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52 MAY 2003
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in a nutshell

Engage don't enrage

Henry Maier

In a recent email correspondence with Howard Bath (director of the Thomas Wright Institute in Canberra, Australia) he shared with me that in his training of care staff he has adopted the catchy guideline “Engage don’t enrage". I think that this meaningful phrase has application in all of our work and so now with Howard's permission let me share these thoughts with you.

It means that when you see a youngster’s messy bedroom (resembling a sales room a few hours after bargain sales day) that it would be better to firmly engage in jointly picking up and returning things to their proper place instead of scolding the occupant for the shameful shambles. Or the worker may suggest that among all of the things on the floor they would possibly find the missing shoe! The worker adds that the person who finds the delinquent shoe should get a donut for a successful treasure hunt. While smacking her lips she announces that her donut has to be chocolate and asks the child if he has a preference; while being engaged in picking things up and returning them to there proper place they talk about their fantasy choice of donuts.

Another example would be when two youngsters are in a dispute of name calling, the worker joins them and gently asks of each one what makes him so angry toward the other. Perhaps she identifies anxiety over a painful situation at home for the one child. A phone call back home for clarification might be promised for the first child and for the second perhaps the worker would simply acknowledge inherent jealous feelings.

A third example could be a situation in which a child in care delivers a bombardment of devastating swearing toward a worker. The worker appears to overlook the barrage and quietly inquires what could have happened that would have produced the youngster’s anger. The worker then recognizes her current role in that difficult interaction and together with the care receiver works out a simple plan which could change their unequal relationship.

We notice that in each case the worker is instrumental in bringing order or clarification into the child's life. He/she assists the child in mastering a lonesome position, by providing real supportive instrumental help. Basically the worker shifts to become a partner with the child so that the youngster does not feel so isolated and overwhelmed by life’s complexities. Scolding or telling what is not acceptable are bypassed by active genuine involvement bringing a change in focus.

Good cheers and happy solutions to your daily life struggles.

The International Child and Youth Care Network

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