I am a practicum student in my second year at Mount Royal University working on my BA in Child Studies obtaining a major in Child and Youth Care Counselling. I have a few thoughts and questions I want to share and I would appreciate your feedback.
As we all (hopefully) know, an important foundation of our practice is using a strength-based approach in our work with children and youth. This is something that I see as being really important and contributes in many ways to how we think, treat, and act around the young people we are developing relationships with. Within this strength-based approach is the idea of positive expectations. When we are able to see past the negative behaviour and acknowledge the strengths and resilience of the youth we work with, something shifts in our motivation and perspective towards them, and this shift greatly benefits both the youth and myself.
Something that I am finding difficult, however, is environments where youth have gained a reputation of behaving or being a certain way to the point where staff are just done with expecting anything but that. I definitely get that; some kids would and do get on our nerves, that’s just the way it is at times. But, I find I’m struggling to remain positive in an environment where a lot of negative gets thrown around and “positive expectations” don’t seem to be on the forefront of our minds. I know I can’t expect perfection, and I understand that sometimes we just need to vent, but I guess it is just hard to know when to try and think past the behaviour, but then also understand there are behaviours to ignore and not always be reading into…
I guess in all of this, I am just asking for some of your experiences or stories with this type of situation and how you dealt with others being that way, or even you yourself.
Thank you so much for any input you can offer,
Sometimes 'negative' behavior can demonstrate a positive trait in a youth that is unseen by staff as they are the one 'dealing with it'.
Look at the behavior from the lens of a stranger, not staff. What does it say about the person, what is the youth wanting to come out of the behavior, why are they so persistent with the behavior.
And at the end of the day when you just don't know what positive thing happened that day think about the skills those kids DO have that may have gone un-noticed that day. And sometimes you're looking at some very basic life skills.
Maybe using labels like “positive” and “negative” make it harder to view behavior through a treatment lens. The young person may get many “positive” results from their behavior, as far as their personal motivations are concerned. It may be better to use the term “unacceptable” rather than “negative”, because this invites conversation with the young person. We can sit down with them and discuss why we don’t “approve” of some behavior and usually it’s because it causes us concern for some reason. This “concern” is “positive” because it means we care about them.
Lisa, I agree with you completely that those perceived as negative traits or behaviours can be strengths. This also highlights the importance of supervision, because that is where you get alternative perspectives on how you are looking at a young person. I received trained a group and they were talking about the very “rebellious” and “oppositional” and “defiant” behaviour of a young person. I reframed it as a critical part of the young person that served the purpose of keeping them alive – physically and emotionally – during years of abuse. So their “defiance” is a good thing (in this case) because it helped them survive. Then I posed the question: How can you ask them to give up that life-saving defiance before you can offer them something better in return? It changes the lens through which we are looking at the situation, but it is important to note that it took an outsider to challenge that view – meaning that it can be very challenging when you are one “dealing” with the situation. Hence the importance of strong, supportive teams and regular supervision.
A few thoughts from NLP (neuro linguistic programming) from NVC (nonviolent communication) and from restorative practice.
A core NLP idea is that every action/behaviour has a positive intent,
An NVC principle is that all actions/behaviours are inspired by unmet needs.
An understanding of these principles helps us to show compassion and understanding and not be judgemental about another's actions.
Now of course not all actions/behaviours have positive outcomes and may end up causing harm (physical, mental, emotional) to others.
So our task as carers can be to encourage the young person to think
about the impact of their actions on others and explore with them
A)what the underlying needs were for their choices
B) what impact hese choices have had on others
C) how they might address their needs in ways that do not harm others
D) how they might put things right for those who have been affected by their choices/actions.
My preference is not to use words like 'unacceptable' ( begs the question - unacceptable for whom?) And not to convey disapproval - instead to show curiosity for the choices made and resepct for the person - encouraging them to talk about what has happened and what thoughts , feelings and needs were coming up.
By receiving this empathy and respect a young person is more likely then to be ready to think about the impact of their choices.
I hope this is helpful. There is more on this in my book Just Care - a book I wrote in 2009 about adopting an institution/Home wide approach to restorative approaches.