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Partner and Head of Family Law, Rugby
I watched a documentary last Wenesday evening about the rising number of primary school aged children who are being permanently excluded from mainstream education. This means that pupils as young as 5 years old are behaving in such an extreme way – usually aggressively towards others or themselves – that schools feel they are a risk to others or themselves and aren’t able to keep them safe. The documentary focused on a particular school in Norfolk who will take on small numbers of children who have been permanently excluded from a number of mainstream schools in order to help them return to the normal education system. The teaching staff use a variety of different methods to try and help the children in their care recognise and manage their emotions in an appropriate way and not have to resort to the aggressive and violent demonstrations of their anger that have become so characteristic of them.
Some of the children have received a diagnosis of ADHD or autism, but in thinking about the programme, I became interested about the backgrounds of the other pupils who have walked the path that has led them to Rosebery School.
The media would have us believe that parental separation has a negative effect on children and can invite them to behave in a variety of negative ways, could it be that some of the children who have made the journey to Rosebery School have experienced family breakdown or witnessed domestic abuse and that they have been factors contributing to their circumstances?
When a child or young person is referred to me for counselling, one of the more common reasons for the referral is a behavioural change, usually when a child is displaying inappropriate anger or aggression either towards themselves or others. This can be related to a number of factors but reoccurring causes can be family breakdown, managing two separate homes, the parental relationship post separation and living in an abusive environment. In common with the staff at Rosebery School my job is to help children understand why they are feeling so angry and frustrated and help them to recognise the effect that their behaviour is having on others. Demonstrating empathy for the children, accepting their emotions, but not the behavioural responses to them, can prove quite a powerful intervention. It doesn’t dismiss how they are feeling but encourages different ways of displaying it. By adopting this attitude towards their children and understanding and accepting their emotions whilst not condoning the resulting behaviour it, parents can hopefully reduce the risk of their negative conduct continuing and the child’s school life being disrupted.
The course that I deliver to primary school aged children within the school environment, Living In A Separated Family, offers those pupils who are demonstrating challenging behaviours as a result of parental conflict and/or separation, the opportunity to express their feelings in a safe, contained way and to meet others who have experienced similar circumstances.