By Being the Adult
So, what is a healthy adult-child relationship? What does it look like?
This can be very complex and not necessarily positive in the experience of young people. It’s important to be clear about what this means in the context of our relationships with the young people we work with. According to Jane Bluestein, being the adult in an adult-child relationship involves all the aspects in the diagram below:
Bluestein's model of a healthy adult-child relationship
2. Boundaries – be professional and mean what you say. Young people are well attuned to the way that adults operate and will see any blurring of boundaries as an opportunity to test our resolve. Having well-defined boundaries may make us unpopular at times, but we are there to build healthy relationships and not to become friends.
3. Supportiveness – you are the more resourced person in the relationship, so listen non-judgmentally and care about the young person regardless of how thier behaviour might make you feel. You can sanction bad behaviour while still retaining the unconditional positive regard of the young person: support them, but not their behaviour.
4. Integrity – if your actions don’t reflect your words, or you are seen to diverge from your principles, you cannot expect a young person to respect you. This means taking a moral stand even if it costs us to do so.
5. Eliminate double standards – if you are going to enforce the rules, they must be enforced fairly and universally (that means you too!).
6. Success-oriented/ positivity – focus on the good the young person is capable of. Presuppose positive outcomes and remember: how you look at a person is how you allow them to be.
The sorts of young people you may work with, whose behviour is the most challenging, have probably been let down and will find it difficult to trust adults. If we don’t put care and thought into our planning, we run the risk of letting them down and slipping out of their Quality World View.
Sometimes we can forget that we judge young people by the same standards we might expect others to judge us. For example, it is unwise to expect a young person with behavioural problems, ADHD or ASC to be patient, quiet and focussed when they are waiting around or when things are going wrong in the delivery of your session with them.
For young people who have been let down or who have felt like their views don’t matter, a lack of planning is likely to come across as a lack or care, even when the professional may be trying so hard to show how much they do care. There are some things we can do to help:
- Plan for all events – have a Plan A, Plan B, Plan C and Plan D ready to go.
- Be clear about the plan and include the young person’s wishes in it; be democratic and let the young person choose from acceptable options.
- Be firm but flexible when the plan has been agreed; this will be part of showing that you mean what you say.
- Plan for flash-points like hunger, toilet breaks and even smoking – sometimes these will be the reasons children have been unable to cope in their environment.
- Minimise time spent waiting – if children and young people get bored, behaviour is likely to deteriorate.