The argument pizza and helping children to mentalize
In this short video, Family School Co-Director and Consultant Psychotherapist Brenda McHugh gives some practical examples of how teachers can apply their understanding of the threat system. She describes the ‘argument pizza’ method and explains how to help a child or young person to redefine the way they view themselves.
Just this morning, in our Family School, where one child had got, I would say an activated threat system, had thought another child was giving him a look that meant: I disrespect you. He gave a look back. There was an explosion. Calmed things down. We did what we call our argument clock where we write around — also some children call it the argument pizza — in the first slice – what happened. In the second slice – what happened? And we got to a point where there was a child who was at the back of the class trying to work and they said, well, what do you think that this child felt who was sitting behind you at that point? And the two children look at each other he’s probably a bit fed up with us because he wanted to get on with his work. Just slowly allowing them to think about each other’s state. I guess in our language we might call that the mentalization process that we’re trying to train children to do. Because in the moment where they have their threat appraisal, we know they get tunnel vision.
One of the things that we’ve found is absolutely essential is evidencing the very small changes that we can see and that we do with photographs. We have a learning journey book. Every time anybody spots, even if it’s a bit more sustained attention or a better working memory or a little bit of selective attention that the child is doing, we reward that straightaway. So, that becomes part of their journey of, I was here in my learning and now I’m going to be here, and this is going to open all these other doors for me. So, giving photographs and evidence and stickers and everything that we do to reinforce them seeing themselves in a different way. Because, I think, sometimes they only see themselves as somebody that’s going to be rejected, to be hateful and turning that in on themselves. So, again, it’s about redefining for a child what their profile is.
So, children who have these kind of vulnerabilities are quite often on the margins because their behaviour pushes them away. They, not just at school, but nobody wants to have them over for a sleepover. They don’t go on school journeys; they don’t go to the science museum because they can’t be trusted because their threat appraisal means they could fly off at any moment. So, they don’t have the normal opportunities to see themselves in a way that could, kind of, boost their idea of this is the kind of person that the world could see me as.