How can we get better outcomes? (3)
By using rules
Rules and boundaries are important. Surprisingly, with children who have had little structure in their lives and whose behaviour is very challenging, rules can have a huge and possibly unexpected impact. There are some key things to remember about rules:
- Keep rules to a minimum – if there are too many it will feel to restrictive for young people and will be a challenge to their sense of freedom.
- Keep rule simple – they need to be clear but concise, easy to remember and thus easy to follow.
- There is a difference between rules – which are set firmly and need to be kept – and boundaries, which can be negotiated according to the context.
- Rules must be applied consistently and in the same way to every situation – if a young person senses any injustice in the way rules are upheld and sanctions given, the rules will become meaningless to them.
- Rules should be positive and linked to the good behaviour you want to see, not punitive and linked only to ways of punishing young people.
At Releasing Potential we have adopted the ‘SHAPE’ rules system from a model devised at a project in Devon. SHAPE is closely linked to the Every Child Matters agenda:
We ask our young people to be: Safe, Healthy, Achieving, Positive and Enterprising. These are five basic and simple rules but they can cover a huge range of behaviours; if our young people are doing all these things we cannot expect anything more of them.
By having consequences
Rules must be followed, and it is important that the system of rules is linked to consequences. There is no point in having rules if there are no sanctions for breaking the rules. However, it is important that sanctions and rewards are given equal weight and that consequences are considered carefully. You should:
- Plan the consequences of poor behaviour in your setting – don’t just make up consequences; be clear from the outset and stick to your word.
- Plan the positive consequences – while sanctions can be crucial, positive consequences are just as important.
- Link consequences to the behaviour you want to see – sketch out the session using positive language.
- Plan the negative consequences – be firm and consistent in applying negative consequences, particularly if you have highlighted them in advance.
- Have a range of consequences – be creative!
- Remember that for some children a total withdrawal of approval can be what they expect from adults and this will ofetn justify thier lack of faith in us – whatever mistakes they do, be prepared to allow them to come back from their mistakes by using a “forgive and remember” technique.
- Rewards and sanctions must be intrinsic (about self-worth) as well as extrinsic (material) – a good combination of both is key.
Don’t underestimate the importance of our approval or withdrawal of our approval as a consequence – intrinsic rewards and sanctions work really well, especially for children who see themselves as ‘bad’ – show them how pleased with/proud of them you are when the show they can behave.
Consequences and rewards often work best because they encourage a strong sense of self concept and belonging.