Reported bullying in school more often than not leads to detention, suspensions and expulsions – children being rapped over the knuckles and grounded for being mean. But look at a school’s list for detention each week and tell me the same children don’t keep appearing.
What is discipline teaching? It teaches children not to get caught! But worse that this, it means that if they’re caught and disciplined and punished, they are resentful, vengeful and out to ‘get’ those that told on them or got them into trouble. (On this note, a lot of cyber bullying incidents are vengeful in nature)
If we can review this age-old approach and focus on highlighting the harm, as opposed to punishing the deed, we are focusing on the human element of the conflict and the life skills required to restore relationships.We should be teaching our children to be decent, fair, and empathic peers.
Spending 30 minutes talking to a child about the impact of their behaviour on another has far greater and long standing effects that stamping down a punishment. If it doesn’t work? Well in these rare cases, you then have a fair assessment of the difficulties the child is having and the need for possible interventions. You have provided the opportunities to understand and empathise and no impact or change on their future behaviour could indicate an issue with callousness, unemotionality, amongst other things which may require intervention, just like a learning difficulty too requires external assistance.
In the right situations and with a trained facilitator, restorative justice processes and conflict mediation can work wonderfully with children. This can be required in bullying situations but also often in a class where the dynamic is affecting learning and children need to learn to work side by side. Adults play a big role in helping children understand relationships and during conflict resolutions children learn skills necessary to reach peaceful ground. These skills include communication, compromise, and the ability to consider their own perspective as well as that of the other.
One of the big problems we have in this change of approach is with parent perspective. As a parent, if our child is harmed, we want blame and retribution. But we have to remember we are dealing with children, who, developmentally need our help, not our need to blame. And it is our need we are addressing, not the children’s because all children benefit from this approach, on both sides of the divide.