Communication to create a safe space
Jamie’s Farm has just ordered a clutch of David Taransaud’s brilliant new book “I, Monster.” As an English teacher before I joined Jamie’s Farm, the framing of adolescent behaviour in famous literary heroes or villains, or just well known characters from children’s literature really enabled me to understand why young people in our care can sometimes come across as “unlikable”, arrogant, or just impenetrable and apathetic.
In “Where the Wild Things Are” Taransaud reflects that the forest, full of monsters, is a place where our young hero, Max, can act out his powerful and destructive “monstrous” emotions safely. His imagination is a place of safety, and luckily for him, his home environment too is a place of safety. But, for the more vulnerable young people in our care, often home is not a place of safety. Taransaud describes how with the absence of reaction or support (or sometimes even love) a child can retreat into their imagination– but far from it staying in the imagination, it becomes the real life of the child. They create what Taransaud calls a “fantastic omnipotent self” one that “lays aside his need to love and be loved and unconsciously creates a mighty inner rescuer, a fantastic and omnipotent self that hides any trace of vulnerability and protects from humiliations and abandonment.”
What we need to do as adults working with these vulnerable young people is to enable the love seeking part of them (which is always there, no matter how thick or how powerful their “front” is) to be reached. We need to offer them validation, affirmation and empathy in a safe, holding environment. And one of the ways in which we can create this safe holding environment is to use fantasy and metaphor in our communication. So that, like Max, they can explore their overwhelming thoughts and emotions in a safe space, and with us alongside them.
Our language with young people can open up a new pathway or it can shut a door. In times of conflict it has neutrality that lets young people join us and starts to exercise their imagination: instead of telling them what they’re doing in a negative sense, you are describing a parallel but removed process. This means they can’t put up a barrier against it or deflect it; it’s like a third position in a conflict, which can enable children to calm down a notch and engage with you. You are providing them with the empathy that they crave – connecting with their thoughts and emotions in a non-judgmental way. And, good news for teachers, it’s often a lot quicker and easier to communicate with young people in this way.
In this podcast, Tish and Julie (our new therapy coordinator at the Bath farm) discuss ways in which they use metaphors in language successfully and how at Jamie’s Farm we enable young people to forge a new pathway for themselves through our use of language.
Relevant Teacher Standards
TS1: Set high expectations, which inspire, motivate and challenge pupils TS7: Manage behaviour effectively to ensure a good and safe learning environment