Separating the behaviour from the young person

It’s absolutely essential that we remember to do this – if we don’t separate the behaviour from the young person, our responses will be negatively affected and outcomes will be poor.

This can sometimes be very difficult to do, especially when we are aware of previous behaviour problems and facts about a young person’s life and/or past.

Part of separating the behaviour from the young person is to avoid making blanket statements about someone just because of something they may have done. For example, if a teenager makes an unwise decision to go to the home of a young man she doesn’t really know, we can say that she didn’t fully consider the consequences of her behaviour, but it’s not fair to say that she is stupid, reckless, or totally lacks common sense. One (or even several) instance(s) of bad behaviour do(es) not accurately reflect a young person’s entire character.

However, as bad behaviour starts to accumulate, how can we help making  assumptions about young people – especially in the case of those about whom we care, who can often make us feel the most helpless or frustrated as professionals?

We need to consider how useful is it to label people with global labels.

Is it helpful, even with good reason, to label a young person reckless, lazy, annoying or dangerous? Would they respond well to such labels? Is a young person likely to change their bad behaviour when you tell them, yourself, or anyone else, that they are reckless, lazy, annoying or dangerous?

The answer is ‘no’. To give someone a global label, based on evidence of their bad behaviour, is generally of little help. Labelling in this way may help us, as professionals, to articulate our own feelings, but this is of no use to the young person whose experience should be at the centre of our practice. Instead, it is good to focus on the strengths they have, the good qualities they have, and try to get them focused on the good they have within themselves as well.

It is not a good idea to ignore the bad behaviour or pretend it doesn’t exist. The bad behaviour still has consequences and those consequences must be part of a young person’s learning experience.

When you are ready, complete the activity below. You’ll need to read the information on separating the behaviour from the young person, then complete the reflection activity.