Putting restorative parenting into practice

A couple of weeks ago I went to Liverpool to visit the impressive King David Primary, which is in the process of becoming a restorative school. I met some of the staff and was fortunate enough to sit in on a training session with a group of pupils. They were great - quickly grasping the social discipline window while simultaneously laughing at my southern accent and demolishing every biscuit in sight.

As part of the session, I helped out with some role plays with the children. In a trio, we all took turns being the ‘facilitator’, the harmer and person who had been harmed. While I was definitely out of my comfort zone taking the part of an eight-year-old female bully, I coped well enough with the facilitator role to leave thinking that I really should use restorative approaches more when dealing with my own children.

Most parents - myself included - will acknowledge that small children can drive even the most tolerant among us to spluttering fury occasionally. Trying to herd shouting, squirming under-5s into their coats and out of the house in a timely fashion, for example, can be challenging even on a good day. Trying a restorative approach for the sake of a more harmonious lifestyle seemed like a win-win.

Luckily I didn’t have to wait long to test my new resolve – I have three children so low-level disputes are frequent. Before long, and facing a minor but persistent series of squabbles, I arranged a collection of children - mine along with some visitors - into something approaching a circle, grabbed a wooden spoon as a makeshift talking piece, and explained the process to them.

Initially it wasn’t promising. Everyone was so desperate to speak, and to get their hands on the wooden spoon, that they were barely listening to each other. One participant, unhappy at something that had been said, tried to deploy the talking stick as a weapon. Another, maybe not fully grasping the purpose of the process, was desperate to speak but then just shouted “bananas” when the spoon was passed to her.

But when I persisted, it really worked. Once everybody realised that they would get a chance to talk, they listened. They responded to what others had said. And they worked out between them how to address the problem. A later attempt to facilitate an informal conference between two warring seven year olds was, after a slow start, equally effective. All in all, it was a good afternoon.

So what? Of course I think that restorative approaches work. But at times the idea of ‘restorative parenting’ has seemed daunting. This experience showed me that it needn’t be. It’s just a way to help you do what you know you should do anyway – listen, give everybody a say and find a positive way forward. There may still be squabbles, and tempers will occasionally be lost – that’s family life – but try it sometime, restorative practice really does work.