The better you know your young people, the easier it becomes for them to meet program expectations. The more you include structural supports for staff, the easier it will be for them to guide youth. Remember, the process to building relationships takes time. Use these seven tips alongside your behavior system to deepen the relationships between staff and youth.
- Begin with the Greeting: As youth come buzzing through the door with backpacks and coats, staff are filling the room with high-fives and “hellos.” This sets a tone for the community that we care about each other. Their transition into your space should be one of warmth and acceptance.
- Provide Individual Attention: Make time for staff to sit with young people—chair to chair, knee to knee. The message to each child is that they matter, they mean something, and they deserve this personal attention. In these intimate moments, youth let their guard down and share what matters most to them.
- Hold Youth Accountable: Youth rise to expectations when they are coached by supportive adults. Youth are expected to make mistakes and staff are expected to guide them through that process. Staff are responsible for teaching youth the desired behaviors and need to take the time to guide them.
- Scaffold Staff Expectations: Set appropriate benchmarks for your new staff. For example, by the first week they should know every child’s name. For your veterans, they are expected to learn more about the child and to coach them through difficult situations. As a team, take time to go through the highs and lows of relationships with youth.
- Daily Check-Ins: As a team, discuss specific youth who are on the radar. Who needs more homework help? Who needs extra attention because of ongoing issues at home? By shifting the conversation to the emotional care of young people—not just the logistics—staff know what to look for and how to work around the obstacles that can prevent youth from being at their best.
- Learn Together: Build a learning community amongst staff that promotes skill and knowledge sharing. Staff meetings need to include time for staff to develop themselves through hands-on activities and case studies. One of my favorite questions to ask staff is, “Pick a child in the program who is least like you. How can you get to know them better?” Make mini action plans that focus on staff-youth interactions and provide time for staff to report back on their progress.
- Rinse, Repeat, and Reflect: When you think you have arrived to a place of positive relationships between staff and youth, ask, “What else could we know about this child?” This work never ends—and the deeper you go into these connections, the higher we can raise the expectations for youth behavior. If you are struggling with behavior, before replacing your rules, implement these seven strategies.
These simple ideas are brought to you by 2014 NAA Annual Convention presenter Melinda Barbosa, Middle School Program Director for the Gately Youth Center. She can be reached at email@example.com. Photo courtesy the Gately Youth Center Facebook page.