By Anne Martin
4-year-old Andrew stood by the car, arms crossed, pouting. He didn’t want to go into the house.
This had happened before. Many times. Usually Andrew’s mom or dad would insist he go in. He’d resist. In the end someone would pick him up and carry protesting Andrew inside.
This time, Andrew’s mom had just completed her first day of a FaithCARE restorative practice training. She had learned the basic philosophy and framework of restorative practice. The framework is made up of foundational principles and practices upon which to build healthy relationships. The framework includes an understanding of relationship styles and the use of the restorative questions.
Relationship styles focuses on the idea of being WITH those with whom you are in relationship. A WITH relationship is based on clear realistic expectations and the necessary support to meet those expectations. Here’s the chart we used to discuss being WITH each other.
The key restorative questions participants learn to have in a conversation are:
- What happened?
- How have people been affected by the situation?
- What’s the hardest thing for you about the situation?
- What needs to happen to make things right?
The questions can help us be WITH others.
Let’s go back to 4-year-old Andrew and his mother.
The questions were fresh in Andrew’s mother’s mind. Although Andrew is only 4, she figured it was worth a try.
Mom: Andrew, what happened?
Mom: (She waits giving Andrew time to think.) Andrew, what happened?
Mom: (Mom waited. Now what? They hadn’t talked in the training about what to do when someone doesn’t answer the question. Mom didn’t give up.) Andrew, what’s hard about the situation for you?
Mom: (Mom, still not sure exactly what to do, asked the same question again.) Andrew, what’s hard about the situation for you?
Andrew: (Brief silence) Let’s go in. But I’ll go behind you.
What a beautiful example of Mom being WITH Andrew. Mom respectfully maintained her authority as mother and calmly asked her young son the questions. Not all the questions, but the right ones for the moment.
In doing so, she acknowledged the situation without anger or “you have to.” She gave Andrew space. She presented a calm curiosity.
Surprised by what happened, Mom got the desired outcome: for Andrew to come into the house on his own without a struggle. There weren’t a lot of words but there was a positive experience for everyone.
What did Mom and Andrew learn?
It’s impossible to say what was going on in Andrew’s mind, how he was processing the questions. But it certainly seems the questions and the chance to think about them led him to a new place—his willingness to go inside.
Mom learned she could interact differently with her 4-year-old son by asking a couple of questions, not pressuring. She felt good. What could have been another frustrating moment for everyone, wasn’t.
After Mom told her story, a Dad in the group talked about using the questions that morning before he came to Day 2 of the training. His three boys were fighting. A common occurrence. The youngest, as often was the case, was the instigator. With the questions he’d learned the day before in mind, Dad decided to give them a try:
What happened? The brothers explained. The instigator took responsibility for his behaviour.
Who’s been affected? His youngest son didn’t understand this question so Dad changed it to Who’s been upset by what you did? The son was able to talk about how his brothers had been upset by his behaviour.
What should happen now? The son apologized to his brothers and said he’d try to do better next time.
The most striking result of this situation for Dad was that usually if the youngest son were reprimanded he’d go off to his room crying. He’d feel victimized. By asking “What happened?” rather than saying “Why did you do that?”; by allowing him the opportunity to name who he had upset and by giving him the opportunity to say what should happen now, everything changed.
The youngest son didn’t feel victimized; he felt empowered. Dad was able to leave for Day 2 of the training content the boys had worked through the situation. The boys were in a good place to get on with their day.
It goes without saying Mom is going to have to have a lot more conversations with Andrew and Dad is going to have to a lot more conversations with his sons, but using the questions can become a way to have conversations leading to more helpful outcomes.
If you’re interested in taking part in a FaithCARE training, check out our upcoming training in Toronto at: https://shalemnetwork.org/events/re-conditioned-congregations.