Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman recently talked about schools needing to deliver lines and community service to punish some kinds of behaviour.
Regardless of age, I believe everyone needs clear guidance about expectations and information about possible consequences, if those expectations aren’t met. An organisation which has this clarity in its operation functions well. One reason for this is because doing so removes the anxiety in people of inadvertently making a mistake and so feeling that they’ve done something wrong.
It is interesting that there are many high profile companies these days operating on flexible working patterns which could so easily be taken advantage of. For all this though, employers actively choose to trust their employees. Because it’s now been proved that that trust empowers employees, it is respected. The increase in this strategy has been significant – and with it the business gains have followed.
A modern workforce is often consulted when drawing up future guidelines and company regulations. The expectation from directors is that their workforce is made up of responsible people who want to do a good job, and to have a safe and stable future. Sometimes people DO make mistakes – in those companies those mistakes are pointed out, usually in the much taught E2C2 formula which avoids blame and shame. In addition, some go-ahead companies provide facilities which further play to empowered employees through things like recreation rooms with pool tables, rest areas, slides and massage areas,‘wellbeing‘ and stress consultants.
These kinds of management techniques and strategies for engaging and motivating a workforce are used in engaged, motivated businesses. Research has proved that workers engage more fully when they are treated like valued individuals. It is also now accepted that a “one-size-fits-all” style of dictatorial operation does not suit everyone.
So far, so good.
For me though, if this has proven to be true for adults, why is it that some people struggle to believe that such behaviours and practices don’t work with children too? To me, adults are just humans who have been on the planet longer and have simply experienced more. It stands to reason that the developing brain responds to similar motivators as those I’ve described already. I am certain that the following are all better strategies than any amount of telling off and punishment – I absolutely believe that they are far more likely to gain the desired result:
· Consulting with and encouraging children to make a list of ground rules or ideas for getting along and making things happen
· Listening to their complaints and challenging them to think about other ways of doing things if something isn’t working for them - or the people around them
· Role modelling so that every thought and opinion is considered - even if adults disagree with their standpoint - and trying to come up with a win-win compromise
Most challenging behaviour is fear or anxiety based – this too is part of the human condition and has nothing to do with age. If I constantly turn up late for work, perhaps it’s because I think I’m not good enough at my job. Perhaps it’s because colleagues are giving me a hard time. Or perhaps I’m scared of my boss. As an adult, if things become unbearable I can simply leave.
Children don’t have this option.
In the same way that an employer or a human resources consultant’s role is to find out what an individual needs to engage with their employer and perform to their best, teachers can observe and listen, ask what’s going on,encourage a child to also give of their best and work to find ways to motivate them to succeed. A young brain needs frequent reminders - it struggles when it comes to empathising with the feelings of other people. Children often find that they can’t process their own turmoil and mixed emotions, particularly as teenagers. How then can they be expected to find the mental space to process someone else’s?
I’m sometimes asked about the darker side to young people - “What about teenage rapists and murderers, all the stabbings and violence?” they say. It is a proven fact that young males receive 800 times more testosterone in their bodies during puberty as opposed to later stages in their lives. Just like loading a computer with software, young males need time and patience from their ‘operators’ while they process their surroundings and become ‘user friendly’ again. Children –including young males - cannot be grouped together as ‘them’. Every parent knows that their child is unique and has lived through unique circumstances.Different people are affected by trauma in different ways. Anxiety prompts the production of the chemical cortisol in humans– medical research has proved that this substance can have negative effects on the brain and cause violent emotional outbursts.
A child from a secure and loving home who has lost a parent or grandparent or even a beloved pet, can be expected to display challenging behaviour whilst processing the turbulence of the new feeling of grief or abandonment. A child who has witnessed domestic violence between its parents – or the beating of their pet as punishment for them wetting the bed, is going to feel high levels of anxiety and experience the production of cortisol which is capable of leaving gaps in the development of their brains and possibly lead them to commit similar acts themselves.
This isn’t an excuse... but it is a potential contributory factor.
Learning by rote, punishing bad behaviour, shouting and humiliation all work brilliantly, I accept. But at what cost? It’s a fact that more people than ever before - in these, our “enlightened times” - suffer from stress. And that includes one in five children.
It’s interesting that we hear so much about the efforts to reduce the stress levels in adults in order to keep the economy and our countries working effectively. Isn’t it time to really look at where and how those stress levels originate and tackle the problem at its source?
Right back to the womb...