When thinking of relationships, I think of the importance of them. After all, what happens in life that is not connected with some sort of relationship? We have numerous relationships with varying degrees of intensity that impact on almost every aspect of our day-to-day living. Think of all the positive contacts that you experience in the run of a day that fall within the relationships you have with others. Then try to imagine what a day would feel like without them – not a great place to be, not a place one would desire to be. It is this thought that makes putting effort into developing relationships paramount in the work we do.
When we look at the beginning of a helping relationship as the starting point of an effective intervention, we should leave the "intervention confinements" out of the interaction. That is to say, forget to some extent that we are trying to bring this person to a different way of being or thinking. Approach them as we would any other developing relationship ... with openness and acceptance. Keep in mind that we want this person to let us into their world, not drag them into ours. After all it is getting a picture of how they see or experience the world around them that will allow us to truly connect. It is through this connection that we get a feel for where they are with the world and where they may go forward into it.
In our field of work we talk of being "non judgmental" but I wonder, is this really a state we can achieve? Can a person truly experience something without making some kind judgment about it? Take the simple act of getting up in the morning. We look outside to see what kind of day it is, make a judgment or decision about the weather and move on with the day. Acceptance is the key here, we accept what we see and move forward. This acceptance is what allows us to be effective in our day. If it is cold, we dress to stay warm. If it is wet, we dress to stay dry. Taking the idea of acceptance into developing a relationship allows us to start the exchange process. We give a little, they give a little, we both gain something. (insight perhaps?).
Acceptance brings us to another concept that is important not just to our work but to any relationship that involves “self”. We hear all the time about the importance of knowing “self” in this work we do. I feel that this is a very important part of developing a relationship, which brings me back to acceptance. Accept who you are and know yourself, feel strong and confident in your values and what makes meaning for you. Then above all do not try to impose these on the person you are trying to connect with. Know who you are and allow this to let you stretch and bend a little with the process of developing the relationship. The bending and stretching by you will allow the youth time to adjust to you and begin the process of feeling comfortable in your company. This is the point in time where they will start to make judgements about what kind of person you are. Are you someone who will listen to them or are you one of those people who just disapprove? Strive to be open to the story they may be starting to tell, not how they are telling it. This could be their statement of "this is who I am, what do you think of me now?" How you react to this is certainly going to impact on how they react to you or accept you. Simply put, do not start laying down the rules of control and expect to get the acceptance needed to move forward.
This does not mean let the youth totally run a muck so to speak, but do allow them some expression of self. This goes a long way in nurturing the feeling of acceptance. Let’s take swearing, as an example. A lot of youth seem to throw this out at you for different reasons. Some may use this kind of language in everyday talk connected with the “culture” they come from, be it peers or family. Some may use it as a way to test you to see if you are like “all the others” that are trying to change or control them. Now I am not saying do not address swearing, just be aware of how you do it. If you are alone in a room, does it really need to be the focus of attention at that immediate moment in time? . If you are in the mall or some public place maybe it does, just be aware. How you address this situation has the ability to cause the youth to feel ... put down, scolded, silly, etc. all of which could get in the way of the relationship. This awareness of how you react to the situation can impact on the feelings evoked from experiencing disapproval. Show someone out and out disapproval and it is not likely that they will remain open to much you have to say afterwards. Someone has to value you as a person before they value what you say enough to consider adjusting their way of being at your request.
I said in my opening comment that developing a relationship is paramount in the work we do. This idea is basic to the way the program I work for starts any intervention or interaction with family and youth. The first few meetings we have with families are mostly based on just getting to know and feel comfortable with each other. I realize that this is a somewhat basic and simplistic concept, but a very important one that is often overlooked. After all what is it that we as child and youth workers are really trying to accomplish ... is it not showing youth how to be successful in relationships with others in their lives?