Connecting with youth can be tough for educators, parents, tutors and youth leaders. It’s an ongoing struggle that, over time, can cause some to give up.
Remember that behind the hard front, lies a child with untapped greatness who may be just one connection away from realizing that potential. If you work with young people, here are strategies you can use to reach them, no matter how hard it may seem in the beginning.
If you saw the viral You-Tube video of 3-year-old Mateo pleading with his mom for cupcakes, you probably got a good laugh as he tried to convince his mother to listen to him. The number one thing that you can do to help a struggling child is to listen to him or her. No matter how old they are or how problematic they may seem, they have something to say. Ask some questions, and try to find things that interests that child. When they start talking, LISTEN.
Listening to what a child says may reveal the one thing you need to know that could lead to change. There’s no child in the world that doesn’t have some sort of interest that you may know something about. Whether it’s music, sports, reading, writing, or something obscure, even the most at-risk youths have something that they hold close to them. Finding that requires you to listen, ask questions, read between the lines, dig deeper, and follow up in some way. This is the key to getting inside, because when you connect with them at their level, your mentoring can be more effective than their peers’ influence. It all begins with showing a genuine interest and listening to them.
Talk about their interests
After you’ve listened and discovered something that that child loves and enjoys, it may be possible for you to create a connection by talking about those things. Even if you’re not well-versed with what they seem to enjoy the most, find a way to get them talking about it. A Google search will probably give you enough information to start a conversation or keep it going.
Think back to your childhood and put yourself in their shoes a bit. Youth are often misunderstood, and many are told that their passions are a waste of time, or they are ignored. If you are leading them, try to be the one person that listens and cares about the things that they’re passionate about.
The above two steps are easy to consider, but when you’re in the proverbial trenches, you’ll hit some snags and roadblocks. Have patience. Until your relationship with that child strengthens, a struggling student may let you in just a little bit before closing up or shutting down. You’ll need loads of patience in order to move forward slowly and carefully. Most times, by just offering an open ear, an open heart, and not a lot of judgement or pushing can help you eventually get through the barriers.
Thanks for reading,
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Ian Humphrey is a motivational speaker whose life was changed by an educator while serving time in prison. After an early release, Ian was able to identify the strategy used by the educator that helped him turn his life around. You can read about those strategies in the many blog posts or invite Ian to your school for professional development.