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Isolating Children In School ‘Damages Mental Health’

School boy (aged 14) against a brick wall

Putting children in isolation in school risks causing them unnecessary trauma, according to a report by a mental health charity.

The use of isolation as a disciplinary measure risks damaging children’s mental health and can end up making behavioral problems worse as students become more disaffected from school, according to the study.

Instead, the charity urges schools to become more aware of the impact of trauma on their students, and to switch from punitive to positive behavior strategies.

The report comes as a campaign to end the use of isolation booths—where children are confined to booths with no contact with other students or adults—as a behavior management tool gathers pace. The Ban the Booths campaign has garnered support from MPs and is holding its first national conference later this month.

The use of isolation rooms is widespread in U.K. schools, as a way of removing disruptive children from the classroom.

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But a report by the Centre for Mental Health today argues that the use of isolation is potentially damaging to children.

Children who have already had traumatic experiences are particularly vulnerable, according to the study, and may find such punishments “disporportionately distressing.”

While schools must record the use of exclusion, there are no such requirements over the use of isolation, with the result that there are no figures on how prevalent it is, although a BBC investigation in 2018 found that more than 200 children spent at least five straight days in isolation in the previous year.

And last year one mother revealed she is taking legal action after her daughter, who has autism spectrum disorder, attempted suicide after spending more than a month in isolation.

Tom Bennett, a former teacher and now the Government’s adviser on behavior in schools, defended the use of isolation in an interview with the BBC this morning, saying that students were typically removed for “extreme disruption, violence or rudeness to teachers,” rather than for trivial offences.

He said removing students from the classroom gave them an opportunity to calm down, without disrupting the learning of other children. The children who had been removed were supervised and given work to do, he added.

But one mother who spoke to the same program told how her son had been put in isolation from the age of 11 for relatively trivial offences, such as wearing a hoodie in the dining hall. Now 15, he has spent a third of his education in isolation, she added.

She said her son was not given work to do, and instead spent his time doodling.

The experience has transformed him from a outgoing child who enjoyed going to school, to one who has no confidence in authority and “sees adults as enemies,” she said.

Niamh Sweeney, a member of the executive of the National Education Union, told the BBC that children were often isolated for “small incidents,” such as having incorrect school uniform.

“Children describe sitting in isolation, having to look forward, not being able to have eye contact or contact with other people, and that does not deal with the cause or address, in any shape or form, the behaviour that the school is trying to change,” she said.

Sarah Hughes, chief executive of the Centre for Mental Health, said attempting to improve behavior by isolating children will not work.

“For some of the most vulnerable and marginalised children they will entrench behavioural problems with lifelong consequences for them and their families,” she said.

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I’m a freelance journalist specializing in education. My career so far has taken in regional and national newspapers and magazines, including Forbes, The Daily Telegraph and the Guardian. A lot has changed since I started covering education as a wide-eyed junior reporter in the early 1990s, not least the role of technology in the classroom, but as long as perfection remains just out of reach there will be plenty to discuss. I’ve been hooked on news since setting up a school magazine at 15, but these days I stick to reporting and let someone else sell the adverts, set the crossword and staple the pages together.

 

Source: Isolating Children In School ‘Damages Mental Health’

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Acting Like an Extrovert Has Benefits But Not for Introverts

A group of amateur figure skaters enjoying a day at a frozen lake together.

For decades, personality psychologists have noticed a striking, consistent pattern: extroverts are happier more of the time than introverts. For anyone interested in promoting wellbeing, this has raised the question of whether it might be beneficial to encourage people to act more extroverted. Evidence to date has suggested it might.

For example, regardless of their usual disposition, people tend to report feeling happier and more authentic whenever they are behaving more like an extrovert (that is, more sociable, active and assertive). That’s a mere correlation that could be interpreted in different ways. But lab studies have similarly found that prompting people, including introverts, to act more like an extrovert makes them feel happier and truer to themselves.

Before we all start doing our best extrovert impressions in pursuit of greater happiness, though, a team of researchers led by the psychologist Rowan Jacques-Hamilton at the University of Melbourne urge caution, writing in a paper at PsyArXiv: ‘Until we have a well-rounded understanding of both the positive and negative consequences of extroverted behaviour, advocating any real-world applications of acting extroverted could be premature and potentially hazardous.’

To get to the bottom of things, the team conducted the first ever randomised controlled trial of an ‘act more extroverted’ intervention but, unlike previous research, they looked beyond the lab at the positive and negative effects on people’s feelings in daily life.

Dozens of participants were allocated at random to either the ‘act like an extrovert’ condition or to an ‘act unassuming, sensitive, calm and modest’ control condition; the idea was that this control condition would encourage the adoption of behaviours representative of several of the other main personality traits, such as agreeableness and emotional stability.

There was also a second control group that completed some of the same measures but did not follow any instructions to change their behaviour from what it naturally was.

The true aims of the study were concealed from the participants and they didn’t know about the conditions they weren’t in. For the extrovert and first control groups, their challenge was to follow the behavioural instructions they’d been given for seven days straight whenever interacting with others in their daily lives (though not if doing so would be inappropriate for the situation they were in).

The participants completed baseline and follow-up surveys about their feelings and behaviour. Through the seven-day period of the study they also answered in-the-moment psychological surveys six times a day whenever prompted by their smartphones. Their phones also gave them periodic reminders to alter their behaviour according to the experimental group they were in.

For the average participant, being in the ‘act like an extrovert’ condition was associated with more positive emotions (excited, lively and enthusiastic) than those reported in the calmer control group – both in the moment, and in retrospect, when looking back on the week. Compared with the second control condition, in which participants behaved naturally, benefit from extroverted behaviour was seen only retrospectively. On average, participants in the ‘act extroverted’ condition also felt greater momentary and retrospective authenticity. These benefits came without any adverse effects in terms of levels of tiredness or experience of negative emotion.

‘Thus,’ write the researchers, ‘the main effects of the intervention were wholly positive, and no costs of extroverted behaviour were detected for the average participant.’ The advantages were to a large extent mediated by participants acting more extroverted more often – though, interestingly, not by being in more social situations: ie, by changing the quality of their social interactions, not the quantity of them.

***

But the story does not end there, because the researchers also looked specifically at the introverts in their sample to see whether the apparently cost-free positive benefits of the ‘act extroverted’ intervention also manifested for them. Although previous research has suggested that both introverts and extroverts alike benefit just the same from acting more extroverted, this was not the case here.

First and unsurprisingly, introverts did not succeed in increasing their extroverted behaviour as much as other participants. And while the introverts in the ‘act like an extrovert’ condition did enjoy momentary gains in positive emotion, they did not report this benefit in retrospect at the end of the study. Unlike extroverts, they also did not show momentary gains in authenticity, and in retrospect they reported lower authenticity. The ‘act extroverted’ intervention also appeared to increase introverts’ retrospective fatigue levels and experience of negative emotions.

Jacques-Hamilton and his team said that these were perhaps their most important findings – ‘dispositional introverts may reap fewer wellbeing benefits, and perhaps even incur some wellbeing costs, from acting more extroverted’. They also made an important point that strong introverts might not desire to experience positive emotions as frequently as extroverts.

However, the idea that introverts could gain from learning to be more extroverted, more often, is not dead. Not only because this is just one study and more research is needed, but also because those acting more extroverted did, after all, still report more positive emotions in the moment than the control group asked to maintain calm. This group’s failure to report more pleasure in retrospect could, after all, reflect a memory bias – perhaps mirroring earlier research, which showed that introverts do not expect that acting extroverted would make them feel good.

Also consider this: the one-size-fits-all extroversion intervention provided little guidance on how exactly to achieve the aim of acting more extroverted. It’s possible that a less intense version, together with support and guidance to make any behavioural changes become habitual (and therefore less effortful), could help even strong introverts enjoy the benefits of acting more extroverted. ‘By allowing more freedom to return to an introverted “restorative niche”, a less intensive intervention might also result in fewer costs to negative affect, authenticity and tiredness,’ the researchers added.

By: Christian Jarrett

Christian Jarrett is a senior editor at Aeon, working on the forthcoming Psyche website that will take a multidisciplinary approach to the age-old question of how to live. A cognitive neuroscientist by training, his writing has appeared in BBC Future, WIRED and New York Magazine, among others. His books include The Rough Guide to Psychology (2011) and Great Myths of the Brain (2014). His next, on personality change, will be published in 2021.

Originally published in association with The British Psychological Society’s Research Digest, an Aeon Partner.

Source: Acting Like an Extrovert Has Benefits, but Not for Introverts – Aeon – Pocket

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How This Therapist-Entrepreneur Is Starting A Global Movement Talking To Strangers – Melody Wilding

How much of your day do you spend listening to other people? I don’t mean half-heartedly nodding along while you mentally multi-task. I mean actively being present with another human being. These opportunities for connection are becoming increasingly rare in our hyper-connected world where distractions abound.

It’s difficult to stay focused long enough to listen to the people you love, let alone engage thoughtfully with someone you disagree with, whether that be your boss, a difficult colleague or someone whose political affiliations differ from yours.

Yet we’re facing a loneliness epidemic spurred on by disconnection. Being heard, feeling seen and getting validation are not only crucial components of good communication, but they are also essential for mental health.

Sidewalk Talk is an initiative that attempts to bridge the gaps we face today and give voice to marginalized emotions, people and communities. A team of volunteers take to city streets across the globe, simply sitting outside in chairs, eager to listen to any stranger who comes along wanting to chat. In these high-conflict times, Sidewalk Talk is attempting to use listening to heal, which is why when I first heard about the project, I knew I had to get inside the mind of the woman who started it, Traci Ruble.

In this interview, she discusses her inspiration for starting Sidewalk Talk along with the powerful ways the initiative is serving diverse, marginalized communities. Traci, a seasoned psychotherapist, also breaks down practical tips you can use to become a better listener, even in stressful situations.

Melody Wilding: You’ve been a psychotherapist for 14 years. What inspired you to start Sidewalk Talk?

Traci Ruble: Sidewalk Talk was not a heady decision.  It was inspired.  The inspiration was Psychological, Social and Spiritual all wrapped up in one.  Presidential elections were getting vitriolic in 2003.  In response, I had a profound call that we needed more love and equanimity in our political conversations.  Years later, gun violence (the Sandy Hook Shooting and the Charleston shooting), knocked me over.

All I wanted to do was hear directly from people why we were shooting each other.  Finally, the results of the Trayvon Martin case pushed me to finally sit and offer free listening on the sidewalk. I wanted to step out of “preach or teach” mode and wanted to hear directly from folks we frequently don’t listen to.  It felt like the right way for me to be in community to perhaps create some connection and justice.

Ruble: We call Sidewalk Talk a community listening project because it is everyone’s project. We pull this project off for very little money per year and it has grown because members in various communities across the world have taken our street listening guidelines and launched their own Sidewalk Talk chapters.  It is also a community listening project because when we sit on public sidewalks we become community glue.

We take over a sidewalk and next think you know, you will have every member of the community represented, sitting side by side, being heard.  A few months ago, in San Francisco, we had two young black women (who didn’t know each other but became friends after), a homeless vet, a gay activist, an older female Asian executive, and a young white male ‘tech bro’ all sitting shoulder to shoulder, being listened to.

 The whole community was included and had a place to belong in the same space, as equals.  Now that, that was profound.  That is the dream vision.  But along the way, the community inside Sidewalk Talk, as an organization, is one powerful place of belonging, growth and inclusion , as well.

Wilding: You talk a lot about the power of human connection. What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from listening to strangers on the street?

Ruble: Most important lesson hands down: listening non-defensively is way easier than reacting or avoiding and it is pleasurable.  Who wouldn’t want to change their behavior in the direction of ease and pleasure? But it isn’t easy and it takes practice.  So often when we listen, we don’t know how to have boundaries so we can feel “emotionally contaminated” by people.

 We react or avoid altogether. We need to practice “being with” people while also holding neutrality and lenses on possibility.  I don’t mean phony “mantra type” positive thinking but the hearing the whole person under this story where possibility exists.  When people feel the best parts of them seen in troubled times, they often rise to the occasion.  But it is delicate.

Too much lightness can feel patronizing and not helpful so listening for the whole person and leading with curiosity, not the need for this person to feel differently than they do is quite a muscle to flex.  If we don’t learn better listening, we don’t develop the capacity to face the problems the world is facing today. Moreover, we can remember, from this practice of listening on the sidewalk, how much we need to also take the time to really connect to those closest to us.

Wilding: What are the qualities of a good listener? Why is it so important that we learn how to listen more effectively?

Ruble: Good listeners first and foremost know how to hear someone’s story while remaining calm and objective.  If we don’t stay boundaried and calm we go into black and white thinking where one person is right and one person is wrong and now the conversation is one of power and might rather than human connection.  But, if you grow the capacity to remain calm and prevent your body and brain from  going into “danger” mode when someone disagrees with you, you will be able to lead with curiosity and inquisitiveness.

I don’t think I have to tell you why that is important.  I remember one of our listeners had someone say the person they admired most in the world was Adolf Hitler.  She was Jewish and her parents were gay.  She stayed listening and was able to really understand why he admired Hitler and she felt liberated through the understanding, not angry.  What she discovered was fascinating. First, he was young and had never heard of the holocaust.  Second what he admired about Hitler was his charisma.

This young man was living on the street and in his mind, someone like Hitler could keep him safe from the harms he had been facing on the street and the abuses he suffered in his past.  So she reflected back to him “You really admire people who you believe could make you feel safer in your life?” and just like that this young man and this listener have a connection.

Wilding: How can someone become a better listener with difficult people, especially if that’s their boss, clients, or colleagues?

Ruble: As adults, our brains have the capacity to hold nuance but so often we take differences personally and our nervous systems get hijacked.  Work adds another layer of complexity because our livelihood is felt to be on the line.  This is the place where I earn the money to feed and clothe myself so the link to a potential threat response in the nervous system is heightened. What to do about all this?  First,practice calming your nerves before entering into any difficult dialogue. It is why mindfulness practice is such a zeitgeist right now.

When you are ready to engage, First, label the behavior that doesn’t work for you not the person.  When you get an “ick” feeling from a boss, client or colleague ask yourself,  “What do I want to feel when I am around this person?” Write it out.  Next, only interact with them when you are prepared to be a steward for the feelings you want to be having.

Don’t forget, people are usually difficult for us because they trigger our own material.  Even the jerkiest of colleagues provide us with opportunities to grow.  So see if you can actively practice finding attributes about them you do like.  Our negativity bias and triggers from the past may have us zeroing in on the thing that we are annoyed by.  You just cannot trust everything your mind tells you.  Stretch yourself out of the black and white thinking of “all good” “all bad” and actively see the whole person in this colleague of yours.

Finally, when you do sit down to talk (not on text message or email please) take absolutely nothing personal.  Easier said than done but seriously, such an invaluable life skill. That sharp tone of voice, that one-upmanship in a meeting, that broken agreement….it is data, not death. There is possibility if we can listen with objectivity combined with kindness.  There is virtually no possibility when we listen with reactivity and anger.

Wilding: What’s your vision for the future of Sidewalk Talk?

Ruble:  Some exciting and big changes.  We have gone in and done some one-off corporate trainings.  Now we are doing corporate listening trainings combined with events on the sidewalk with the hope of leaving behind an intact Sidewalk Talk chapter put on regularly by that company.

It is great team building.  We are also starting a couples listening project where couples come out and do some listening training with each other and then we hit the streets together.  Novelty is really good for couples relationships.  So is purpose and meaning. Finally, we are getting help doing some real data-driven impact studies.  We see our impact on health, community, workplace productivity, and implicit bias. We are very excited to begin applying for larger grants to expand and start doing cross cultural listening tours through different cities around the globe.

 

If everyone who reads our articles, who likes it, helps fund it, our future would be much more secure. For as little as $5, you can donate us – and it only takes a minute. Thank you.

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