Restorative Practices: How to help your child grow their empathy, learn to be independent, and do the right thing.

I attended a parenting seminar in a few years ago. The topic was about “Restorative Justice”. The speaker spoke deeply to me, and I fell in love with the idea of asking young children to take intentional actions to repair harm caused by their behavior. Over the years, I’ve seen these ideas bubble up in my own teaching practices. Now, it is a good opportunity to share with you.

Traditional ApproachRestorative Approach
School rules are broken
Justice focuses on establishing guilt Accountability = punishment
People and relationships are harmed
Justice identifies needs and responsibility Accountability = understanding impact and repairing harm
Justice directed at the offender, the victim is ignored
Rules and intent outweigh whether the outcome is positive or negative
Offender, victim and school all have direct roles in the justice process
Offender is responsible for harmful behavior, repairing harm, and working towards positive outcomes
Limited opportunity for expressing remorse and making amendsOpportunity is provided to make amends and express remorse

This strategy can be introduced to really young children. Let me give you some examples of harm that Preschoolers usually do to one another. No matter by accident or not: pushing in line, hitting, kicking, stepping on fingers, weird faces, taking toys without asking and saying mean words, etc. All these incidents used to take up among of my teaching time to resolve the conflict between students.  Therefore, I started to implement a “Restorative Practice” in my classroom.  It is simply have the offender ask the victim, “What can I do to help you feel better?” The offender offers some of the solutions, such as hugs, smiles, high fives or helping to fix something broken or sharing a toy or, playing together etc. These are all authentic ways young children can show they are sorry. As a teacher, we are helping our children learn a bit more about what healthy, caring relationships look like. Genuine apologies are on their way, it takes time to grow a child who can tap into their inner selves and respond with compassion and honesty in a difficult situation. Time, patience, gentle guidance and trust this, “I am sorry” will follow and be truly meant. Teachers should not force preschoolers to say ‘sorry’ because they are too young to understand the sentiment.