person's access to those other people or that time of the day. What we have done is looked at staggered start times and staggered end of day times for certain children because that excitement in the playground when everybody's there is just too much.
You can also change the access point, the door through which they come to school in the morning or the door through which they leave school in the afternoon. And that can have an effect on the arousal level of being around all the other children at these less-structured times.
"Any ideas about where to seat a child with autism, who does struggle with conduct and has feelings of paranoia and difficulty in sustaining friendships?"
I often say, "This child you're having such problems with, where is he seated at the moment?" And some of the rules I suppose with somebody with autism is you've got to be aware of stimulation levels. So I don't know what the classroom looks like, but if it's a mainstream primary classroom, it's very stimulating. It's probably got lots of bright colors and lots of work hanging on the wall. It might even be noisy through the day.
So in terms of where to sit, somebody who you might have some behavioral issues with, we always suggest, thinking about putting the child near to your classroom door so that, let's say, they're overstimulated and they want to escape, or their survival brain is saying, "Get out of here now, there's too much happening," that the door is accessible for them. It's also accessible for you if you need to quickly usher the child out of the room. So near the door is often our first go-to when we're asked a question like that.
If you think about being really overstimulated in a classroom and you're sat at the point furthest from the exit, then I think that's going to be more arousing, more threatening for you than being near the door. Of course, it then jumps into the next problem and the next problem is if we put him near the door, he's going to be running out of the room on a regular basis. So you have to choose your battles there.
We do talk extensively on the Positive Handling course about children who want to escape the classroom and what that means. Every school I’ve been to in the world has what they call “the runners”, so we talk about absconding and what that means.
"How would you handle a child that can be somewhat aggressive towards other children in the class, depending on how they're feeling about the other children in that moment?"
Aggressive. Are we talking about a bully? Somebody's throwing their weight around or are we talking about somebody who just lashes out at the nearest thing or a person near to them? I wonder.
The children eventually start to understand, I think, that they can intimidate or influence other people's behaviour. So they're saying certain things, knowing that they can get a certain reaction or that they can make somebody back off. So there's a lot of what we would call, if my image of what you're describing is right, what we call this the “monkey dance” (a description of behaviour from author Rory Miller).
The monkey dance is where - if you watch a David Attenborough program about chimpanzees or bonobos, you'll see these ballooning behaviors and these intimidation behaviours when the apes are aroused, whereby in order to set the hierarchy in a group, the mid-level members of a hierarchy will start to throw their weight around against each other in order to establish, well, who's able to stand up for themselves and who's more amenable and who's more likely to just sort of sit and be pushed around a little bit. This is how they establish the hierarchy.
I would say if aggressive displays towards others is something that's reasonably widespread throughout the classroom, then the solution is about having somebody who's at the top of that hierarchy to regulate it - and that's probably you.
It's at least some adult in the room or adults in the room have to establish "No, no, we're not going to treat each other like that today." So separating and supporting them then, but getting in on top of that really early with a gentle intervention which says “I see you”.
"I see you" - one of the ways we intervene with a bully is that you make your attention very obvious - "Oh, I see you, doing that..."
"I see you, and I see exactly what you're doing."
It shines that attention spotlight on that person and they think about their behaviour from a third person perspective. The behaviour being visible and it being stated and outed in the classroom is part of how you start to intervene in it.
“I see you and I see what you're doing and I'm here and I'm staying here”, is a way of establishing some influence over the event.
"Would this also play for a child who has no interest in following the behaviour chart or policy, and who isn't scared of any form of consequence?
Like Einstein said, "If you're trying to do the same thing over and over and hoping for a different result, that's the definition of insanity!”
So I'm going to say that if you've got behavioral policy and a behavior chart in place and you've got consequences in place, but this child's behavior is just not adapting to that or not falling in line with that, then what that means is your behavior chart, your behavior policy and your consequences don't seem to have any traction with that child.
And so I would guess that the child you're describing is a special case in the sense that there's something quite deep in the context of his life that is driving the behaviour. And that's where you need to dig into.
One of the complaints that we hear a lot from the therapeutic parenting side of what we do is that foster carers and adopters are working with children who are extraordinarily complex at home.
And one of the criticisms that they have of the schools these children go into Monday to Friday is that the behaviour models that are being used are just not complex enough to help them maintain consistency between home and school. Sometimes we've got to identify a child whose behaviour is really quite complex and then we can't really apply the same behaviour models to them.
So behaviour charts in particular, reward charts may have no traction whatsoever with children who've had traumatic backgrounds and adverse childhood experiences and poor starts to life. They've been through stuff that's really quite wild, quite complex. Trying to say, "You're going to get a sticker if this happens." They don't see the connection because it's not intrinsic enough to the who they are. And that's something that's been a consistent theme that I've heard from parents and social workers, therapists working with these kids for many years. We've got to bring in different approaches to that.
"Bad language, physical, in year one. The other children are constantly telling me the words he's using. He always denies it. The other children tell me."
We haven't mentioned playful yet as a strategy, and sometimes you look at that... But I know that my seven year old who's gone into year three, he's just fascinated with the idea that you can use your hands to make a swear, because he saw somebody do it - "You can just make a shape with your hand and it's a swear. You don't even have to say anything." And he's just fascinated with this idea.
That's more of a teaching moment, I think, where we get playful, we plan a lesson around it, and we get everybody on the same page so that the next time he uses a bad word, the reactions and the responses of the other children create their own momentum for his behavior change. And that's where I would go with them. We use the power of the group and the power of status.
Groups, Audiences, Status and Behaviour
I was listening to Lenny Henry on the radio on Saturday morning and the interviewer asked him, "How did you discover you were funny?" And he said, "I was tripped up, thrown on the ground and wrestling around with a boy in my school in Birmingham. And he was sitting on me and he was pushing me onto the ground. And I looked up at him and there's a group of people around us and I said, 'I can see how much you want to hug and cuddle with me, but golly, why don't you take me out for dinner first? Maybe I'll take you home to meet my parents.'"
As he started saying all these things, all the other kids just started laughing at the things he was saying. And then eventually somebody stood out the crowd, put their hand on the bully's shoulder and said, 'Hey, leave Lenny alone. He's all right. He's funny.'"
The point being, sometimes we have to leverage the power of the group rather than put it all on the teacher and the TA, which brings me all the way back to this core idea, which is the social contract. How do we treat each other? How do we want to treat each other? And really ingraining that in every interaction can become very powerful. I can see by the questions that the teachers and TAs at your schools are all under pressure to try and improve conduct. If we fix the social contracts in these classrooms and we fix the social contracts in the school, sometimes what will happen is the children will address the other children's behaviours and they will influence each other. The more we can have that happen, the easier this whole thing gets.
I was in a school in my hometown in Cork last year, and they described a situation to me where one of their seven year olds was completely losing the plot and having a terrible time, being very distressed. And it was one of the other seven year olds in the school, walked over, put their hand on his shoulder and said, "Hey Jimmy, everything's going to be all right. Come over here with me." It completely defused the crisis, and the staff were flabbergasted. The more we can encourage that to happen, the better everything's going to be. That is the social contract at work. We all treat each other in the same way. And for that reason, it's not just one classroom teacher and one TA in the classroom managing behaviour, it's everybody managing behaviour everywhere in the school. I know that sounds very blue sky, but we have examples of it working - “culture eats strategy for breakfast”.
"What can you do with a child who goes from stage one to five in the blink of an eye and is difficult to calm and doesn't hear anything that you say about right choices and consequences?"
One to five in the blink of an eye is the most difficult behaviour for us to deal with because we don't get any cues, we don't get any precursors, and the behaviour is just ‘all of a sudden’ falling on top of us.
If you have a child that goes from calm to extremely distressed in one tiny second, then you're absolutely right, there is no listening.
When somebody is highly adrenalized then they will experience something called perceptual distortion. Somebody who's really, really adrenalized? Perhaps about 80% of their hearing may cut out.
If you see a child who's red in the face and who is running about the classroom and their breathing's heavy and you can tell that their heart rate's way up. Well, that's a fully adrenalized human being. And 80% of their hearing drops out - that's called auditory exclusion.
You also get this visual narrowing, so that they end up looking down a straw, so if you're off to one side of the child saying something to them and they're not directly looking at you, then the chances are they're not taking very much of the message in at all.
You have to pick the right time to deal with behaviour too. Trying to work through consequences and options when somebody is highly disregulated? Really you're not going to find a lot of success with that.
So we have to wait - manage the crisis and make the person safe, and then afterwards in what we describe in the crisis-behaviour curve that I use as phase 6, when they're properly de-energized from the situation, when they're back at normal baseline functioning, that's then when we can have a conversation, we need to reconnect with them, we need to repair the relationship, and then we can talk about what happened and what some of the reasons behind what happened might be. And that then is a great time to do this co-production, when you and they can focus on being collaborative.
So for a child in this state, our five crisis management strategies are, number one, model calmness. So if they're running about and their heart rate's through the roof, if they do spot a look at you, at some point they have to see that you are a vision of calm, your body posture, movements and expressions are very much under control, you’ve got your breathing under control, maintaining your distance. If you're moving, move nice and slowly, deliberately but slowly.
Next, we probably want to reduce stimulation. So the idea that you would remove the other children from the room, switch off any music that's playing, ask any extraneous people to leave. If you've got lots of adults nearby, it's time for some of them to leave the room too. Keep enough people so you can deal with what's happening, but if there's anybody there who doesn't need to be there, they should also leave. Reduce stimulation.
We even do things like turning down the lights at that moment.
In our therapeutic parenting workshops with the parents of children who present with child to parent violence at home, I discovered this one fact, none of them take their children to Asda. And I would say that again, none of them take their children to Asda. Most of them learned the hard way that the fabric of an Asda Store means harsh flourescent strip lights
So they will not take their kids to Asda because the lighting in Asda warehouses, supermarkets, is that type of extremely sharp light that when some of our children go beyond a certain level of arousal, the light becomes an extra stimulant.
That one blew me over, but I've literally had groups of parents sitting around saying, "Never. Yeah. And [another shop] isn't so good either, so we never go there." And so they choose where to go shopping based on the level of stimulation in the environment. So I'll leave that one with you to think about YOUR environment and how it stimulates or arouses the children.
Sometimes we Adapt Communication - if you are using cards or posters or other visual aids to communicate ideas, that's an adapted communication principle.
Sometimes we forget that we have children in our classroom who are hungry, thirsty, tired, need the toilet or just they're full of the vigour of youth and need to go outside and run about for a while. I've met teams who as part of a behaviour plan for a young man that they were looking after, was to open the classroom door to the playground, hand him a football and he knows what to do. He has to hit 50 penalty shots against the school wall before he can come back in the classroom. So they have him go outside and work off the energy - the adrenaline that's in his system - so that he's in a better place to come back inside. That's part of the care plan they developed for him, which was working at the time that I met the team - Meeting Unmet Needs.
"When's best for consequence and or restorative practice? If something happened in the morning, then is it better in the afternoon or leave it a day? What's the best time?"
I think that's a ‘horses for courses’ answer and it will be age and stage dependent also. So with a four year old, if you leave it a day, he won't remember what happened yesterday.
"Do you remember the big hullabaloo we had yesterday?" "Nope."
So if I leave it too long with him, then I maybe miss my window.
With a seven year old, I could probably leave it a day.
I think it's age and stage dependent.
The trap there is thinking that as you know, I may have a seven year old who's had a really tough start in life. So chronologically they're seven years old because their birthday was seven years ago, but emotionally they might be operating at the level of a four year old. And that's just a pause for thought for everybody, because they had a delayed start developmentally. We need to be mindful of that.
My specialty really is in the “decisive moment” when somebody's about to get hurt and we have to do something - we have to make a decision really quickly. But I have met lots of teams who are using many of the same strategies you are, and some of the strategies I've just mentioned. I don't really expect any of those to be groundbreaking, but if I've helped you think about different ways to do things today, that's part of my role.
Sarah Naish, who is the author of a great book I'd recommend to you called, The A-Z of Therapeutic Parenting, where she covers all of the really complex behaviors that she's seen in her career in helping people with children who display all kinds of traumatic and disruptive behaviors. She says, "We have to think of ourselves like brain surgeons. And our brain surgery takes years if not decades." And she talks about the five children that she adopted as little people, and her project was to get them into their twenties as functioning, well adjusted people in society. And she said she made it with them. That's the timeframe.
So with this last point about modeling, it's like sometimes the best things we can do is just model the right things even though we think they're not working this year or this term and think about the medium-term and the long-term for these kids.