Respect, Rapport, & Relationship
One of the biggest challenges to raising and working with other peoples kids is gaining the respect and rapport necessary to make an impact. As a foster-parent, often a social worker will just drop a child off and that child is expected to respect you and follow your directions immediately. As a mentor, I’m expected to walk into a school or a community setting and get a child to do or in some cases, not to do what other professionals have not been able. Even though I work in a social services field, I am still expected to perform and produce results. If you are like me, you are tired of hearing and reading from authors and speakers that seem to focus on the clinical and not the practical. So in light of that, here are some practical ways I’ve learned to gain respect and rapport and to build relationships with young people:
1. Imagine yourself in their situation – What would you do if you were a foster child, just removed from your bio-family and dropped off at a strangers home? Or you are a child at school, raising hell, and some man or woman comes in to “fix you”. We expect these kids to be little robots. We use words like, structure, boundaries and values and expect kids to fit into our definition of these words. Often, the environments that these kids come from have defined these terms for them. I’m not suggesting that they shouldn’t learn new behaviors and attitudes, but as a starting point, we should understand where they come from. I don’t believe that you have to be from the same environment to understand the environment. But I do believe that you should be empathetic and be willing to research and understand if you’re not.
2. Learn to “Disarm” – Often, when you meet a kid for the first time, they are defensive, skeptical and sometimes scared. And for good reason. If the child has been in the system for awhile, they are used to being introduced to new providers and are usually skeptical. If the child is new to the system they are most likely scared, not knowing what to expect. In both cases, your ability to disarm or make them feel comfortable will determine if you will be listened to or given a chance. And this has to be done relatively soon. Kids are like adults, they have first impressions and you only have one time to make yours. The best thing to do initially is to find some common ground. This goes against how I was trained. Every foster parenting training class I’ve attended has instructed me to have a list of rules and make sure that I set the “boundaries” right off the bat. Fortunitly for me, and the kids I foster and mentor, I’ve never done this. As a matter of fact, I’ve never issued a list of rules, at least not from the beginning. To me it’s useless to try to give rules when I haven’t earned the right to be heard. The way in which you disarm by finding common ground will be different for everyone, but the principle is the same. Find something of interest that you and the child have in common, and talk about it. For me, I love rap music. So its easy to talk about a few artist until I find one that the kid likes also. Then they are always amazed that I know some trivial information about one of their favorite artist. For someone else it may be sports or another interest. Also, because I work in so many schools in my area, I sometimes know another kid that they know. This is an excellent way, because their peers validating you is powerful.