Positive Debrief – Breaking the Negative Cycle

I’ve written a previous blog post called Conflict Spiral – letting children know we can listen which is an idea from Team Teach. The conflict spiral is excellent at thinking about behaviour as an escalating crisis with many different points or stages. These stages help us to try and think of behaviour in a different way but in particular, they make me think about conducting a positive debrief with a child after an incident.

There are two ways of thinking about a child after an incident in terms of what we can do for them. We can either:

  1. Continue to manage future incidents for the child
  2. Teach the child to manage future incidents themselves

If a child repeatedly goes into crisis, staff can manage them every time. They can help them to manage the crisis at that point and also, they may choose to physically intervene. This is a control and at times, it is useful. If we only do things to help children during the time of a crisis, we will only seek to react to their poor behaviour. If we want to help them to manage themselves in the future, rather than depend on the member of staff, we have to debrief every incident, every time.

A positive debrief is simply a conversation with a child after an incident which aims to help children to make better choices in the future. This involves speaking honestly about the incident. In my experience, when staff I have worked with do not debrief a child after an incident, it is for one of two reasons. Reason one is that they do not wish to engage the child again about the incident, once they have calmed down for fear that they may ‘kick off’ and go back into crisis. Reason two is that they simply do not see it as part of the process.

If we speak to children about their behaviour after an incident, then they have an opportunity to work through it in a guided way with an adult to plan for a better way next time. The skill of this is simply linking the behaviour to a feeling. I am going to write a scenario which might help demonstrate this.


A boy named John hits a boy called Scott on the playground because Scott called him an idiot and because of this, John was sent in and missed the rest of play, which he was very unhappy with. This is a pretty run of the mill kind of incident for many schools. A usual question which staff members ask is why John hit Scott to which John would probably that it was because Scott called him an idiot, before continuing to tell John that he shouldn’t do it. What does this teach John? Nothing – and this behaviour will likely to continue. The cycle needs to be broken.

A better way would be something like this:

Staff: John, why did you hit Scott?

John: Because Scott called me an idiot.

Staff: Yes I heard that. When he called you an idiot, how did it make you feel?

John: Annoyed.

Staff: So, you hit Scott because you were annoyed?

John: Yes.

Staff: Right, ok then. So you hit Scott because you were annoyed and then had to miss the rest of playtime. Do you want to keep missing playtime?

John: No I don’t.

Staff: So, the next time that something makes you angry, you must make a better choice which will not result in you having to miss playtime. Do you know of any choices you could make?

John: I suppose I could walk to whoever is on first aid and tell them that I’m angry.

Staff: Fantastic. The next time that you feel angry on the playground, you’re going to go and tell Mrs XYZ.


Now I know that it may not go as smoothly because there is an element of me typing simply to make it clear but it’s much easier to help to teach a child what to do when they feel angry, because they have total control over this, then it is to teach a child what to do about specific events. Lots of things can make someone angry so it’s easier to plan for this. If we only plan for one specific event at a time, what happens the next time Scott decides to call a name, push, tease, and swear at Scott? We haven’t planned for these individually whereas if we planned the next time he feels angry, this could cover a whole range. This is the start of helping children to manage their own behaviour rather than depend and rely on the member of staff to manage it for them.


Posted on November 23, 2016, in behaviour, communication, Education and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Yes definitely, one thing to be careful of tho would be triggers, eg.I worked with a young person once who when you asked her if she wanted a brew (hot drink in English) she kicked off royally! It took ages to talk thru this because we didn’t realise that she associated “a brew” with being abused, so to try and do what you suggest didn’t work for a long while and I know this is a bit extreme but possible and true in this case.
    For me the restorative approach is great once both parties agree and only if they both agree.
    Please don’t take this as a negative as I agree with all you have said.


  2. I think that we often underestimate the power of language, both in positive and negative ways. Asking the child if she wanted a brew seems so innocuous but that single word had huge ramifications for the situation. Also, some people use lots of words for situations when they only need to use a simple script for the situation. Language fascinates me!


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Simple made easy! psychology love feeling emotion thought behaviour success strategy


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