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Earning respect

2010

Hello,
 
I am currently a practicum student working in a residential treatment program ages 6-12. Since I started my practicum I have grown to become a more assertive CYC Counsellor with the help of the staff and my continued learning.
 
When I first started 3 months ago I found it hard to be a staff member as I was still learning and really felt like I still didn't know what I was doing so I more or less stood back and observed other staff, tried to build relationships with the children/youth and also be part of the team and uphold the rules and expectations of the cottage.
 
Now, being 3 months into my practicum, I feel as though I have built relationships with most of the children/youth, I understand the expectations of the cottage and am able to assert myself with the children rather than give the, "I don't know" answer and I feel as though I am respected by most.
 
All but one: I feel as though he treats me with very little respect and it is making me avoid him and not want to build a relationship with him. I went in with the idea that I will respect all clients because that is a belief I hold, respect everyone, but this youth is "testing my limits".  He often walks away from me, does not follow my instruction (but will follow same instruction given from another staff), speaks to me in an almost mocking way, and in the last few weeks has made it clear that he feels I don't care about being there, because I am just a practicum student and not getting paid for it anyway. I don't want to let this get in my way of building a relationship with this youth, because I do want to, but I am having a very difficult time with this.
 
Can anyone offer me some insight on how to handle this situation? Since I am so new to the field I would greatly appreciate any input, support and suggestions! Thank you!
 
Lindsay Visser
Calgary, Alberta
...

Dear Lindsey,
 
Your interest in your work and ability to grow in it are great to hear about.
 
I think the crux of the situation with the particular youth you write about is found in your sentence, .."  has made it clear that he feels I don't care about being there, because I am just a practicum student and not getting paid for it anyway".
 
Beneath this behavior, it's my hunch, he probably wants a 'relationship' with you. We hear about, and see, this kind of behavior, with youngsters with attachment issues who hide their interest and hope of a relationship with a youth worker, under the same kind of 'bluster' you mention (the sing song voice, the deliberate ignoring, etc.  ) Why ? Just as you say, you are an intern and are going to leave someday, one more of the same kind of thing that has probably been in his life before. So why should he let the defenses down for a 'relationship' in which everything is hunky-dory, so to speak ?
 
Actually, you already have a relationship with him. It just may not be the ideal one you had hoped for, but it's one just the same. A few suggestions:
 
*  Stop worrying about building a 'relationship' or an 'ideal' relationship, with him. Just be yourself.
 
*  You might play back to him what you're hearing from him, but not in an intrusive way. Talk to some of your peers and supervisors about making on the spot responses to 'challenging' behavior and see what they say.
 
He refuses to do what you ask. You might say " Oh, OK - I  know - you don't want to hear it from me. So one of the other workers will ask you". And then go about your business. The sing song voice. You might say "I think you're trying to tell me something with that voice - I'm wondering what it is? In other words, you're responding to him, but are not pressuring him or chastising him.
 
* The 'you're a practicum student'. This I feel as I said  is the crux of it. If he brings that up, you might simply agree - yes you are, you're not being paid, you're interested in and like the work, and yes, because of that role, you will not be in the setting forever.
 
You don't have to agree that you don't care about being there. You might say that "Well, I certainly do care about being here although it's maybe hard to see that".
 
All of the above done in a non-argumentive way but just that you hear and accept what he is saying.  Give him time to respond if he wishes, but don't expect a response,  and don't pressure him if there isn't one.
 
Once again too - you already have a relationship with him.
 
Karen VanderVen
...
 
Lindsay
 
How long are you spending in this practicum? Could it be more that he has no positive feelings to invest in someone who won't be in his life long term anyway. Could you just be reminding him that everyday you are there you are one day closer to leaving him as well?
 
Lisa
...
 
Hi Lindsay,
 
As a recent graduate of the CYCC program at Mount Royal University, I encountered the same situation in regards to finding that one client who seemed to like pressing buttons. Avoiding the client is not going to help matters much, especially because you are training to work with resistant children and youth. Finding ways to connect with the relationship reluctant is hard at first, but in time your genuineness will come out and touch those who are reluctant to engage with the practicum student.
 
Controlling your biases will go along way too. Although, this youth is reluctant, maybe by asking what their previous experiences with practicum students was like might be a good place to start relationship building. At that point, reassuring the client that you are there to learn and help to the best of your ability might be an avenue to explore. One thing I have found is to be honest; honesty does a lot for those who might seem reluctant to engage with you.
 
Do keep hope alive though, although the field has its challenges, you are doing good work.
 
Good luck and keep up the good work,
 
Regards,
 
Ken Wildman
...
 
Hi Lindsay,
 
I had a similar experience when I was a brand new YCW. (We all have.) One young woman in the group home I worked in at the time acted as though she did not like me, did not want to listen to anything I had to say, wished I worked somewhere else - for no apparent reason. Well, no reason I could fathom at the time. I sought out a more experienced YCW and complained that I just couldn't get anywhere with this young lady, she didn't like me. My co-worker gave me the best advice I have ever been given and I've never forgotten it. She said "No, you're wrong. She does like you. She thinks you don't like her." That changed my whole perspective on the situation and I realized that I had been focussed on my needs (for her to like me and do what I said) and not on her needs (to feel valued and cared for). I made a concerted effort to greet her with genuine pleasure at seeing her again every time I went to work. I actively sought her out for company and conversation and gradually our relationship changed. We ended up having a close, trusting relationship that was mutually respectful.
 
Hope this helps,
Kim Nicolaou
...
 
Hi Lindsey,
 
As you know very well I’m also in the middle of my practicum placement in the child and youth care program at Mount Royal. I have experienced very similar issues at my practicum. I’m working with a very similar age group, children ages 8-12. It seems that as long as I’m a practicum student I’m unable to respect one particular client. In his eyes when he is asked to do something he doesn’t want to or he is asked to stop doing something, I’m not respecting him. So every time I ask him to do something the response would be “ no, I’m not doing that because you don’t respect me because you’re a practicum student.” For a long time I was at a loss.
 
I saw a pattern developing around respect and me being a practicum student. I decided to have a conversation with him about what a practicum student was. From his perspective it is something I’m being “forced” to do, because I’m in school. I then explained that practicum is something that I have to do, but I also got to pick what practicum I wanted to go to. I explained that when you go to university you have to pay for your school, in my case I made sure I entered a program that I really cared about and that it was something I wanted to do. It was interesting to see how our relationship grew from this conversation. Of course it didn’t change that second, there were still times when he wouldn’t listen to me because I’m “just a practicum student”, I would simply respond by saying “that’s know problem let me grab another staff for you to talk to.” The relationship has developed nicely in the last few months. However I still have issues around what respect means.

I hope this will help.
 
Elizabeth Gould
Calgary, Alberta
...
 
Dear Lindsay,
 
I too I'm currently a practicum student, who is still learning the ropes of our profession, and after reading what you had to say, it got me thinking that what you are probably going through is completely normal.
Before starting my practicum, I thought I would be able to build relationships with most of the children as well, but I think that the fact that we are only there 2 days out of the week, also plays a huge part in this to. Those two days that we are at our practicum, there is so much going on normally, that its hard to build relationships with all the children in the programs.
 
I think that the majority of us wish we could have more days at our practicum, so that we are more in the loop of things and could build stronger relationships, but i guess this is the challenge that all practicum students face when they first start out in our field. I believe the most important thing to do is stick with it. Remain talking to the youth as much as possible, ask him questions about his day and even if he doesn't reply to you, at least you are showing him that you care.

Consistency is key I believe when trying to build relationships. The children and youth will test everyone to see if they are going to stick around or not, but by being consistent with them, then hopefully that relationship will start to grow.
 
Keep up the good work
 
Regards
 
Janel Watson
Calgary, AB
...
 
Hi Lindsay!

I am also a practicum student and am sure I am experiencing some of the same difficulties that you are facing.  After reading your situation I can understand how this would be extremely frustrating for you since I'm sure you've been taught that building a relationship with children and youth is one of the most important things.  I know from my own experience that working with children and youth with such severe backgrounds, it can be difficult to begin that bonding, especially with a resistant child.
 
One time during a lecture in class, my instructor was explaining how children and youth can become more resistant towards people who hold the same characteristics or look like a negative person in his or her past.

She taught us that even though you have done nothing wrong to this child, he or she is going to be resistant towards you no matter what, just because you bring up bad memories.  I would suggest looking into his files and maybe talking to other staff members about the people in his past and seeing if that helps or triggers anything for you.  Something else I have found to be helpful is just sitting down and talking with this child in a non-threatening way.  Making him feel comfortable and maybe he will warm up to you! That's all the advice I have!

 Good Luck Lindsay!
 
Leanne Richardson
...
 
Karen,
 
I want to thank you for your reply. These suggestions are so helpful, and next week when I go into practicum, I will go in with a more open, and prepared mind on how I can approach this youth. Like I said earlier, I would like to build a relationship with all the children in the program, and your reminder that I already have a relationship with this particular youth has made me think of ways that I can hopefully build on this relationship. It is my hope that I will stick around longer than my practicum at this program. Thank you for your response I will put these suggestions into practice and see where it goes from there!
 
Lindsay Visser
... 

Hey,
 
I am also a practicum student that has had similar issues. I am finally able to answer most questions and am starting to feel comfortable giving the kids cues and time outs. I still find that some of the kids respond better to me at these times than others. I am really excited to see these suggestions as they can help me and others. It is difficult to be a practicum student in this new environment. I have found that even the kids that are open about you being a practicum and not "having to listen to you" respond to one on one projects. I have done a few with the kids and when one person sees that project and one on one opportunity they want it too. For some of the kids that I wanted to build a better relationship I have talked to the other staff to see what kind of things they enjoy and come up with something to do with them. Its important thought not to make these projects mandatory. If they don't want to do it with you then you can't take it to hard. They will see the effort. this is just my experience with the kids in my practicum.
 
Kalie

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