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

Use Every Tool You Have

I had a small ‘win’ this week, I am wary of blowing my own trumpet, but I see it as a useful situation to learn from and hopefully it helps others.

Some of you that already know me or have followed my blog, Facebook pages etc will know as well as being a counsellor and events organiser that I campaign from a personal stand on attachment and trauma. I firmly believe that if large institutions and organisations had an understanding of attachment and trauma, many, many people’s lives would be a lot easier.

My particular campaign has been a personal one, insisting that schools have understanding and training in these areas and in particular my own children’s schools.

I set off at the beginning of year 7, noticing that things weren’t going as well as they might. It was instinctive for me to start talking to the school, the SENCo, the form tutor, subject teachers and the head of year, try and create understanding, get them to think differently about behaviour and punishment, get them to realise what they were doing was counter-productive, punitive and possibly unkind. Those I spoke to did, on the whole, listen, accommodated my requests for meetings, took the books I offered to lend them. I did ruffle feathers and cause upset, I was asked to stop doing things. The staff were wary of me, but I figured I wasn’t going to change anyone’s thinking by charm alone!

So I used every tool I had at my disposal (I didn’t know that at the time) I used every aspect of my personality, got advice and help, laughed, cried, shouted, blogged, stayed calm, got mad, but most of all I kept on going, every time I was put off or knocked back I took stock, sat back and re-fueled my engine. It felt like a fight, a fight for understanding, a fight for my children and others like them. I wasn’t going to let them down, or let us down.

I got to the end of the year and I still felt misunderstood, not entirely listened to, felt like nothing had changed and had to use the final tool I had available and it felt risky and possibly ill-advised, was this really time to play my ace? (I did take advice from a number of professionals). I threatened to remove my child from the school (and meant it), this could have back-fired, we could have fallen flat on our faces.

The opposite happened, a few chinks of light appeared, some understanding appeared, some care and love appeared, some from unexpected quarters.

I was asked if I wanted to go in to the school on the training day and speak to a room full of teaching assistants about attachment and trauma. I was extremely pleased to do so and extremely thankful to the member of staff who invited me in (I gather it is pretty unusual for this to happen).

However, the fight is not over, but hopefully progress is being made.

My tip to you, if you are going through something similar is to be tenacious, have a goal in mind, get help and advice from wherever you can and most all do what you do with love and understanding.

I am an experienced counsellor. I work with parents on issues related to attachment, loss and anxiety. I also work generally with anxiety using a combined therapeutic approach with all adults. Please contact me for chat.

Have a great week.

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

 

How does it feel?

Consider this, the school you go to already knows that you have issues around anxiety, low self-esteem, trauma and loss. You already have an education health care plan (what used to be called a statement) and receive a lot of support in school, you have outside long-term therapeutic help. Your psychological and mental health issues are widely known. In short you have difficulties maybe even disabilities.
and you are punished for them

How does that feel?!

Makes me feel a bit sick inside, turns my stomach, makes me feel upset, close to tears.

My Point

If you have a physical or external disability of difficulty, it is visible, hopefully, you make allowances, allow that person extra time to move around, allow that person extra time with accessing work, allow extra time with activities that require physical movement. That is the kind, sensible thing to do.

What happens if you have an ‘invisible’ or internal difficulty or disability (diagnosed or not)?

If you don’t understand it, you may think the person is strange, lazy, weird, naughty, attention seeking or weak……… and needs disciplining.

How does that feel?

Disciplining you, for your mental or psychological health difficulties, that somehow you can discipline difficulties out of people.

That makes me feel angry.

Imagine this, you are very fidgety, a new person has come into the classroom you do not know, you are on edge, frightened even. You begin to rock on your chair, you can’t stop, who are they, what are they going to do? You receive a detention for not sitting still…….for being annoying.

You are anxious, worried, scared – the answer – discipline!

Trauma, attachment, loss, depression, mental health difficulties are not understood in schools (or not enough).

That makes me feel at a loss, powerless and out of control – the answer– tell people, I am angry, and if you are going through the same, I get it and you.

I channel my anger by campaigning (when I can).

Imagine you look at your school planner, it is littered with negative notes. I wonder how that feels to look at it.

For many children they would ‘say’ you are:

  • Bad
  • Naughty
  • Not worthwhile
  • Confirms your already very negative self view
  • Your self esteem takes another knock
  • You self confidence is ‘shot at’

School and society needs to have a clearer understanding of the impact of difficult starts, attachment and the impact of multiple losses.

I understand schools need behavioural policies, need to help children understand the consequences of their actions, need to help them be valuable members of society and I support teachers and schools (having worked in one for 10 years). It’s hard.

Schools (and society) need to know that you CANNOT discipline psychological and mental health problems out of children. Kindness, understanding and forethought about handling anxiety, trauma and loss are needed.

Detention, Isolation, On-Report – think carefully about those words what do they remind you of?

They remind me of Prison!

Kindness and Understanding are the key.

If any of this resonates with you from any angle you can come along to my new support group in Acomb, York, there are links below.

Have a peaceful weekend
Juliet x

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