Challenges can be productive. When I was working with 17 year olds with emotional and learning disabilities we introduced a sticker and reward system, tied to an end of week assembly. Stickers earned chocolate bars, for staff as well as students.
Keith was away when we started the scheme, and stood out against it for a fortnight after his return, branding it ‘babyish’.
His participation followed a number of episodes when we had to challenge his behaviour, while his colleagues were being rewarded for theirs. We said that we expected him to be setting an example of adult behaviour to the others. We reminded him of the loyalty cards and rewards offered by shops and restaurants around the town, which plenty of adults were prepared to accept.
Keith challenged us to think the scheme through and justify it to him as something for adults, not simply childish patronising. We challenged him to stand back and look at his own behaviour and how he wanted to be seen – as one of the group or a perpetual outsider? On many levels he was justified in feeling angry at being sent to a boarding school, miles from home, but every other student was in the same boat. School was not forever. Could he live the rest of his life in perpetual conflict? I hope he has found a way not to!