I get very upset when I hear of practices in some settings which treat children in a way that we would never tolerate as adults.

Not only because it’s unethical, but because experiences which demean, embarrass, shame or anger a child, for example, are only ever going to erode their desire to engage, connect and learn. It’s 100% self-defeating.

But there’s also a lot of practice that makes my heart sing, and today I’m sharing that; three bits of gold that emerged from a recent partnership with a secondary school; 6 months of action research to determine what it means to be trauma informed, attachment aware and relationship focused.

And the magic is, all these approaches are easy for all of us to implement in any setting;

Strengths Based Approaches
It’s a sad reality that the human condition focuses more on our deficits than our strengths, especially when it comes to young people. Whether it’s “Stop that/behave better/do more X/do less Y/improve at Z”, children get bombarded with messages about how unsatisfied their adults are with them, from a very young age.

Yet we all know that negative feedback doesn’t create the conditions for engagement, motivation, learning, or any kind of growth.

It doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to problems, but adding some strengths-based recognition or acknowledgement; even for the most miniscule of deeds or exchanges; can be transformational.

Cultivating an “I can” attitude, an identity of “I am valued”, is not only good for children’s motivation, but changes biochemistry, which in turn supports the learning capacity of young brains.

Understanding and Meeting Power Needs
Every human has ‘power needs’ and, from birth, the neurodevelopmental process of growing up is to assert more agency and control. This is particularly true during adolescence, and should be especially unsurprising for those children who’ve experienced trauma, ACE’s or another event of powerlessness.

Many of the difficult exchanges we have with the children in our lives boil down to the age-old power struggle, where ‘winning’ = maintaining your authority.

But in truth, our real power is in staying – or stepping – out of them; remembering we’re meant to be on the same side as our young people, not their opponents.

We can accept and validate their position, but still decline the invite for a figurative tug-of-war, and we can choose to ‘not win’ without undermining our own authority.
What does it mean to put your end of the rope down?

Rupture & Repair
Of course, we shouldn’t be encouraging conflict, but accepting that it happens and not just ‘managing’ it can bear fruit of its own!
Crossed words happen, kids argue with us, but rudeness and hostility – for any of us- is often just a defence mechanism against feeling vulnerable or accused.

Our ‘survival brain’ primes all of us for self-preservation, meaning grown-ups don’t get it right first time either, and there’s a golden opportunity right here which is often missed…
It’s the  win-win gift that is ‘Rupture & Repair’ .

Rupture & Repair means being a humble human first which isn’t always easy to when our propensity towards “I’m in charge” gets in the way. 

But, while maths and literacy skills may be learned from instruction, social skills and relationship repair are not. They’re learned from a mature adult who can model; “I’m the grown-up, and this is what grown-up behaviour looks like”. Be what you want to see.

A person-centred ethos; a sense of belonging where young people feel safe, seen and secure; doesn’t mean relinquishing our control and authority.
It does, however, create an environment when children want to be, which meets their brain’s VERY first need for emotional safety. That’s the difference that makes the difference!

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