The school fight. Tuning into making sense of why and what next?
A little while back, my then 8-year-old son’s school phoned to let me know he had got into a fight at lunchtime, hurt another child and had refused to apologise. I was shocked, embarrassed, worried what the other parent would think and if the child was hurt, and angry with him.
Later that night, when we were both calm and playing a card game he likes, I decided to put aside my desire to tell him all the reasons he shouldn’t have done what he did and get into his world. Understand what had happened and why, to help us consider what next (he had said he wasn’t going back to school tomorrow). He described the school fight incident and how another boy had been saying mean things and ruining a game of football for him and his friends during lunch-break. Because the other boy wouldn’t stop, my son exploded and hit him.
Recounting the story I could see his distress and anger. I said kindly “It sounds like you were defending something that is important to you, playing with your friends, but it went wrong when you hurt the other boy?” He agreed. I could see that friendship, and the sense of being part of a group was important to him. His desire for acceptance. I asked him more about what it means to have good friends? To be part of his football team and his friendship group? The more he talked the more it became clear, this was one of the most important things to him. I then asked him about what makes a good friend in his mind - loyalty, having fun, being fair, saying sorry, getting each other, being a team – were all of his ideas. I said it made sense that he got so angry when someone else was doing something that felt against what was important to him.
I asked if the way he responded, with a hit, followed his own views on good friends. He said “No.”
I asked: “Does that make you feel worse or better in the long-run?”
“Worse”, he said, “and now I don’t want to go back to school.”
Me: “If you don’t go back to school will that solve the problem and help you have good friends and a sense of belonging?”
Him: “No, I will feel more alone.”
Me: “So what can you do tomorrow which helps you be a good friend and feel better about going back to school?”
We then were able to come up with a plan together for the following day which involved an apology and a discussion with his teacher to consider ways he can walk away from situations where he might be being triggered, and if necessary get help from an adult.
By sitting with and looking more closely at the feeling (anger, sadness, shame) we were able to trace the feeling back to a value and then help him (a) understand himself better, and (b) use this information to guide what he did next (reach out, apologise) – rather than just relying on the feeling on its own to inform what next (not go to school, fall out with friends). This approach is not about making excuses, but instead is about accountability.