How I Got Hooked On Restitution

Patrick was a very impulsive and quick-tempered grade 6 student.  He had a history of being involved in fist-fights on the playground, and had served a number of out-of-school suspensions.  He was generally a friendly student, but would lose control if he became frustrated or felt wronged in some way.  He had been referred to work with me on developing some anger management strategies.

On this particular day, just prior to our scheduled counselling session, Patrick was involved in another fight.  The principal felt that suspensions were not solving this problem, and asked if I could try a different approach.

Patrick was brought into the school by the playground supervisor.  He was swearing and mumbling under his breath, but came into the office and sat down.  When I asked him what had happened, he escalated and began to rant about what a stupid school this was, and how everyone hated him and treated him unfairly.  Recognizing that before anything else could happen, I needed to focus on stabilizing his identity, I simply said that I was here to help, and that we would figure this problem out together.  He replied that he wasn’t talking to me or anyone else, and I couldn’t make him.  I told him that we had solved other problems together before, that I knew we could face this one successfully, and that I could wait until he was ready to do that.

After a few minutes of silence, he agreed that he would tell me what had happened.  He and a friend had been out for recess, and noticed the rest of the grade 6 class organizing a game of soccer.  They went over and asked to join in.  Josh, the student who was taking charge of organizing the game, said that Patrick could play, but his friend was no good at soccer, so he wasn’t allowed to play.  Patrick was so incensed by how rude this statement was, that he hit Josh in the face, and the fight ensued.

I pointed out one of the qualities I liked best about Patrick was his loyalty and willingness to stand up for what is right.  I was amazed when I said this, that Patrick hung his head and replied, “Yah, but that wasn’t the right way to do it.”  I was stunned that a child who usually argued that he was justified in his fighting and that staff just didn’t understand, was able to shift so completely when the need he was trying to meet was acknowledged.

We began talking about how he could have done this in a more effective way.  Patrick was able to self-evaluate and verbalize that he has difficulty in getting his thoughts across to others when he is upset, and that he just wanted Josh to understand how upset he was to see his friend being left out.  I asked him if he thought Josh understood that now.  Patrick didn’t think that he did.  In fact, he thought Josh might not know what the fight was about at all.

All of a sudden, Patrick jumped out of his chair, and said “I need to explain to him why I was upset so that he can learn that it’s not okay to treat people like that in the future.”  He said that he wanted to do this right away because he knew I could help him explain if he had trouble putting his thoughts into words.  At that, he ran out of the room, and came back with Josh in tow.

Patrick took total responsibility for the fight, and told Josh that he had been wrong to hit him.  He explained how terrible he knew it would make someone feel to be told they were bad at soccer and couldn’t play, when everyone else was included.  He told Josh that as a class, he felt they should not be leaving people out.  Josh acknowledged that he probably shouldn’t have said that to Patrick’s friend.  They agreed that next recess, Josh would make sure that Patrick’s friend was welcomed to play.  I sat there, never saying a word, impressed by the fact that Patrick was making things right because he truly wanted to, not because he had been told that he had to.

After Josh left the room, I asked Patrick how he felt about what had just happened.  With a big smile on his face, he told me how great he felt that he had been able to make things better for his friend.  He felt that the next time he got upset, he might be able to remember how much better things worked out if he was able to keep his cool and explain himself clearly.  He then said, “I’m going to be suspended for this, aren’t I?”  I agreed that this was likely going to happen, as the school has pretty clear consequences for fighting.  Patrick shrugged his shoulders and nodded.  I was amazed yet again that this student who sat before me, who usually ranted about the school, and that nobody understood him, was accepting this consequence as a matter of fact.

This was one of those moments where I knew that Restitution was something special.  A child whom staff usually found difficult to deal with, was taking responsibility for his actions, and learning a better way.  He was so proud of the fact that he had made things better for his friend.  He didn’t see the school as “the enemy”, but felt that even though he had done something wrong, that he was still understood and cared for.  He would struggle with his impulsivity in the future, but we had laid the groundwork for him to know that he was capable of solving problems, and was proud of himself for following through and doing the right thing.

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