When you are trying to respond helpfully to a child or young person it is important to take time to reflect. This is because of the following:
- You may have a strong emotional reaction to what the child is saying or appears to be going through. This may be because you, or someone you are close to has been through a similar experience in the past, or it may be because you have a close relationship with the child/young person in question.
It is very important that you do not let this emotional reaction get in the way of making good decisions about helping.
- If you have been through similar experiences yourself, this can help you empathise with the child and can be very helpful.
However you must take care that you try to distinguish between what are their immediate needs and what are yours. If you don’t, then some of your responses to them may be motivated by your own needs (e.g. to deal with your own feelings of sadness, anger or anxiety). This response may or may not be appropriate to the helping situation you are in.
- We all have our own unique personality. This is partly defined by the ways we automatically respond to others when faced with familiar situations. As a worker with children, you need to be aware of your automatic patterns of responding which have been shaped by your own life history and experiences. Some examples of automatic response patterns would be the sequences of behaviour which make up - reassurance, affection, problem-solving, praise, punishment, sympathy, etc. Some of your automatic responses will be perfect for your work. Others may not be so helpful or helpful only in limited circumstances.
If you become more aware of how you have been responding automatically you will be able to manage yourself better. You can also use this awareness to help you to develop even more helpful ways of responding and interacting with the children and young people you are trying to help.
- The child or young person can respond either positively or negatively to your help. They may be affected by their experience of being helped in the past or by other care givers. If this is the case, they may appear to react to you as if you are someone else (e.g. their mother or father).
It is important to bear this in mind as it may explain why a child is behaving in a particular way. Also, it may explain some of your feelings towards them.
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A child or adolescent may evoke a whole range of feelings in us when we are working with them, which we may be more or less aware of. We tend not to pay much attention to such feelings unless we find them troubling, and even then we are inclined to think of them primarily as something that we need to manage or put aside. However, such feelings may be more than just a personal reaction.
We are used to paying attention to the way that a baby’s behaviour expresses how it feels, but we may be less used to thinking in this way about the behaviour of older children and adolescents in our work.
What a child’s or adolescent’s behaviour causes us to feel may be a communication and a useful source of information to help us understand how they are feeling. This is a form of communication that is non-verbal and is not conscious.
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A child is in a small group that is being given extra support by a teacher. The teacher gives a bit of time to each child in turn, while they are doing their work. Each time the teacher tries to give some help to one particular child that child turns their attention away, either talking to another child or becoming distracted in some way. The teacher feels irritated, shut out and ignored by this child. Here the feelings elicited in the teacher could be understood as a reflection of the child’s feelings of anger and exclusion at having to share the teacher’s attention with the other children.
A second example might be a situation where a social worker regularly spends some time with a child, perhaps taking them out. Each time she arrives to collect the child, the social worker has to wait for the child to get ready. The social worker feels impatient and annoyed. Here the social worker’s feelings might reflect the child’s feelings about the social worker’s absence and having to wait for, what feels like, such a long time to see them each week.
A final example is a child, who when they start school, clings desperately and resists separating from their parent. The parent feels as if they are being cruel by abandoning their child and forcing them to go to school. Here the parent’s feelings might reflect the child’s experience of separation as cruel and unbearable.