Interact With Your Kids Using a Restorative Lens

There are so many unknowns living through the current pandemic. I’ve never had more unanswered questions in my life than I do right now. Just when I get an answer to one question another unanswered question comes to mind. Perhaps you’ve had a lot of unanswered questions, too.

Lately, I’ve been wondering about the effects physical isolation will have on kids’ relationships with their peers. I also ponder what the impact will be for kids who have been physically disconnected from the daily routine of school and afterschool activities where they learn how to get along with others, gain a sense of belonging and community and build supportive relationships. While texting, phone calls, social media apps, FaceTime and Zoom can help to fill kids’ need to socially connect with others, does technology meet all of the emotional and mental needs a face-to-face, in-person connection can provide? Even so, when we open our doors and welcome kids back, what physical restrictions will we need to adhere to and how might they continue to influence a sense of community among kids and their overall well-being?

We can let the unknown lead us around in circles, only to come back to the same unanswered question, or we can seek possible answers by tuning into our own common sense, instincts and life experiences.

One thing I do know for sure is that as humans we are hard-wired to connect with each other. Just as we need food, shelter and clothing, we also need strong meaningful relationships to thrive.

Kids will experience some negative effects of being physically isolated during this pandemic. The longer it continues, the greater the effects will likely be. Some kids will come out of physical isolation experiencing little to any negative effects. Other kids will not. The problem is we can’t predict which kids will fare better than others. We really won’t know who they are until we are back together in-person again. One thing I believe we can accurately predict is the kids who are negatively impacted will self-identify themselves through an array of “acting out” behaviors.

Anticipating this and preparing for it now can help you better respond to your kids as soon as you are reunited with them. Being ready to offer a supportive, caring, empowering and safe environment for all of your kids will be vitally important. One proven practice I highly recommend you consider using to create this kind of environment is restorative approaches.

Restorative approaches are about building community and strengthening relationships. They are based on the premise that when we feel part of a supportive community we respect others in that community and become accountable to it. When put into practice effectively the effects of restorative approaches can be profound. Studies show kids experience greater safety, a sense of belonging and build stronger relationships from restorative approaches which results in more cooperation, responsibility, respect and learning.

Restorative practices are based on the following principles:

  • Acknowledge that relationships are central to building a community.
  • Build systems that address misbehavior and harm in a way that strengthens relationships.
  • Focus on the harm done rather than only on rule-breaking.
  • Give voice to the person harmed.
  • Engage in collaborative problem solving.
  • Empower change and growth.
  • Enhance responsibility.

In a nutshell, using a restorative approach means you care more about creating a community built upon kindness, mutual respect and compassion than on consequences.

Restorative approaches may be a new concept to you or perhaps it’s something you have already been using in your work with kids. No matter if you have no experience or lots of experience with restorative practices, I want you to meet Bill Michener. He is the only independent trainer of trainers of restorative practices through Restorative Solutions, Inc. Bill was also a trainer for four years through the International Institute for Restorative Practices training staff in juvenile justice funded programs, school systems and community-based youth programs. He also started a successful, first ever, Alternative Suspension Program centered around restorative practices. His extensive training experience, coupled with his passion for and hands-on experience using restorative practices with kids, is invaluable.

I am inviting you to meet Bill and learn more about restorative approaches in a one-time webinar on Thursday, May 7, at 11:00 am EST. Mark your calendar and reserve the time! Registration for this free webinar will open on Monday, May 4, with limited seating available. Contact me to receive the registration announcement.

While the coronavirus is a medical issue, a large part of what we all are experiencing is a social and interpersonal crisis. Being consciously aware of this and seeking ways to being relational with our kids now and in the future becomes even more important. Develop a resilient response by considering how you can interact with your kids using a restorative lens as you navigate this crisis together.

Will You Respond or React

The COVID-19 pandemic has the capacity to affect every person in the world. Its immediate effects and long-term impact is still unknown. But, one thing is for sure. Life is different today than it was before the pandemic.

The world has changed since the day we shut the doors of our schools and community-based agencies. Kids have changed. Families have changed. Communities have changed. Life will never be what it was before COVID-19.

It’s still unknown when we will be able to open our doors and welcome kids and families back. But, when the time comes, we need to be ready…ready to respond.

Anticipating and preparing for the issues and needs kids and parents will have when they walk through your doors again is one of the most important things you can be doing right now. Now is the time to get yourself, your staff and your organization ready to respond. If you don’t think or plan ahead now, you will find yourself in a state of reaction later. And, there’s a big difference between a reaction and a response…

  • A reaction is typically quick. A response takes time.
  • A reaction happens without much thought. A response is thought out.
  • A reaction is emotion-filled. A response is calming.
  • A reaction is often aggressive. A response is non-threatening.
  • A reaction can snowball into unnecessary and prolonged periods of discontent and disagreement. A response resolves conflict quickly.

What you do in the days and weeks to come will determine whether you respond or react. Take time to learn all you can about the immediate and long-lasting effects living through this pandemic can have on kids. Stretch the limits of your abilities and engage in learning new methods and skills that will better serve your students and families. Push the boundaries of your creative capacities and “think outside the box” when it comes to new programs, curricula and services you may need to offer. Be ready to re-think, re-learn, re-evaluate, re-flect, re-invest and re-spond.

In the coming weeks and through a series of webinars and masterclasses, I’m assembling some of the best experts whose combined wisdom, scientific thinking and on-the-ground experiences will help you develop your preparedness response plan. Look for more information coming your way and be sure to reserve one of the limited seats for yourself.

No one really knows how serious the impact of COVID 19 will be. But, the saying, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger”, isn’t always true. What doesn’t kill us often leaves its mark – whether it’s physical or psychological. The coronavirus will undoubtedly leave its mark on a generation of kids. Some will likely be alright — but others won’t be. Will you be ready to respond when it becomes obvious who they are?

The Wake Up Call That Changed Everything

It was a phone call I wasn’t expecting. It was news I wasn’t prepared to hear.

“You have been exposed to the coronavirus in your home. You need to go into quarantine.”

Instantly, my life changed with this one phone call from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

My mind was racing when I got off the phone:

· Do I have the virus right now?

· What do I need to do today in case I test positive for the virus tomorrow?

· Do I have enough groceries and other supplies to survive during the quarantine?

· Where might the virus be in my home? Where do I even begin to sanitize?

· What have I already touched in my home that might have exposed me to the virus?

· Who should I tell about my exposure?

· How could this have happened to me?

Earlier in the day and before I received the phone call, I listened to the local news on television. I remembered hearing the report that day…14 confirmed community spread cases of COVID 19 in Lincoln and Lancaster County (total population of almost 314,000 people), with the county health department monitoring 110 known exposed individuals for symptoms.

When I heard the report I remembered thinking, “That’s still a pretty low number of cases.” Admittedly, I also thought, “The risk is still low.”

A few hours later is when I received the phone call. I was exposed by one of the 14 people and was one of the 110 people being monitored. Any thoughts of “it will never happen to me” or “I’m at low risk” were shattered and now unfounded.

In Nebraska, we currently don’t have a mandated “stay at home” order. So, having an imposed quarantine order placed on me to avoid risking the lives of others also imposed an emotional and mental burden with it. I immediately felt cut off from the rest of the world. Feelings of social responsibility, isolation, loneliness, sadness, fear, anxiety and stress ensued in the days to come.

Each day of living in quarantine is filled with uncertainty – uncertainty about if I was really infected, whether my body would be strong enough to fight the virus, financial loss if I was too sick to work or was hospitalized or how long the quarantine might last. Nothing in the future was “for sure” anymore.

The thermometer became my daily companion during my quarantine.

Along with the uncertainty comes fear – fear of the unknown. I never knew from one day to the next if I had the virus or not. Two times a day I reported my temperature to the county health department and answered questions about ten symptoms related to the virus. I remember the first day I had to say, “yes”, to two of the symptoms. I thought, “Does this mean I have the virus?” “How many symptoms do I have to report before they tell me to get tested?” I reported the same two symptoms multiple days in a row asking myself the same questions every day, but with no answers. The saying, “No answer is a good answer,” wasn’t always reassuring.

I told my family and a handful of others about my exposure and quarantine. I feared the stigma that would be associated with my situation. I didn’t want to feel exiled, rejected or isolated any more than I already felt. I surrounded myself with a small support group of people who offered daily encouragement, positive energy, hope and prayer – exactly what I needed to get through some challenging days.

I was officially released from quarantine on Monday and cleared to go back to my normal routine and life. While I let out a big sigh of relief once I got the news, I also knew that my life will never be the same as it was before my exposure. It can’t be. My daily routine and habits were not what they needed to be to safeguard myself and others from the virus. Telling myself that “I’m at low risk” or “the odds of me getting the virus are minimal to nothing” can no longer be the story that runs through my head when listening to statistics on the local news. I was one of the statistics.

I am sharing my story with you for several reasons. First, re-evaluate your daily routine and habits to ensure you are doing everything you need to do to safeguard yourself from the virus. If there’s something you could be doing, but aren’t, or do more consistently, do it. Don’t short cut on any preventative measures you can take. The saying, “It’s better to be safe than sorry,” needs to be your personal mantra.

The second reason I am sharing my story with you is to make a confession. I was thinking a lot like a middle and high school student before being quarantined. Thinking I was invincible, nothing bad will happen to me and if it does, “I’ll turn out ok”, compares to what many adolescents believe about themselves when it comes to engaging in risky behaviors. So, don’t have the mindset of an adolescent. If you have placed yourself in some “low risk category” with the corona virus or convinced yourself, “It will never happen to me”, think again. I’m proof that thoughts like that are not true – just as untrue as they are with your middle and high school students. Everyone is at risk – at any time, any place and by anyone.

I am grateful to be on the other side of my quarantine period and to be healthy and safe at this time. A good number of you reached out to me last week when you didn’t receive my weekly blog in your Inbox. It’s the first week in almost a year that I didn’t write. I just didn’t have the words to put on paper at that time. I appreciate receiving the inquiries of concern. Thank you.

Little did I know when I answered the phone that day it would be the wake up call I needed to change my behaviors and thinking and possibly save my life in the long term. I hope I never get a phone call like it again and I pray you don’t either.

So, stay safe, stay in and stay healthy.

Quit Asking the Usual Question

Have you been in an exchange with someone recently that goes something like this:

You: “How are you?”

Other Person: “Good, and you?”

You: “I’m good, thanks.”

We ask the “How are you?” question with such regularity and little thought and answer the question from a standard set of responses. We’re either busy, fine, okay or good.

Most of us ask this question out of habit, but also because it’s the polite thing to do. We usually ask it as a greeting and not necessarily with the intent of actually acquiring information about the other person.

These days we are asking the, “How are you?”, question even more in our exchanges with others as we all live through the current COVID-19 pandemic. In some cases, we really DO want to know how the other person is doing.

During this time of social isolation and distancing, I hope you are reaching out and checking in with your students, parents, team members and others you love and care about. But, what alternative questions can you ask that shows you are genuinely asking about their life and well-being, leads to new information and builds a stronger relationship with them?

There are five alternative questions below that are positive, seek information and can spark a conversation. Best of all, the five questions can’t be answered with a one-word response like yes, no, busy or fine!

Here they are:

#1. What was the best part about your day? or What are you most looking forward to about your day?

#2: What work is most exciting you this week?

#3: What activities or projects are giving you energy lately?

#4: Tell me one thing you’ve learned or read recently that inspired you.

#5: What is one thing you could do right now to make the day even better?

These five questions can be asked by parents of their kids, supervisors of their team members, teachers or youth workers of their students, spouses or partners of each other and you with your loved ones.

These days I think we could all benefit from positive energy, conversation, information and inspiration. One way you and I can help with this is to quit asking the usual “How are you?” question and instead ask questions that invite sincere engagement and show genuine care.

So, tell me. What is one thing you’ve learned or read recently that inspired you? Email me your response at I plan to share your inspiration in a future blog that will reach thousands of others around the world who might need a positive message or vibe in their life right now.

Take care. Stay in. Stay healthy. Stay positive.