The Other Piece of the Equation

I’ve watched in awe with the skills with which some people are able to search out and validate the needs that are behind negative behaviours.  It’s almost magical to watch how honest and open a child becomes when they feel that an adult truly understands their point of view.

But too often, the full restitution process is not completed.  The mom tells her child that she knows he was not intending to hurt anyone with his rough play, and that he was only trying to have fun.  They have a wonderful conversation about how to play in a way that will not end in a fight, and off the child happily goes.

Or the student who is rude to her teacher has a great conversation with the principal in the office where they discuss how embarrassed she felt when the teacher put her on the spot, and how she felt she needed to stand up for herself and save face in front of her friends.  They do some planning about how to handle this kind of situation in a more respectful way, and the child returns to the classroom ready to engage in learning again.

So what’s the problem?

In both cases, the children have acknowledged that they made a mistake and behaved inappropriately.  They both have created a plan to avoid the problem again.  They are no longer angry and blaming, but have taken responsibility.  They see the adults who intervened as people who support and care for them, but also as people who have standards and boundaries that must be respected.

It all looks pretty good on the surface.  And don’t get me wrong – a lot of good has been accomplished.  But there is a missing piece to these otherwise effective interventions.

Let’s go back to the definition of Restitution:


I’ve seen it a million times…. The child goes back to play with his friends, but they are wary of him, or angry at the way that he treated them, and he ends up being left out. The student returns to the classroom, but the teacher has a difficult time re-engaging with her because the child said some pretty hurtful things that are difficult to just forget.

These children may have returned physically to the group, but they have not fixed their mistakes, and the group has not truly been restored.

It’s great when kids make mistakes and learn and are strengthened from these situations. But if we don’t complete the process, we may be robbing them from learning how to repair relationships when times get rocky. And what relationship isn’t going to have some rocky times?



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