Prevention as it pertains to the use of restraint and seclusion in schools.
To fully understand what this is all about, I invite you to leave behind all of your beliefs about what kids should do, should be and should look like in school. To move forward you will have to leave those notions at the door. I know it’s scary, but trust me, you will be OK.
How did we get to this place where managing kids is such a worry? How did we get to this place where we spend oodles of time and money on this? Why aren’t more of us noticing what we have ‘always done’ didn’t work then, and it sure isn’t working now?
Why do we continue to jump on behavior management bandwagons with such enthusiasm and unquestioning conviction? How did we become so preoccupied with managing students in such controlling ways?
I am not going to go into details of how the institution of school is based on the industrial model. You can get a dose of that in this brilliant TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson. It’s worth your time to watch.
Take a walk around to the other side of the behavior and look at it from a different angle. Just maybe this insistence on compliance is, in fact, inviting kids to push back so as not to be smothered or extinguished as an independent thinker. Maybe what we define is pro social behavior in schools is a bit too narrow, even unreasonable for certain kids.
I debated how to best structure this post. Should I provide real examples of how often we trigger the very kids we are supposed to be helping by insisting they do as we say, in the way we want, at the time we want it done? Because I said so. I could do that. Or should I nudge you closer and closer to a mind shift, a paradigm shift, a child-centered approach?
While specific strategies have to be part of this discussion, I am afraid the majority of us are not ready to put into practice what I am talking about . Because you cannot practice what you do not fully understand and embrace.
So, here it is.
We prevent the need for restraint and seclusion by eliminating all things that trigger our students. That includes behavior charts, points, assignments and tasks they feel ill-equipped to do. We stop taking away recess and privileges. Instead we do everything in our power to help our students feel safe, capable, cared for and about, understood and heard.
But if we give kids what they need, they will ask for more and more and then all hell breaks loose. If we take away the use of levels and points and charts and stickers, how will they be motivated to do what they are supposed to do? If we don’t take things away from them or deny them access to things they enjoy they won’t feel enough discomfort to change. My God, the world might end. Anarchy will ensue!
I know this is hard.
Stay with me now.
So, how much is getting done when we have a kid in a restraint or in the seclusion room? How much is getting done doing it our way? And how much chaos ensues when we get in a power struggle with a student and he escalates to out of control and if truth be told, we are just as out of control? How much is getting done when we are preoccupied by a power struggle? How much are you getting done as you barter, bribe and negotiate?
We prevent restraint and seclusion by being child-centered, by having reasonable and individualized expectations, by making sure all basic needs are met, by understanding our students, by taking their perspective, by demonstrating in every interaction we care and they matter.
It’s that simple.
We absolutely must change the way we interpret student behaviors. We have to spend time understanding what each student’s behavior is communicating to us. We have to stop thinking that if we give them an inch, they will take a mile. We have to stop looking at our kids as master manipulators, attention seekers, avoiders, power hungry little jerks whose sole purpose is to get their way.
Instead, we must think about our kids as whole beings. And our frequently acting out kids are whole beings with real problems, physical and emotional, that keep them from feeling worthy and competent. And all of their problems are out of their control. I repeat. ALL of their problems are out of their control.
So, if we ponder that nugget, if all of their problems are out of their control, how can we justify offering incentives and threatening consequences? Doing just that presumes our kids have control.
And they don’t.
We should be doing everything in our power to prevent our kids from feeling inadequate, unheard, uncared for. Because they deserve no less.
We better not spend our day expecting our runners to stop running just because we have offered a sticker and a trip to the junket box. We better not spend our days taking away all things that they enjoy to coerce them into compliance.
If we spend our days with kiddos with traumatic brain injuries, seizure disorders, P.A.N.D.A.S., Prader-Willi, PTSD, anxiety, depression, low muscle tone, communication disorders, Rett’s Disorder, Pica, ADHD, neurodevelopmental disorders, encopresis, enuresis, Tourette’s, or any other childhood disorder or syndrome, we must spend our days with them learning all we can about their challenges. We must spend our time with them making absolutely sure they feel cared for and understood. And we better understand the unpredictability of their behaviors. We must not spend our days expecting our students to stop presenting the very characteristics of whatever disorder they have.
If we do not give our students what they need and deserve, there will be no learning, no relationship building, no growth. Instead school will be just another place in the world that is unfair, unkind, uncaring. And that would be a shame.
So, are you up to the challenge? Can you abandon your current beliefs about behaviors and take a walk to the other side? Can you take that very scary first step and change how you construct the school day for your students and focus on making your time with them joyous instead of torturous?
Trust me. You will feel better. Your students will feel better. And if you keep at it long enough, you will see change. You will be with kids who are happy to do anything you ask of them. Because they will trust you. Because they will know you understand and care and want to give them everything they need so they can safely take learning risks. So they believe they are worthy.
Restraint and seclusion prevention.
Yep, it’s that simple.