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Restorative Practice in Parenting

Updated: Mar 14

By: Leanne H.

I love my kids. I’m biased, but they are pretty great. I know I’m right about this because my daughter tells me so.

Despite this, being a parent can be tough. There are days when my son will say hey, by the way, my project is due tomorrow and can you please help me make a pterodactyl solely out of sponges? Or you might find yourself racing down the driveway with a forgotten water bottle in your hand at a velocity you did not know you were capable of, hoping to beat the bus. Or, maybe your daughter has misplaced a piece of jewelry (again) and blames you for taking it (also again). Or you get the text that your child has lost their debit card and now, guess what? Somebody’s got to call the bank and mom, the number was on the back of the card so I don’t have it.

In moments like these, I know I am not always my best self. Although I try to channel my woke social worker self, sometimes I’ll get stressed or speak abruptly, which of course adds parenting guilt, and you know, there is STILL that bus to catch or the spill to mop up and oh my goodness, do I hear the dog tossing her cookies in the other room.

At this point, I try to dial it back, and sometimes I can, and sometimes I need to just get through it and regroup later. I do try and follow up with my kids to talk it through once we’ve regained equilibrium. In school, I am assigned a lot of TED Talks, and I was recently inspired by Michelle Stowe and have been trying to apply her restorative practitioner techniques to my own parenting.

Quick recap, for those of you who may also be new to this. Restorative practice prioritizes respect and empathy over blame or punishment. There’s an emphasis on accountability that gives everyone involved the power to be part of the solution.

When my daughter and I last butted heads, it was because I’d asked her to handle a chore, and it simply had not gotten done. After cooling down, I tried Michelle’s six questions to work on reestablishing empathy after a conflict.

From your perspective, what happened? So, instead of “Why didn’t you clean up your things?” maybe “What happened that led to your leaving your stuff out?” It turns out that she’d been asked to unload the dishwasher at the same time, and didn’t know which task to do first and got caught up in overthinking it.

What were you thinking at the time? We talked about it, and I think the guilt of not getting things done, and worry about doing things wrong also prevented her from getting her task done.

What are you thinking now? Understanding her feelings about the issue made it a heck of a lot easier to drop my irritation at the chores not getting done, and reduce my own worries that I wasn’t raising her to be responsible.

Who is affected by that? Talking over our feelings helped us to see the emotional context, and that it wasn’t just a simple discipline issue, there was more to it than that.

What could we have done differently? This one’s particularly helpful for us. We talked it through and thought that she could say, “That’s too many things at once” and we’d handle things sequentially or help her to prioritize or fully understand the tasks, to remove some of the stress.

What needs to happen next? We agreed to try this, and so far, so good. She IS pretty great.

I am not saying you need to apply restorative practice techniques to every complex interaction with your children. That’s actually absurd. Sometimes, life is going to happen and we’re not going to be in control of the situation, or even fully able to manage our own reactions. We’re all trying to be good parents, and show up for our kids, and model the right behavior. I’m sharing this instead to provide another tool to consider applying as a parent. Maybe it’ll lead to some interesting discussions with your kids. Maybe they’ll answer every single question with “I don’t know, can I please have some Cheese-its.” Not everything will work for everyone, but I like to think of us all going through this with as much support as possible. It really does take a village.


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