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.

Website

 

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).

Facebook Page