Working with a great teacher a few weeks ago she asked, as many do, does the change last? She felt the children she had brought were truly altered. Reactions were more restrained, tolerance increased, resilience demonstrated, care and concern for others tangible, happiness evident. Her reasonable fear was that all this would disappear on return to school.
Schools, teachers and parents, tell us that after a week on a Jamie’s Farm there is a turn around, to a new positive direction, in a child’s life. Many ask, how can this be, one week, is it enough?
Imagine a wooden puzzle. It is crafted so each piece is unique in shape. If we take out one piece, re-sculpt, and change the shape, it no longer fits. To accommodate this bit again, to let it slot back in, the pieces all around it will have to change in shape. I liken this to a child who comes to the farm. They previously belong as part of several puzzles. They fitted into the jigsaw of their school life, relationships with teachers, other pupils, their home, and their social life. When they leave the farm, hopefully, their personal geometry has changed. They may be less aggressive, eliciting a less angry response. They may be more cheerful eliciting a more positive response. They may be more friendly enabling friendships to form. All things change as new interactions form. Confidence builds, self-esteem is on the mend, there is new possibility in relationships and nothing remains unchanged. All this is my way of imagining “systemic shift”, described in systemic theory, we are not isolate parts but belong to systems. Change in one part requires change in all. Change in the system allows change in the part.
Life working on the farm requires different parts of the child to emerge. They can create a new relationship to themselves, and others. They learn to trust themselves and in turn trust in others.
If it is a cold and blustery day, dark winter morning, snuggled up in bed, why raise your head? But, there are the noises of the animals who need feeding, there is work to be done, motivation is increasing, as you raise your head. It’s unusual to be up on a cold winter morning, but there is cow calving, Dougie whistling, and it’s hard not to join in the fun. By 8 o’clock the sun is rising, and so are you, the spirits are increasing along with confidence too. Breakfast needs cooking, pancakes to make, and farmers are hungry so better not be late.
There is generosity and it is infectious. Where there is kindness around, the children feel able to share and to want to give more. Cooking for each other helps them feel part of a family and opportunities for helping abound. Clearing and laying the tables, eating together, swapping stories, pride in new adventures, tales of muddy puddles, rolling down hills and having fun, children playing. They find their fitness through the hard-physical work and long walks each day. They challenge their bravery, try new things, help deliver a lamb, jump in a cold river, hike up a mountain, and speak about their emotions and authentic feelings in a group. Feelings of competence are formed, confidence increases.
All this helps develop new pathways, literally new neural pathways in the brain. If, as we believe to be the case, the brain is like a computer, these experiences will be stored. They are there as files to attach to, to re-wire open, to build onto and to develop. This a series of new beginnings. I am no expert about memory, but it makes sense to me that a child will wish to store good experiences/memories. Better still these memories have been created using all parts of the child, they have been affected in mind, body and spirit, or as some prefer to say hand, head and heart. If good experiences can be like building blocks, one will lead to be a platform for another. Watching a child build positive experiences is like watching them grow taller, block upon block.
So many children will say, “On the farm I feel different. I feel kinder. I feel able to work in a team. I have discovered I can try new things. I like getting on better with people”. If asked what they feel they want to take back to school, to home we hear things like, “When I get home, I will help my mum more. I realise she works hard to keep us all going”.
Imagine being this mother- it is a breath of fresh air, your child seems to have noticed you, is grateful but concerned. Appreciation is like nectar. A happier mother makes for a happier child. Getting back on track to kinder, more caring communication is a way into opening the drawbridge. Previous barriers can crumble and new patterns form.
“At School, I am a nightmare, teachers’ worst hate. I am going to try a lot harder, maybe ask for help, not walk out of class, or even be late”. As a teacher, this attitude will elicit more praise and appreciation. Positive feelings beget more positivity. Teachers want to teach the child who invites help, the child that is willing to learn.
“When I get home, I am not going to hang around with those guys on the street. They are in loads of trouble. If I carry on like this I will be dead meat!” Hard, but possible, to deflect from previous alliances, a young person with more confidence may have a fresh start. If luck has it, they may make new friends, be able to separate, and try new pathways again.
What if the child must go back to a very dysfunctional home where there is possibly domestic violence and overcrowding? True enough the child cannot change that depressing situation, but they can seek out more positive experiences, and invest energy elsewhere. They may be able to discriminate and recognise the negativity of the parent’s role models. The child may begin to see and access support that they may not have not done before. They have an experience now to draw on for which the feelings of belonging and being valued help colour them in as part of a potentially different puzzle. The children may begin to feel hope in the place of hopelessness. They can aspire to a different kind of life. They may even have built the confidence to move in a different direction. They know now life can be different.
The most frequent comment I hear on the farm are “Here, people are kind and caring and positive”. Children seem to crave positivity. It enables them to feel relaxed, less stressed, less anxious, and better still to feel that their company might be enjoyed. Indeed, they feel likable, even lovable. Babies start life looking to their mother to mirror love, to gaze at them with tenderness, light up with their smile, respond with giggle to giggle, share in the joy of their being alive. Teenagers crave this too, a smile rather than a scowl, a laugh rather than a shout, some calm in place of stress. Like babies, their brain is changing and forming, it is malleable and growing.
Change needs to start somewhere and fresh starts are often best. We raise the expectations and give opportunity for wounds to mend. Jamie’s Farm can be a new beginning and the instincts are on the mend. Feeling good, trumps being bad, and hopefully new patterns can build. Confidence builds confidence, kindness breeds kindness and trust creates trust. Children are still malleable and searching to love and feel lovable.
Written by Tish Feilden
Lead Therapist and Founder