I have written many responses to blogs about abusive behaviour in children and I thought it was time to write why I think the way I do.
a) The idea I have been told many a time is that children who present with challenging behaviours are suffering in a way that other children are not. It is a cry for help and we must respond with greater love, patience, kindness, etc.
Yet in my experience this simply has not been the case. I have taught many children who have had awful experiences and they do not all act out at all.
Recently I spoke to a friend who is Professor in the field of behavioural psychology to check whether I was just plain wrong about this. He stated that all the credible research he knows in this area points to the fact that two people can have the same experience and respond differently. They believe that it is due to resilience but it is still an area where much study is being conducted.
At best this means that we need to be wary of the idea that challenging behaviour = greater suffering.
b) While I can accept that a strict teacher like myself may fail to implement the nurturing approach well, I find it harder to accept that my colleagues who are way more patient and nurturing than me have also similarly failed to change behaviour via this approach. It’s not right to keep brushing this experience under the carpet or blaming the teacher. Why is this particular approach so sacrosanct?
c) I have not known of a child who has changed their behaviour as a result of this approach. I’m not saying it has never happened ever anywhere. But for me now this is in the realms of a myth as every time I have asked to observe someone trying out the latest nurture based strategy it has never materialised. In ten years I think its fair to have seen it working at least once.
d) Abusive behaviour is learnt – the child has not decided to learn it. It’s the environment. However some strategies leave me cold, don’t challenge, walk on eggshells, give them what they want, accept the abusive behaviour, blame yourself – what have you done to ‘make’ the child react in this way, give them what they want, give them control. Anyone who has grown up in an abusive environment has seen that behaviour – from the victim. I can see why it placates as it falls into the realm of the familiar patterns of behaviour that child is used to being around. However well meaning, reinforcing a negative pattern of behaviour or type of relationship can not be the way forward.
While children with challenging behaviour undoubtedly need help and support. I can not, in all conscience, advocate any strategies that fail to address or change the behaviour or worse even, have the abuser-abused roles being played out in front of the class.