Child-Shaped Person-Centredness: The 'Six R's' Explained

Child-centred or trauma-informed approaches are definitely being valued in young people’s lives more and more.

Unfortunately, they’re completely at odds with punitive approaches, ‘zero tolerance’, ‘behaviour tsars’ etc. which, while being promoted at national policy level, aren’t underpinned by understanding the distress behind many challenging behaviours.

So the situations I come across a lot aren’t that unpredictable: 

  • Settings where trauma and relationship-based practice is being spear-headed by some very committed staff, but resisted by others.
  • A bow to trauma-awareness, while in practice, nothing changes.
  • Progress being made somewhere in the setting but, because contradictory processes are at work, and being unmade somewhere else.

I don’t agree with, but I do understand the reservations in some respects; it’s easy to imagine discipline, attention, punctuality, behaviour and learning all going out of the window if they’re not tightly managed.

But when we understand these approaches through the lens of brains development, they make perfect sense. We can see that, rather than compromising the quality of learning, they do the opposite, because they create the conditions for learning-readiness in the brain.

Even so, changing your whole approach can be intimidating and overwhelming; overhauling practice, re-writing policies, training for the whole staff team etc. 

I’m supporting one particular setting with this process ATM and we’re learning some interesting – and reassuring – insights along the way (if you want to know more, enquire here).
All of their young people have SEN, SEMH, and/or communication challenges. 
Their provision cuts across classroom learning, a unit for those who can’t manage classroom life, and residential care. 

But even with these complexities, developing a whole-setting approach to relationship-based practice is not turning out as challenging and unwieldly as you might think.
The most important investment is time, not money: the space for meaningful conversations, thinking and reflecting time amongst professionals who don’t usually all put their heads together at the same time.

At the current point in our journey, we’ve arrived at a simple framework of ‘Six R’s’: basic principles that are easy for every member of staff to understand and value, which put child-centredness firmly at the heart of practice. 
And they are:

RECOVERY: This isn’t just about recovering from trauma. Distressed brains – regardless of whether we think that distress is valid or not – just don’t work properly.
They will always prioritise survival over learning, which usually manifests itself in ‘fight, flight, freeze’ behaviours.
Some children, especially those who struggle with change or sensory overload, may need multiple recoveries a day. But without them, their brains aren’t ready to engage. Talking or readiness…

READINESS: Readiness – whether to learn, listen, communicate, engage – isn’t just about the child. Yes, their brain activity and biochemistry needs to be conducive to achieve ‘readiness’.
But so does the environment and the other people in it. Readiness requires all the important elements to be at the start-line at the same time.

RELATING SKILLS: A gap in language or communication skills is at the heart of so many difficulties children encounter on a daily basis, which thus become a difficulty for the adult who can’t understand their needs.
When children have the skills and the words to communicate, and thus get their needs met effectively, they don’t have to default to the challenging or confusing behaviours which are typically just a very inarticulate expression of unmet need.

RELATIONSHIPS: In the words of Bruce Perry, ‘Relationships are the agent for change’.
Nothing changes a hyper-aroused or distressed ‘You are not safe’ brain state from to ‘You are safe’ faster than human connection. Threats, isolation, punishment and humiliation will do the opposite.
The quality of accepting, empathic connection, practiced alongside the art of Restorative Practice and ‘Rupture and Repair’ can change everything; when you get the relationships right, everything else follows much more readily.

REGULATION: Regulation doesn’t just mean ‘calm’. Especially for children with high sensory needs or a frayed nervous system, being regulated can present very, very differently to calm.
Ultimately, regulation is about being in control of your emotions, rather than being controlled by them. (Or for that matter, being controlled by adults through fear of sanctions and ‘consequences’.)
And that means the adults, too. Hence, it’s unrealistic to expect children to regulate if the grown-ups around them haven’t mastered the art of co-regulation.

RESILIENCE: It’s a word that gets chucked around a lot, and with good reason; nobody can argue the importance of cultivating young people’s resilience.
And it’s especially important for those whose brains are wired a bit differently to most, or who have the imprint of trauma in their nervous system, because that can mean they’ll face extra challenges in life. 
This is why resilience isn’t just about ‘bouncebackability’, ‘determination to succeed‘, or the setting’s need them to ‘work hard’ or ‘try again’.
It’s about fostering a lifelong mindset and habits of resilience that serve the young person – meaningfully – for life. It’s not about being strong or a ‘fighter’, but choosing battles you can win.

Models which promote Person-Centredness – Maslow’s Hierarchy or Roger’s Core Conditions, for example – have stood the test of time because they work. But there’s still no one size fits all.
The purpose of person-centredness is, after all, the person (s), and so we’re moulding an personalised approach around these children, rather than needing them fitting in a mould or an existing model.
Because that works even better 😉

Want to know more about developing a similar approach in your setting (it’s easier that you think!) Enquire here.

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