The JLTS Model of practice is designed to support the MODIFICATION of behaviour rather than MANAGEMENT of it.
Both these terms are potentially contentious; there are whole schools of thought who believe that the language we use around children’s behaviour is inappropriate. On some levels, I agree – we shouldn’t be labelling children as ‘naughty’ or ‘disobedient’ or ‘defiant’ - but we do need some clear way to communicate among ourselves – adults and professionals – about what the child in the middle needs from us.
Here at JLTS, we don’t usually deal with children who are badly behaved, we usually deal with children who are chaotic (see our E blog). The chaos we see in their behaviour isn’t deliberate or wilful, it’s the inevitable outcome of that child living in a chaotic environment.
We are what we are because of where we came from, and chaos begets chaos… Chaotic parents (those who forget stuff regularly, or are routinely late, or whose children have unexplained absences etc) are also the product of their environment – their chaos is the inevitable outcome of their own upbringing, or perhaps their adult life-choices.
For the record, this pattern of chaos, if unnoticed and unsupported, should be viewed as a contextual safeguarding risk – if it isn’t healed, it’ll be inherited and that, folks, is generational trauma in the making!
Connection before Correction
Connection is the antidote to trauma. Our chaotic children are certainly living with trauma – everything they do or say is likely to be corrected or criticised and that has an obvious impact on their sense of esteem and worth. Eventually, these children will become self-fulfilling prophecies – if they’re told often enough that they’re ‘bad’, that will become their internalised identity.
We can choose to continue to try and manage their behaviour – we can continually set them up to fail and then blame them for failing - or we can choose to try and help them to modify their behaviour – we can create trusting and meaningful relationships to help them build their confidence and sense of worth enough to feel safe enough to try something different.
happens in the classroom, it usually takes the form of a sliding-scale and relies on the children being fearful of the consequences – it’s punitive punishment with the intention of blind compliance.
This is Correction.
Our chaotic child lives permanently with the feeling that they are a raging disappointment to all those around them and so the ‘usual’ methods of management – “I’ll tell mummy, she’ll be very sad” - have no effect.
happens by developing therapeutic relationships with children; by growing their self-esteem and sense of self-worth; by giving them predictable, reliable responses in unquestionably safe spaces.
A safe space is one where it’s OK to get things wrong – our chaotic children’s experiences are often that the only attention they get is negative attention for doing the wrong thing, so at first, they’re unlikely to recognise, understand, or trust the safe space we create for them.
Change is scary, and we’ll all bolt back to the safety of our ‘normal’ when we feel under threat. Even if the behaviour we’re seeing is at its worst, our role is to respond predictably, calmly, and consistently. If the consequence for throwing a chair was a lost playtime yesterday, it’ll need to mean the same today, too.*
It’s our job to reinforce the safety of the space in order to create an environment where the child can feel genuine emotional responses, safely. Primarily, we’re looking for remorse and empathy – evidence of an ability to understand that actions have consequences on others, even if those consequences were unintended.
If we’ve done a good job of building our therapeutic relationship with the child, we’ve created a safe enough space for them to work through their feelings and responses (whatever they may look like) without fear of judgement or admonishment.
If we’ve done a good job of building our therapeutic relationship with the child, we’ve created a scenario where the child has been separated from the behaviour –
* it’s ok to be angry, we all get angry, but it’s never ok to throw chairs because someone could get hurt. We’re not ‘punishing’ the child for being angry, we’re acknowledging that the feeling was hard, but the behaviour remains unacceptable. Importantly, the child understands that they’re not being punished for their feelings; they’re being heard and validated first, then encouraged to show some empathy and remorse.
If we’ve done a good job of building the relationship, it’s not unlikely that the child themselves will suggest that a consequence for their behaviour is appropriate, and will work with you to identify another, more acceptable set of responses to their own anger.
This is Connection.
If a child shows no remorse ever, it is unlikely that any work with them will be successful as it is very difficult to teach remorse. We can teach or model empathy and sympathy.
Modification in action
It usually takes about six weeks for a changed behaviour to become ‘cemented’ (second nature) – this is how come so many of us signed up to the gym in January and have not been since the first week of February! If we manage to keep going every week until the end of March, the chances are we’ll carry on going forever. Bearing in mind that our decision to go to the gym or not is entirely self-fulfilling (only we’re affected by our decision-making); our wider environment is unlikely to be massively affected by the change we make.
Imagine now that you’re a chaotic child.
Imagine that you’ve come to school for the first time and you’re experiencing consistency and boundaries and reasonable expectations from adults for the first time.
Imagine that your entire reality is being challenged and a bunch of people who you don’t know from toast (or at least you don’t know as well as your parents!) are telling you that everything you’ve been taught by the people you trust is wrong.
Whenever we challenge the behaviour or actions of a chaotic child, we’re asking the chaotic child to override their ‘Normal’ and trust that what we’re telling them is correct instead.
If someone asked you as an adult to put aside everything you knew and trusted in order to put your faith into something or someone that you didn’t know or trust, and then that thing or person shattered everything you’d ever believed, would you do it? No! Of course you wouldn’t!
So why are we so surprised when these children “resist” our attempts to “fix them”?
Change is scary and we all bolt back to the safety of our own ‘Normal’ at times of stress or uncertainty. How stressful or uncertain is it when someone tears your life, your beliefs, the things you thought were right and true, to shreds?
We must be mindful that whenever we challenge a chaotic child’s behaviour, we’re challenging their ‘normal’… They’re unlikely to be playing up especially for our benefit, it’s more likely that the behaviour we’re seeing is their standard, go-to response.
It’s not the behaviour of the child that creates the potential for change, it’s the responses of the adults.
At home, X behaviour = Y response. It may not be desirable (either the behaviour or the response) but it is predictable.
At school, the same X behaviour = Z response. However desirable the intended outcome, the reality is that the response is different – it’s changed, and change brings uncertainty. Uncertainty breeds anxiety, anxiety creates more chaos, chaos requires more calm, and unshakeable consistency.
Thankfully, children are more open to change than adults, and because they are mainly self-involved creatures, if the new thing provides more of a positive ‘pay-off’ than the old thing did, they WILL adapt and accept the change.
We must remember to afford them the odd regression, as this is all that remains of everything they knew and trusted until we became involved - the ‘old them’ - and they need occasionally to go back and reassure themselves that they’ve done the right thing by changing.
This is called Testing Behaviour and it’s a perfectly usual part of the process. Be aware of it though, for responding to testing behaviour with statements like, “I thought we’d seen the back of this nonsense!” will undo all the weeks and months of hard work you’ve put into building a therapeutic relationship with that child, in an instant!
Our therapeutic stories are a great tool for supporting self and co-regulation. They can be found on Amazon:
– A special story for understanding big feelings
– A special story for understanding mental health issues
– A special story for overcoming worries
– A special book to help you say how you feel
For Behaviour Management vs Behaviour Modification
Be calm. If you can’t be calm, be somewhere else. Sometimes a fresh face will help change or calm a situation.
Be honest. If you can’t face dealing with something, tell someone and see if they’ll help you out!
Be clear and decisive. Say what you mean and mean what you say, give three clear warnings and tell the child what will happen if they don’t comply. See through whatever you said would happen as a matter of fact. No emotional response is needed, just good old cause and effect logic…
Be humorous. You’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, after all.
Be creative. Don’t be scared to try something if you think it might work. If it doesn’t, you’ll know not to do it again and that’s helpful.
Be consistent. Boundaries should be held without fail, however creatively. It is the holding of the boundary that provides the consistency, not necessarily the way in which we hold that boundary. Clearly there are some exceptions: Behaviour which could potentially cause harm to the child, other people or property should be responded to in line with your organisation’s Safeguarding protocols.
Be empathic. Before you do or say anything to a child, ask yourself how you’d feel if someone did or said that to you.
Be self-aware. You need to look after you. These children are incredibly demanding physically, emotionally, and mentally. If you need to talk about something, please do.
Be aware of each other. Take a minute during the day to check-in with each other – wringing out your emotional sponge regularly is imperative if you’re working with such high needs’ children.
Be shameless. If doing a dance will stop a child from hurting themselves or you, who cares if you have two left feet?
If you want to know more about The JLTS Model, Behaviour Management vs Behaviour Modification then please get in touch!
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