Why detentions don’t work? Is a sea change required?

I was inspired by an article a friend shared on social media – the link to which I will post at the bottom.

I am a counsellor specialising in anxiety, a parent to 2 adopted children and a teacher of 10 years experience, a blogger on all things mental health.

I know that detentions don’t work, I have a feeling in my gut, a bodily sensation that tells me they are unkind, counter-productive and a waste of time for MANY children.

    How do I know they are a waste of time?

I do think that our actions have a consequence and that we need to know there is a consequence for our behaviour. However, there needs to be a seamless link between the action and the consequence. For example – “if you keep on with that behaviour, we won’t be able to go to the park” – natural, immediate and clear. There isn’t a time in the distant future or a disconnect between the action and the consequence – it’s an immediate learning point. Or “if you don’t complete that paragraph you will need to stay with me at break time to complete it” – natural, immediate, easy to understand. Instead of which a date is set in the future, the child is stuck in an unfamiliar classroom, with unfamiliar children and often unsupervised, they may be too scared to go and get their lunch, they may be scared of the older children and if they had a tricky start in life, they may feel deep, debilitating shame – not a good place for anyone to be.

So why do I want to write about this – I have started to find it really interesting, how we punish ‘so called’ poor behaviour. I have read a few articles recently that have got me thinking, (as well as my own family situation).

It feels as though our schools (in particular secondary schools) are set up only for the most robust and academic of children, only the most resilient will get through unscathed (I am talking mental health here). Schools could be a great place to nurture, encourage and educate children on feelings, self care, society and coping and not a pathway to prison for some young people (notice some of the same language is used: detention, isolation etc). If you have a robust child – great, they will probably survive – however, if your child has mental or psychological difficulties, attachment difficulties, had a poor start in life, ADHD, Autism etc this could be much more tricky.

Most secondary schools (and some primary) are set up as follows: verbal warning, name on board, note in planner, several notes in planner, lunch detention, after school detention, isolation, short term exclusion, permanent exclusion. Schools are institutions they need structure. A clear policy that everyone understands (hopefully). As we are all human beings they are usually applied inconsistently and are subject to our own prejudices and judgment.

    Do they work?

I did some research – I asked in a couple of parenting Facebook groups what parents thought about detentions – responses varied from – “my son had a detention for forgetting equipment, he never forgot again, so yes they do work” – to “my child was in and out of detentions through their entire school career – it’s not working”. I also posed the questions – what about children with additional needs?, should they be subject to the same discipline system as the wider school population? – most said NOT, that there should be further thought about the impact, what is appropriate, what can be understood, some creativity around methods used. Many thought restorative practice could work better. Many felt they were ‘banging their head against a brick wall’ to gain understanding around issues such as autism, ADHD and attachment. Schools are perhaps not the enlightened places we thought they were. It is very possible that some children are not functioning at a level where they can understand and control their behaviour so punishing that seems entirely inappropriate and even cruel.

    Is there an alternative?

Some schools are using or trialing new techniques, some schools are adopting restorative practice, some are using mindfulness, meditation, yoga etc. Maybe we need to get away from punishment and move towards understanding, get underneath the behaviour – “I wonder why that happened”, “I noticed you are not yourself today”, so we get to the root of the problem and together with the child come up with some alternatives for next time. I suppose these techniques may be seen by some as unworkable, but maybe if we replaced the time, admin and people associated with dishing out punishments with a different, yet workable system, it may well work a lot better for everyone, it does though, require a sea change.

I am proud of my teaching background and I have a great deal of respect for teachers and indeed would place them, up there as my some of my favourite kind of people – intelligent, kind, life changers but we do need change.
Link to article

Juliet

What is Theraplay and how can it help?

A few weeks ago I mentioned to some friends that within my family we used Theraplay and it created some interest. I was asked What is Theraplay? Who uses it? Would it be useful for me?

(I wrote this piece originally for the readers and contributors of Mumbler)

As the term suggests it is play that is therapeutic for both the children and the adults. As a family we used it to build attachment, improve relationships and allow us to become more ‘attuned’ as parents, children and a family.

What is it?

“Theraplay is an engaging, playful, relationship-focused treatment method that is interactive, physical and fun. It is based on attachment theory and it aims to create or improve healthy, attuned interaction between parents and their children. It supports healthy attachment and lifelong mental health”. It can help children from the very young (even under 3 years old) into teenage years.

Before I go any further, Theraplay is a registered therapeutic technique, a tried and tested therapeutic method used since the 1970’s. People train to be Play Therapists and work in hospitals, schools and the home.

I adopted the use of Theraplay techniques within my family to support us, keep us together, improve our relationships and to help us feel ‘close’, AND it helped and greatly improved our family life which was approaching breaking point. I was determined, consistent and disciplined. I did not want our family to fall apart.

Who can benefit from Theraplay?

The Theraplay institute say “it can help children who are withdrawn, passive, depressed, overactive or aggressive, children on the autism spectrum and those who are afraid of relating or attaching because of adoption, losses or trauma”. In summary it can help and support many children and families.

How did we use it?

Prior to my children being placed with us (they are adopted) I had not heard of Theraplay, why would I? The first I heard of it, we had a psychologist visit us at home to listen to us and suggest some ways to help us as a family. It was a flying visit, she came for an hour and sat in our front room. The one small gem I took away from that visit was that there was something called Theraplay and I could buy a book with techniques that could help us.

“Theraplay – Helping Parents and Children Build Better Relationships Through Attachment-Based Play by Phyllis B. Booth & Ann M. Jefferson”

There is a lot of theory in the book, case studies, ways to use it with ADHD, Autism, Adopted Children etc

I wanted to get on and try it out, the exercises and activities and we had great fun!

Jumping, blowing, clapping, tickling, drawing, measuring, bursting out of toilet paper, punching newspapers, singing, acting, massaging each others hands and feet, playing Simon says and Mother May I? etc etc. Perhaps some of those games and activities that you have already played/done with your children many times. We were all learning from scratch and the book explained why we were doing it, what purpose it served, what to look out for, which activities were better for the child etc. When I ran out of ideas, I grabbed the book and we tried other activities and the children came to know that if I was reading this book (and another I have) that fun and games would ensue!

My view is quite profound – it saved our family, kept us together, made life manageable while we were waiting for more help. It meant we could look back on some of those challenging times with some affection, through the difficulties those fun games stuck out. I remember the jumping on cushions and ‘find the sweetie’ games so fondly.

It could be a technique that could help you but be aware the book is not cheap and is aimed at therapists. I used about 50 pages of a 600 page book. There are other books we used though that also helped – in particular “Self Esteem Games by Barbara Sher” and its ‘sister’ book “Attention Games by Barbara Sher”.

I guess what I want people to get from this, that there are choices, options, things you can try. Getting hold of therapists for children and teenagers can be tricky (and expensive) but if you have the energy there is a way forward, while you are waiting for professional help or maybe, just maybe you won’t need it after all you’ve done.

Be brave, bold and believe you can improve your family life.

Juliet Powell

I work with parents, supporting with everything that parenting throws at us in life. From practical strategies to counselling support.

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I offer pamper events, parties and workshops using natural products and essential oils to bring people together and support them for parents and children (age 10 upwards).

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5 Useful Strategies when welcoming adopted children to your family

As I sit here in a 4th floor apartment looking out at the North Sea, it dawns on me the strategies and advice I found useful when settling my children into their new home with us.

We did receive lots of advice.

Much of the time we didn’t understand the significance of the advice – how it would be helpful and why. We blindly followed some of it and thought more carefully about others.

I think that much of the time when you meet new children you are about to adopt or look after in the longer term you are in turmoil, this huge occasion is happening to you, you are dealing with (in our case) two traumatised, nervous, anxious, excited little people. You are keen to ‘get it right’, want to make them feel ok, settled, at home and welcome. So taking in well meaning advice can be tricky.

I have tried to make this concise and easy to understand…

What we found useful?

Bed times – bed times are as much for the adults as the children, although bed times are tricky for children from a tricky background, consistently putting them to bed at a set time in a comforting, routine way is very helpful. You need a break, the child needs sleep. You may need to do it many, many times and be up and downstairs, but certainly for us it paid dividends eventually. Each time there is an incident, go upstairs calmly put them back to bed and return downstairs. Sometimes I needed to sit with them, sometimes sitting on the landing with my laptop but still routinely letting them know they were safe and that I wasn’t far away and just doggedly kept going with it. Eventually the message went in.

Playing Games – at times it was very hard to create a satisfactory relationship with my children, they were not born to me, they were not a blood relation and reaching a point where I thought we had a ‘bond’ and that we were a ‘proper’ family took years. One thing that really helped was doing Theraplay games, fair weather or foul, every evening pulling some games/activities from two books I have, was very helpful. I would go as far as saying those Theraplay games kept us together when it was very hard. (Theraplay – Helping Parents & Children build a better relationship – Jernberg & Booth, it is an expensive volume but £49 to save a family is cheap enough, and Self-esteem Games – Barbara Sher, we played tons of games from this book and I have many happy memories of these games, and hopefully the children do too.) It’s useful to have a couple of go-to books to grab.

Hand & Foot Massage – I didn’t know why we were told to do this, but I did it again, consistently, massage each others hands and feet with lovely cream (nice fruity Body Shop ones are good). It promotes physical closeness, it feels comforting, it smells lovely, got us sat together, making eye contact, giggling etc. Most importantly it promotes the production of oxytocin (produced when a baby is born, apparently, to help parent and child ‘bond’).

Nutrition – I’m afraid I don’t know too much about this, however, we were told, as the children were traumatised that their ‘gut flora’ would be unbalanced. I am starting to learn more about this but need to read more. So we gave them pro-biotics and pro-biotic drinks and I think it helped. There are lots of other reasons to give your child a nutritionally balanced diet to help their gut but you will have to read up more yourself!

Me-Time – I have consistently had full body massages and found them immensely comforting and useful, the power of touch and being ‘held’ is very valuable. Thanks to Joanne Bull, Chloe Hart and Catherine Hagan. I have also found other therapies very helpful, they got me away from the house for a break and gave that powerful one to one time to get a break and be myself.

I have plenty more ideas up my sleeve, however, this will do for now! The reason I do my Health & Wellness events and counselling is to offer this back to other people, create me-time and a break from life.

Best Wishes

Juliet xx

What’s your attachment style? – Children

It is my belief that an understanding of attachment styles would help so many people (not only parents and partners).

Clearly people like social workers, counsellors and some other therapists would find this very useful. However people like: teachers and support staff, people working in human resources, people working at management level and many others would find understanding of attachment beneficial.

Why?

Quite simply it gives you a basis to understand how to relate to that person. You will understand so much more about why a person reacts as they do and how they relate to other people.

Perhaps a good place to start would be looking briefly at attachment styles, starting with children.

There are commonly thought to be four main attachment styles that are attributed to children

Secure Attachment

A child that shows secure attachment will have received consistent care giving. A child will trust if a caregiver leaves them, that they will return. They will compose themselves after a brief upset and find something else to do or play until their caregiver returns.

Avoidant Attachment

Parents of children who are avoidant tend to be emotionally unavailable. They disregard their child’s needs and are often rejecting. The child seems independent of the caregiver, physically and emotionally.

Ambivalent Attachment

This is where a child will feel anxiety when separated from their caregiver and does not feel reassured when the caregiver returns. The child has not developed feelings of security from their caregiver. They are difficult to soothe when distressed.

Disorganised Attachment

This attachment style (or lack of it) is the most challenging to deal with. The child is likely to mistrust adults due to issues like abandonment, drug misuse, abuse and so on from caregivers and will find it almost impossible to feel safe.

These can be further broken down (i.e Secure avoidant, secure ambivalent etc) but we will stick to these main categories for now.

 

My belief is that those who have an attachment style other than secure, will still need whatever is missing to be met. Whether that be from friends, partners, teachers, parents, support staff, the state etc. This can mean if the needs are not met that they may become vulnerable and/or be drawn to other similar people (chaos). It also means that if some attempt is not made to support that person (either through self acknowledgement or other support) that they may continue a cycle of avoidant, ambivalent or disorganised parenting or ways of relating to people.

As many of you know my campaign is about schools and increasing their awareness and understanding of issues around trauma, adoption and looked after children.

Why would a better understanding of attachment help schools?

Schools (and teachers) have a vital role to play in supporting children through their school life. Teaching is a demanding job which requires a great deal of skill. As a teacher you are knowledgeable about your subject, however,  more importantly (I believe) you need to manage your classroom – the children and their behaviour. Understanding behaviour is key.

My understanding is that teacher training does include more about attachment (instead of the cursory 2 hours I received), however, understanding the impact of behaviour on a child’s learning and the possible source of the behaviour AND to have a plan about how to deal with it, should be key to planning. Dishing out detentions, isolation and negative comments in planners does not work in a positive way, in particular for children with ambivalent, avoidant or disorganised attachment styles. Accessing support for children, using positive behaviour strategies, short-term positive goal setting, positive contact with parents/caregivers will aid teachers understanding, promote positivity in the classroom and help everyone feel progress is being made.

Look out for Part 2 of attachment styles (in adults) in my next blog.

Are you interested in coming along to our Parent Support Group in York? It is for all parents who want support with parenting.

Our Next Meeting

Thursday 4th May – 1pm – 2:30pm

Lidgett Grove Methodist Church

£5 (to cover costs) includes refreshments

Juliet x

 

Campaign Begins: Understanding Attachment, Trauma and Mental Health in Schools

I’ve set my intention (I did it on Facebook a few days ago) for a campaign.

“Some of you may know that I feel strongly about how children are cared for in school. I want schools to have a better understanding of attachment, how to work with looked after & adopted children, children with anxiety, trauma etc. I want schools to be more knowledgeable about behaviour and what it means, to be much more positive and less punitive. Of course there are some schools who are much better at this than others. I have written the occasional blog (and rant) about some of these issues and plan to do more. There has to be a better way than the often dished out detentions, negative comments in school planners, isolation etc. First thing to do is be more consistent and measured with my blogs and see what comes from that.”

I am tired of schools and other institutions being largely ignorant about matters relating to adopted and look after children (and adults). I am tired of banging my head against a brick wall trying to explain the impact of trauma, anxiety and mental health issues on children. Many staff in education do not have the first clue about attachment, which would benefit them greatly in their dealings with children (and most adults), long forgotten are the cursory hour or 2 spent  studying John Bowlby’s Attachment Theory.

This is not about school or teacher bashing, this is not about adding workload to teaching and support staff. This is about making things easier for everyone. It is an area where a little knowledge goes a long way. This is about understanding behaviour and interpreting it for the good of everyone. This is about being curious about behaviour and psychology.

Where do I start?

Well I have started, by writing this blog. I intend to continue writing blogs and getting the blogs under the right noses (eventually). I will look for opportunities to speak and contribute to training in and out of schools and generally rattle a few cages and see what happens.

Who is Juliet Powell?

It’s not easy telling my story and perhaps it is largely irrelevant. However, the relevant bits are that I am an ex-secondary school teacher, I taught for 10 years in 4 schools (urban and rural) and have knowledge of what happens in schools (albeit a few years ago). I have 2 adopted children in secondary school. We were refused school entry in year 7: through lack of understanding and compassion. I am a counsellor (specialising in working with parents). I create Health & Wellness events to bring therapies and support to all. I have undertaken a wide variety of therapies for both my children and I. I have run parent support groups in variety of guises, all with an underlying theme of support no matter what your circumstances. I have been featured in the local newspaper (The Press), The Daily Mail and Prima Magazine (talking about school transition) and featured on Sine FM and Vale radio talking about children and mental health.

I do hope this means I speak from a place of knowledge and understanding.

What happens next?

To be honest, I’m not sure. What I am sure of is that I am putting it ‘out there’. I am reading more, I am writing more, I am on the look out for others who feel the same.

Looking for support, understanding and somewhere to be heard? Come along to our next Parent Support Group:

Date: Thursday 4 May

Time: 1pm – 2:30pm

Place: Lidgett Grove Methodist Church (Meeting Room), Wheatlands Grove, Acomb, York, YO26 5NH

Tickets: £5

See you there

Juliet

Event Link