How to Have a Powerful Positive Restorative Conversation

Published On: 20 April 2023

Reading time: 5 minutes

A restorative conversation is the coming together of individuals following an incident. In the Team Teach Stages of Distress and Support model, it is the final stage to follow the crisis, recovery, and depression stages. The restorative stage is an integral part of moving on, achieving closure, and making sure that the outcome of an incident is positive.

By coming together, staff and individuals can listen and learn. The process of reflection allows those involved to repair and reconnect relationships. When the restorative process is done well, relationships can be built back up again and we can work together to reduce the chance of repetition.

The restorative process provides an invaluable insight into how feelings can drive behaviours. It helps everyone understand what’s happened, how it made those involved feel, and what we can do next time the individual feels that way. We can use our knowledge of the individual to unpick behaviours, considering possible strategies to change behaviours and responses moving forward. Positive restoration isn’t tokenistic; we can learn and understand a great deal from the process.

Who is the conversation between, and when and where does it happen?

The restorative process is between those involved in a particular incident. It may involve a professional and an individual in their care or be between colleagues. There should be an agreed time and space to come together and share personal thoughts and feelings. It’s important that the process leaves everybody feeling like their voice has been heard and their feelings validated. It may be appropriate for an independent third party to be involved in bringing the parties together. We must be mindful, however, how somebody may feel by bringing in an additional member of staff into the process. We must avoid any misinterpretation that the anyone is being ‘ganged up against.’

The process of restoration can only happen when those involved in the original incident are ready. This is unlikely to be immediately after the recovery and depression stages of the Stages of Distress and Support model. It’s important not to push the interaction, it ought to be approached sensitively and consider all parties involved.

We should make sure there’s sufficient time for the process to take place. It shouldn’t feel rushed or an inconvenience for anybody. Consider the choice of environment. We can make sure it’s comfortable and in a neutral area where people will not disturb us. We can try to ensure that chairs are at the same height and there are no artificial barriers so that all parties feel equal. We can also be mindful of what people might bring to the conversation. It’s important to consider the time of day and whether we have met basic needs; could they be tired, restless, hungry, or thirsty?

To be a positive experience, the process needs to be entirely non-judgemental. At no point should blame be targeted, but instead attention focused on how to rebuild and reconnect relationships. We can consider how we present ourselves during the conversation and what our body language is communicating. Taking a seated position in a sideways direction opposed to face on reflects a willingness to listen and empathise. It’s vital we avoid the temptation to interrupt and finish people’s sentences. Pausing and having ‘take up time’ makes sure that the individual feels like their feelings are valid and that we want to help.

We must be prepared for the individual we support to show feelings of low self-worth, shame, and often guilt during the restoration process. This can especially be the case if they have physically or emotionally hurt somebody they care for. We can reassure and support the individual by letting them know that we’re now working together to make sure things are done differently next time.

How can the restorative process be made accessible?

The restorative process isn’t just about having a conversation. For some individuals, communication will need to be supported. They may also need our help to identify and understand how they themselves and those around them are feeling. It’s therefore our responsibility to find strategies to enable them to fully access the restorative process.

We can break the key aspects of the incident into bite-size pieces for them to understand and link feelings with behaviours. We can also think about how we can adapt the learning process to connect with the individual’s likes or strengths. This might mean we need to be creative! Here are a few ideas.

  • Use role play or puppets to retell a sequence of events.
  • Explore how art and music can reflect emotions at different stages of the incident.
  • Visual cues, pictures, symbols and photos are great for making the link between feelings and behaviours.
  • Social stories can help create plans of what to do if a situation happens again.
  • Consider how active play can be incorporated during the restorative process. While we don’t want an activity that will distract the individual, something that will encourage calmness and familiarity can help the process. Sensory toys, gentle water play or modelling with play doh can help to make it a positive experience.

We can also try to let the individual be as actively involved in what the restoration process looks like. A process that is bespoke to their needs can be more powerful and can lead to a more positive, longer-term outcome.  

Next Steps

Following the initial coming together, we can find opportunities for those involved to meet and do something positive together. It can be an integral part of the healing process and a way of rebuilding safety and trust in the relationship.

Then it’s important to consider whether amendments need to be made to Individual Support Plans following an incident. This could include potential new triggers and strategies for de-escalation. An updated plan then needs to be circulated to those members of staff working with the individual and, wherever possible, shared with the individual themselves and their family or carers.

Summary

It’s hard to confront our mistakes and even harder to reflect on them. Positive restorative approaches recognise this and aim to make the process supportive and accessible to all. Relationships can be rebuilt and strengthened when we invest the time to reflect and work together to understand behaviours.