Topic Progress:

A paradigm shift is a fundamental change in approach or underlying beliefs. The term “paradigm shift” was first used in reference to restorative approaches by Howard Zehr in his seminal book “Changing Lenses”.

In a restorative context, the paradigm shift refers to the shift from a traditional, behaviourist approach to behaviour management to a humanistic, relationship management.

What does that mean?

A behaviourist approach assumes that behaviour is simply a response to external stimuli. This is typically split into “Rewards and Sanctions”.  This approach has been heavily used in society particularly and permeated through parenting, education and work life. Wanted behaviour is rewarded with tokens such as stickers, or merits or pay incentives, and unwanted behaviour is punished with detentions, timeouts, loss of previously gained rewards and disciplinary procedures to name a few. In fact it is so ingrained with many cultures it can be hard to imagine what it would be like to not use rewards and sanctions.

“CHAOS” I hear some of you say! “people would do whatever they wanted! It would be lawless! What would be stopping someone from stealing from you if there were no consequences!”

Well, you are quite right! Life would certainly be much more chaotic without consequences. What a humanistic approach suggests is that the consequences for unwanted behaviours are more impactful if they come from within rather than being externally imposed. This is the development of a moral compass.

 “I behave in a mindful, kind, respectful way because I know it’s the right thing to do”

Compared to

“I behave in mindful, kind, respectful way because others are watching and I don’t want to be punished for not doing this”

A real life example of this would be driving. On a road where the speed limit is 30mph, do you stick the speed limit? If you choose to go above the speed limit, do you apply your brakes when you come to a speed camera? Yes? Why? Because you don’t want pay a fine or go on a course, or have points on your license? You don’t want the punishment. So you behaved in an unwanted way until you were being watched, you modified your behaviour to avoid the punishement and then went back to the unwanted behaviour as soon as you were no longer being watched. That is behaviourism in action.

For others, they may try and stick to the speed limit as much as possible because their internal dialogue is around safety for others. “If a child runs into the road I am less likely to seriously hurt them at 30mph compared to 35mph” Regardless if there is a speed camera or not.

Grante this is an oversimplified analogy, but hopefully you understand the point trying to be made. Developing internal control is much more cost effective, safe, and sustainable for all.

So are we saying to do away with all forms of external consequences/control methods?


We are human and we do make mistakes. And there may be time when external consequence such as  is the suitable and safe option, in particular for those who have no interest or are unable to control their actions.

One of the question that we must ask ourselves is “does punishment change behaviour”?

The simple answer is Yes!

But not always in the way we hope. External punishement often creates resentment and bitterness and if left unresolved can fester into a bigger problem. In closer relationships it can drive a wedge between people.

We are not saying that punishment doesn’t work. It certainly can get others to comply. What a restorative approach is suggesting is that it is not the best way to get the wanted behaviour in the long run and for the relationship.

However, building an internal compass takes time and effort. Which is why we encourage this way of working from the youngest ages. But even adults can develop this, even if it was not the way they were raised, it simply takes more conscious effort, a want to develop it.

The middle ground – It is hard to move from a traditional approach to a restorative approach, and in fact, done quickly, can cause harm. If you work in a culture that is steeped in traditional compliance, removing that and expecting an internal moral compass to suddenly appear, may be a little hopeful. It is better to move slowly from one end of the spectrum to the other. In fact, when you begin working more restoratively what you will find is the sanctions and consequences are not removed from the table, but in fact your need to use them reduces.