F .G. Lennhoff on his work at Shotton Hall
Many factors cause unhappiness and tension in a maladjusted child at various times, and sometimes his emotions mount to the pitch when he feels that something drastic has to be done in order to relieve them. He generally has not enough trust in adults to go and talk things over with them and frequently he decides to pair up with another child, who he feels is just as restless as he is himself.
They talk together and one or other will suggest that the only solution is to run away. They feel they cannot face talking to the adult on duty, though they know they should inform an adult that they are going out, and they can think only of the punishments such episodes would have meant in their previous experiences. Generally, adults who dealt with them before were not able to take account of their unhappy state and could see only punishments as a possible deterrent to them and to other children. The children at Shotton Hall are seldom punished for misdeeds, but they still fear that they will be punished.
Somewhere to run to
I generally fetch them home in my car and as we talk and drive, this is often the basis for a new understanding between us, and sometimes the basis for a real relationship. If absconding is not undertaken for deep reasons beyond their comprehension, but for some frivolous reason, they are allowed extra opportunities for earning money, so that they can contribute towards the cost of the petrol used to fetching them. Without chiding or fuss, they realise that repeated running away only costs time and trouble. Later in their development, children will talk freely about their early attempts at running away, and will show the others that it is not considered a serious offence that will reap severe punishment at our school. Somehow, this helps rather than hinders, and it often contributes to a child’s understanding of the school’s philosophy.
If the child is willing to talk, we try to explain that when he runs away he is taking his problems away with him, not escaping from them as he thinks. I usually tell a story of my own life, to illustrate that a change of address does not solve a problem; this is often a help to the child, because he realises he is not alone in his urges and that his problem is not an isolated one. He sees, perhaps for the first time, that there are more ways than one of tackling a difficulty.
There are many more symptoms than these, but to review them
all would lead only to repetition. We always use similar methods of dealing with
them quickly and easily, in as relaxed a manner as possible, and without
condemnation-with practical and positive encouragement and frank, but not
punitive, discussions of the situation.