Restorative Practices for Families

25 Oct 2017, Posted by alanacherneck_0 in Uncategorized

Last week, I shared how our family uses a Talking Stick as a communication tool within our family’s sharing circle. I am so excited to share with you, guest blogger Courtney Harris, who walks us through the importance of this restorative practice. In this post, Courtney shares a bit about the benefits of using a sharing circle within the family, and a practical “how-to” approach for families wanting to implement the idea, in order to deepen communication and trust with one another. Courtney is a WEALTH of knowledge, and I encourage you to join her private Facebook Group for insights and advice on deepening connections with your kids. Welcome Courtney!

Circles Can Change Communication in Your Family

Have you ever had a miscommunication between family members that evolved into a yelling match? Or said something that another family member was hurt by? Or walked away from a family conversation with tears in your eyes because you didn’t feel heard?

Families are dynamic, ever-changing, and encompass wide range of perspectives and preferences. Restorative Practices, a co-created system for family-community-building and conflict management, can be powerful, healing tools for families.

The fundamental unifying hypothesis of restorative practices is disarmingly simple: that human beings are happier, more cooperative and productive, and more likely to make positive changes in their behavior when those in positions of authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them.” – International Institute for Restorative Practices

Restorative Practices are tangible and recyclable tools that families can use to create open communication and increase bonds. They can be used to build upon and renew a strong, loving foundation of community within the home.

When “harms” or “hurts” come up (like the ones in the first paragraph, which we’ve likely all experienced at one time or another), the family has a go-to, comfortable method to turn to for conflict management. As a Child-Centered Coach for Teens and Parents, I share Restorative Practices, a.k.a. “Circles,” with families of school-aged children; I guide them in building and facilitating productive family circles. Read on as I share the “Family Building Circle 101” with you:

Core Elements Circle + The Philosophy of the Circle:

  1. Circle- A circle quite literally promotes connectedness, as there is no end and no beginning. In a circle, we can see everyone equally. If we all sit in chairs, or all sit on the floor, we sit at the same level, which is symbolic of shared and equal power. Children and teens are most often seated while adult or authority figures (at home, school, or in the community) is standing, asserting authority. Thus, sitting at the same level, represents that all family members are worthy of the same respect and have the same opportunity to express themselves. “Circle” is also the name of the intentional conversation-based activity we engage in while sitting in a circle. i.e. “We had a circle about our favorite hobbies.”

  1. Talking Piece- One object (that can be handled safely and easily) is designated as the talking piece for each circle. This object indicates that only one person will talk at a time, and, equally importantly, everyone else will actively listen. Everyone in the circle has the right to pass, but the talking piece will always travel the circle in order. Thus, if you have a response to the first person that spoke, you wait until the talking piece is passed to you. Talking pieces may be symbolic of the family and their unique interests; for example, a family that plays tennis may use a tennis ball. A talking piece may also align with the topic of a specific circle; for example, a circle about hobbies might incorporate a beautiful rock that was collected on a family hike. Child-selected (or created!) talking pieces are also a great opportunity for promoting agency. They might like to select a favorite toy, a comfort item, or a favorite book to share with the family. The options are endless and open to your creativity!
  1. Rounds This is the name of one pass around the circle. Family building circles are often pre-planned and centered on one topic; in this case, all “rounds” will be centered on the topic. In the instance of a conflict resolution circle, specific questions guide the family through naming the “harm” that has been felt and, most importantly, making a plan for repairing or rebuilding. The talking piece helps regulate the round, offering each person equal opportunity to listen and speak.
  1. Values-  It is important to establish an understand of what each member of the family circle values. We use these values to guide and inform how we will engage with one another during the circle process (and moving forward from the circle). Values allow each family member to identify what they hold dear, what they need, and what is important to them in order to feel safe.
  1. Facilitator- While all members of the family will be participants in the circle, one member may be the facilitator of a particular circle. This person will read the prompt or question for each round. They may also be the person that planned the circle ahead of time. Facilitation opens the opportunity for children to lead their family into important conversation.

If we begin using circles often, perhaps even on a weekly basis on a designated day, with the intention of building family community, we develop a strong sense of trust, communication, and openness. Thus, when conflict arises, and we want to come to circle to resolve it, we already have a strong foundation and positive emotional history to build from.

Using these elements, I offer you a template and model for a family building circle to get started. Family members may take turns in planning the circles and circle topics or they may choose to do so together or in teams.  

Topic: Select a narrow, specific topic to discuss together. Ex: Travel, Favorite Foods, Family Traditions, Academics,

Opening: Select a photo/quote/song to view or listen to together. This helps get all members thinking about the topic. Family members can share reactions to the opening or interpretations; these responses can be shared in an open format, as opposed to in a “round.” Ex: Show a collage of family travel pictures → “Does anyone have a reaction or memory that comes up as they look at our travel photos?”

Ice Breaker: This round is meant to be light, easy, and maybe even goofy. It’s just to get the flow and energy of the circle started. Ex: What is the most delicious food/meal you’ve eaten while traveling? – OR – What is your favorite music to listen to while traveling?

Values: In order for everyone to feel safe, we remind one another of our values– the qualities we hold near and dear to our hearts. Ex: In order for a family trip to be fun, I need _______. (Answers might be freedom, love, support, laughter, trust, or quiet time.)

Body: This is a series of 3-4 questions that dig into the topic. They can range from lighthearted to more serious or reflective. I like to sandwich a more emotionally charged question between two lighter questions. It’s nice to be able to travel a range of emotions with your family while in circle, so it’s okay to ask challenging questions! Ex: 1. Tell about your funniest family travel memory. 2. Talk about a time when family travel felt chaotic or messy. 3. Share about your favorite place we have visited.

Closing: This can be a question, but it can also be an activity. It’s meant to bring all members of the family circle back to a place of closure and connection. Especially if the body rounds got deep or emotional, it’s nice to keep this round light. Ex: If we could travel anywhere in the world together, where would we go? -OR- Give everyone a piece of paper and let them write or draw about their dream family vacation.

Circles are wonderful invitations to have candid, authentic conversation with your family. If your family is struggling with conflict, circles can be a nice way to have contained conversation. If time and connection feels short, circles bring intention and attention to the family as a whole. If communication feels strong, circles provide opportunities for your child to step into leadership alongside you. I recommend circles to all families of school-aged children, and I would love to support you in developing restorative practices with your family. E-mail me to learn more!


As a Child-Centered Coach for Teens and Parents, Courtney supports children ages 11-19 in finding their voice, growing confidence, and thriving. Through 1:1 and small group coaching sessions, teens and tweens are able to overcome anxiety, disconnect, and isolation as they discover their truest sense of self and develop a deep sense of empowerment. Courtney supports parents in self-care, growing alongside their children, and in developing balanced sensitivity towards the process their child is creating. Sessions with both teens and parents guide families in developing the trust, communication, and connection that’s crucial for a life of ease.

You can find out more about Courtney Harris Coaching here: and


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