Sunday, September 5, 2010

Say Sorry - Accountability - CPS SDT

'Say sorry'

' We have all met parents who force their children to apologize after doing something hurtful or mean. Do parents assume that making kids say the sorry sentence will magically produce in them a feeling of being sorry or even worse do they believe that sincerity is irrelevant and all that matters is the act of uttering the appropriate words ?

Compulsory apologies train kids to say things they don't mean – that is to lie.' Alfie Kohn – Unconditional Parenting

Where does saying sorry or making apologies fit in with the CPS – collaborative problem solving approach ?

There is a lot of talk these days about ' accountability ' , making people, teachers and even children accountable for their actions. The people doing the talking usually take accountability to mean the need ' to do ' to people - punishments, sanctions etc instead of ' working with' them. You are held accountable to an ' external source ' , a higher authority that has power to exert forms of control, punishment and sanctions on you. In many environments kids are made to suffer and pay the price for their challenging behavior in the name of accountability.

There is a different kind of accountability - being accountable to yourself , your values and expectations , being accountable to the commitment one makes to a family, friends, classroom, school and wider community. Here accountability is not something external , but comes from within the child or at least parents and teachers are helping kids get in touch with their core values , so that they can reflect and ask is this the type of person I want to be and become part of the solution. Parents and teachers can help kids internalize and integrate values

The CPS process first deals with the future. We want to give a child a vision for the future , we want to empower him , raise him , uplift him and certainly not put him down or pull him down with punishment or humiliate him with a forced apology. The message is we all make mistakes, and just as we can make mistakes we can fix them, and most important mistakes are our friends , an opportunity for learning. ' Failure ' is not in the falling but not getting up. We first enter his world and try to help him articulate his concerns and reassure him that the process has nothing to do with blame or getting into trouble. He then has the opportunity to take your perspective and concerns into account and together come up with a mutually satisfying solution.

When we try and make new year resolutions , or set new goals , aspirations and hopes for a new year we need to put the past on the shelf. We create our futures and the kind of future will depend on the extent of our goals , dreams and visions. If we bring the past into the picture , it will pull us down. When we focus on solutions , we can create the vision for our children. If we focus on the past , on what the kid did and how he has to pay for what he did and comply with consequences we end up 'pulling the kid ' further down into a hole of despair and mistrust.

Ultimately we need to deal with the past , because if we don't it will pull us down. But we only deal with the past once we have a vision for the future .

Once a child has a vision for the future , he feels competent with his new plan , his relationship with his teachers and parents are intact and more close , the child on his own will offer to deal with the past. His decisions will be self –determined , his act of accountability will be an expression of his inner core values and not something forced by a controlling parent or teacher.

' In her book Learning to Trust (2003), Marilyn Watson makes this very point .She explained that a teacher can make it clear to students that certain actions are unacceptable while still providing “a very deep kind of reassurance – the reassurance that she still care[s] about them and [is] not going to punish or desert them, even [if they do] something very bad.” This posture allows “their best motives to surface,” thus giving “space and support for them to reflect and to autonomously engage in the moral act of restitution” – that is, to figure out how to make things right after doing something wrong. “If we want our students to trust that we care for them,” she concludes, “then we need to display our affection without demanding that they behave or perform in certain ways in return. It’s not that we don’t want and expect certain behaviors; we do. But our concern or affection does not depend on it.”

This is the heart of unconditional teaching, and Watson points out that it’s easier to maintain this stance, even with kids who are frequently insulting or aggressive, if we keep in mind why they’re acting that way. The idea is for the teacher to think about what these students need (emotionally speaking) and probably haven’t received. That way, she can see “the vulnerable child behind the bothersome or menacing exterior.”

The popular view is that children who misbehave are just “testing limits” – a phrase often used as a justification for imposing more limits, or punishments. But perhaps such children are testing something else entirely: the unconditionality of our care for them. Perhaps they’re acting in unacceptable ways to see if we’ll stop accepting them.

Thus, one teacher (quoted in Watson, 2003) dealt with a particularly challenging child by sitting down with him and saying, “You know what[?] I really, really like you. You can keep doing all this stuff and it’s not going to change my mind. It seems to me that you are trying to get me to dislike you, but it’s not going to work. I’m not ever going to do that.” This teacher added: “It was soon after that, and I’m not saying immediately, that his disruptive behaviors started to decrease.” The moral here is that unconditional acceptance is not only something all children deserve; it’s also a powerfully effective way to help them become better people. It’s more useful, practically speaking, than any “behavior management” plan could ever be.' - Alfie Kohn – Unconditional Teaching article

Collaborative problem solving is a far more effective at holding a kid accountable than ' doing to ' him with punishments or consequences, since the kid is participating in and actually thinking about a plan to reduce his challenging behavior and taking your concerns into account rather than merely being on the receiving in of endless adult ingenuity . – Ross Greene

The apology and saying sorry is important , but it comes at the end of the collaborative problem solving process. And it is highly likely that the apology will be voluntary and sincere. If you feel you need to remind a kid to apologize – say – If you want to apologize , you can do it when you feel you are ready .


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this article, Allan. One thing that I find is to hold on to the need expectation of "finding a way to restore the relationship", without forcing a particular way of doing that. The key is that the apology or restitution should be something that helps the child feel more empowered rather than guilty or bad about him or herself. I love the idea of Collaborative Problem Solving as a way figuring out how do that. The end solution might be an apology, a gift, a card, flowers, etc.