At Klingberg Family Centers, one of the important reasons we created the Restorative ApproachTM (link to website) as an alternative to our point and level system was that elaborate point and level systems could not be replicated in families. Although at times professionals have instructed parents to set up charts with rewards and punishments, families are generally unable to maintain these for very long. This mechanism for behavioral change does not fit with family life. The Restorative ApproachTM emphasis on making amends for harm caused is a more natural and familiar response for parents.
However, when programs decrease their reliance on consequences and implement restorative tasks, they may encounter confusion from parents. For years these parents have seen their children punished for misbehavior and have been encouraged to establish punishments themselves. Their own upbringing may have relied on punitive restrictions and even physical punishment. They may understand that the child should make amends for harm caused, but often say “and in addition, what will their consequences be?” Like many staff, the parents worry that their children are getting away with bad behavior, and wonder how the child will learn and change without experiencing negative results from harmful behaviors.
Another important factor is that the parents themselves are often trauma survivors. They too may experience symptoms such as distrust, difficulty feeling safe, and a feeling of unworthiness. If their own symptoms (for example, drug or alcohol abuse) have contributed to the stress on their child, they may be feeling guilt and shame. Their response to their children’s experience is inevitably colored by how they dealt with their own trauma: Did they talk with anyone? What was the response? Have they received any help? Perhaps a parent had to get through their own trauma by being silent and tough, and they feel that what they see as indulgence will be harmful to their child. Their experience makes them feel that the child needs to just stop acting up and get strong, and they are afraid that an approach that they see as “too nice” is just unrealistic in this dangerous world. We must remember that the parents are doing the best they can out of their love for their child and their sense of the world.
It is essential that treaters realize the complexity these issues and deal with them directly. Psycho-education about trauma, its effects, how it influences current behavior and how people heal can help the parent understand both their child and themselves. It is especially important to convey the concepts that symptoms are adaptations and that the children need to learn skills in order to be able to meet their needs in positive ways. We must discuss with the parents in advance both how we plan to respond to their child’s hurtful behaviors, and why. Whenever possible we should involve the parent in creating the response. In many cases we will be able to help the parent create restorative responses to problems that occur in the family home. In doing so, we will give the parent a powerful tool that they can continue long after the child is discharged.
Explanation given to parents and guardians at admission: