Friday, August 2, 2013

Working with Kids

I wrote some guidelines for new volunteers at East End based on my experiences for the past almost 7 months. It's been challenging and rewarding all at the same time and I will be very sad to leave my kids. The best way to learn about our kids is just to be here and listen to them, but hopefully these snippets of advice help too!

Guidelines for New Volunteers

Build Relationships

·         Relationships matter. Start out your relationships with the youth by introducing yourself and remembering the names of the students you meet. Use their names often and ask them how they are doing or how their day is going – generally, the more you show interest in their lives, the more they are willing to open up to you.

·         Trusting and supportive relationships are necessary in order to be able to keep the peace and to discipline youth when necessary.

Create a Positive Environment for Youth

·         The Youth Center is meant to be a place where students who may have troubled home lives or who have lived or still live in disadvantaged neighborhoods can have positive interactions and experiences in order to build their character, improve social interaction skills, and concern for their community. Every student is different; you can have no idea about their background until you get to know them and it is important not to treat them differently than you would any other student who might not have had a difficult background.

Guide Rather Than Tell

·         When having serious or sensitive discussions, it’s important to let kids share what they believe and understand why they feel the way that they do. If you are trying to impart a lesson to them, don’t just tell them, let them come to the understanding themselves.

Be Firm with a Good Measure of Grace

·         “Being strict won’t get the results you want; nor will being unstructured. We don’t always give youth what they want, but what they need because sometimes they are unaware of what they really need themselves. When discipline is called for we must always seek to rehabilitate, to guide youth toward positive growth rather than to simply punish. There are times when a firm hand is needed, and there are times when grace is needed. Explain what you see as the problem and encourage the teens to help come up with a solution.”

Set Boundaries & Expectations for Youth: Be Consistent

·         Make sure that everyone is on the same page about the rules, team and youth included. Let the kids know what behaviors are acceptable and what are not, and be consistent about your enforcement of the rules. A good system is to use the system of one clear warning on the first offense, a time out and a chat with a staff member on the second offense, and removal from the Youth Center/time out for the rest of the day on the third offense. Even if the kids are not used to having to abide by specific rules, let them know that there is a time and a place for their behavior and at the Youth Center they have to abide by the rules.

Appropriate Responses to Youth Behavior

·         “Build a good healthy respect for youth into your discipline. Never embarrass a youth in front of his peers. When there are problems, try to deal with a youth alone. Never attack the person, only the behavior. Rewards and punishments must be appropriate and aimed to encourage positive behavior while discouraging negative behavior. Both the “stick” and the “carrot” are effective and have their moments, but we should not go to the extremes of bribery for positive behavior and getting revenge for negative behavior. When a youth breaks a rule, don’t overreact with harshness, but correct the problem with compassion. Students need to know what will happen when a rule is broken and the consequences must be fair and fit the action.”

Actively Involve Youth

·         “Allow your youth to help you plan and implement activities. The more ownership youth have in the event, the less discipline problems you’ll have. Involvement and responsibility creates commitment. Whether [the group] is large or small your functions should include a variety of activities that cater to a variety of energy levels and interests, especially with younger youth. During discussions, break up the youth into small groups so no one is left out. Often youth who don’t get involved are the ones who cause the most problems. Also be conscious of transitions. Move smoothly and quickly from one activity to another. When a lag occurs between activities, problems tend to occur.”
Also be aware of kids who may be left out on purpose. There is zero toleration for bullying at the Youth Center and that kind of behavior and/or verbal bullying need to be addressed and corrected immediately. Defend kids who get picked on and let them know that you are on their side.

Actively Involve Caring Adults

·       Communicate with your team. Tell each other about incidents involving the kids, share information about the kids’ backgrounds so that you know them a little better, and have each other’s backs when it comes to discipline. Acknowledge strengths and weaknesses with certain kids and problems and use that knowledge to build better relationships with the kids.

Quotes and headings taken from:

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