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This Echidna Story comes from a training I ran in Alice Springs some years ago. It is a powerful example of what matters ‘restorative speaking’ - Terry O'Connell

I recently attended the restorative practice training as part of my role as a manager involved with young offenders/youth at risk of offending and their families. My intention was to build skills and facilitate good outcomes in service delivery however the training touched my personal life in ways I was not prepared for.

I separated from my partner six years ago and we have two children (6) and (10). Over the six years I have tried to talk to my daughter in particular about how the separation and how the limited contact between her and her father has impacted on her. Every time I found the ‘right’ time to talk about her father and disappointment, rejection, sadness etc she would close up – just like the sphere (echidna) as used in Terry’s training. When I first saw this tool my immediate thought was ‘that is my daughter’! Withdrawn and avoidant and while I knew this was her coping strategy with pain my concern has been how holding onto this will impact on her in the years to come. I have over the years considered counselling for her, sandplay therapy and other forms of healing but just hoped that we would be able to talk about this issue somehow? It’s just the somehow answer for me couldn’t be found .... I was still on the search.

After Day 2 of the training I picked the kids up from school and the sphere was in the car with me. The kids saw it and asked if I had bought them a new toy? I told them I needed to tell them a story about the sphere and the echidna (which I did) and talked about how when the sphere is closed its like us protecting ourselves from painful emotions and when it is open it is when we are able to open up talk and feel better. To my surprise the kids grabbed the sphere and identified with it right away explaining visually how they feel when closed and open and what makes them feel that way. They also went on to ask questions of me like what makes you happy? What makes you sad? And ‘can we use this everyday when we get home from school to talk about our day’? I said ‘sure’ so that’s when it started and I was thinking:

  • Is this for real?
  • How did they get this so quickly????

My daughter (10) opened the sphere and explained her day saying how she had a happy day. My son (6) closed the sphere when talking about recess and lunch when he didn’t have anyone to play with and how he felt sad. There was a short conversation between daughter and son about other ways to make new friends which you could see made sense to my son eg; asking others to play with him even if they said ‘no’ that it isn’t such a big deal....(he tried this out the next day and guess what? It worked! He made some new friends)

The greatest surprise was when it was my turn I realised I needed to talk about my day and my feelings! That was a challenge in being vulnerable and honest... I held the sphere and talked about my day and then explained with the sphere closed that I was sad because when I first saw this tool I thought about my daughter. She asked why? And I said ‘because this is what happens to you when I try to talk to you about your dad’.....and ‘I feel sad that as a mummy that the sphere is closed and that I wanted a relationship between mother and daughter where the sphere is open’. The tears started flowing (from me) and I could see in both my children’s faces that they were shocked that I felt like this. I went on to say ‘I have tried poking and prodding to help you open up but it hasn’t worked and I don’t know how to help you’.....I could see the penny drop and my daughter seemed taken a bit aback with my honesty. This lead to a whole new conversation between us, I asked the past, present and future type of questions and for the first time in years my daughter (and my son who was in tears) began a conversation about what they remembered and the hurt.....

I tried to explain the separation between myself and their father and my son (6) grabbed the sphere in tears and said ‘you and dad could open up and everything would be good’ that too challenged me in trying to explain the difficulties of why adults separate. After about 15 minutes we stopped talking about this but agreed this was a just a start and feeling the pain of this was ok. My daughter said that she was now ‘half open’ on this issue and we agreed to keep using the sphere to talk more about this issue in the future.

Later that evening my daughter came and gave me hug (very unlike her prickly pear!) and said ‘I feel better now’ and I hugged her and thanked her for sharing with me.

I felt such a sense of relief that there was a better understanding between us and that a new conversation has started that we can build on. I am also very thankful to Terry who has proven to me without a doubt (and within a short time!) that these tools work not only in our work lives but can help heal and repair relationships in our personal lives.

Thank you Terry for the three days of fabulous and personally insightful training. The tools you provided from the sphere, compass of shame tool (which my daughter also has since identified with and worked out in 2 minutes where she sits on this when she is an echidna), the types of questions and our role as facilitators involved in a process not an outcome will be invaluable to me in my everyday practice and in the years to come with my relationships.