Be There To Show You Care

The most important part of being present is using active listening. Staying focused on what is happening also gives other people an indication that you care and are aware of their behavior. Active listening forces you to follow along.

The Art Of Noticing

It is easier to notice things we don’t like: food on a menu, clothes in a store, bad drivers on the freeway, the odd house on the block, etc. What we don’t like stands out.

It is really no different when dealing with kids’ behavior. What is unusual or not OK stands out.

It is time to retrain our brains. To begin, just ask some simple questions when with kids: “What am I looking for right now?” or “What do I want to see?” These questions prime our brains to be on the lookout. Noticing is an active process that requires effort.

Next, we need to put ourselves into the action. A dear friend of mine and a phenomenal camp counselor once said that to be a great youth leader, one has to repeatedly ask, “What can I do right now to improve this situation?” No matter what is happening, the situation can always be made better.

Comparative Advantage

The economics principle of comparative advantage involves an individual being valuable to a group because, while not good at everything, the person is good at something. Economists discuss this in terms of trade between countries. Business leaders speak in terms of productivity, project management, and personnel.

In youth development, I use the principle of comparative advantage to identify each young person’s strengths.

The question is not “Are they good at something?” but “What are they good at?”

It is essential to start with the basic assumption that every young person is good at something. Indeed, many children and teens have several different strengths. It is our job as adult caregivers to find and celebrate those strengths.

Identifying strengths begins with being present and noticing positive behaviors. “Being interested” seems so easy but is actually quite difficult. It involves active listening and mindful participation, even when the activity or topic isn’t interesting or motivating to us. Still, we have to meet kids where they are.

Once we identify a young person’s interests, passions, and strengths, it is easier to create an environment—a set of supports and opportunities—for him or her to be successful.

I can create an environment for my daughter to be creative. I can hide jewels that her rainbow unicorns have left, or I can entice the princess fairy to make a magic potion in the bathtub. These are opportunities for her to be creative, to express herself, and to use her imagination, which anyone who has met her will say are some of her strengths.

It All Adds Up To Better Behavior

Adult caregivers, especially parents and camp staff, play a huge part in helping young people develop positive behavior. This promotion depends, in part, on how we spend our mental and emotional time, what we notice, and how we can look for every kid’s strength or comparative advantage.

In combination, these techniques bolster the tried-and-true behavior-management strategies most of us use. Being in the present, active noticing, and identifying strengths make strategies such as “specific and clear praise” more accurate and genuine. These strategies help make “rewards and consequences” more meaningful and poignant, and give “enhanced responsibility” more power and credibility.

Best of all, this new approach brings more positive behavior, which feels good to everyone.

Scott Arizala is the leading expert, trainer, and consultant in summer camp. He is the Camp Director for Camp Tall Tree, a resident camp for children with unique challenges; for Dragonfly Forest, a camp for kids with serious illnesses; and for Camp Kesem, a national organization for children whose parents have cancer. Scott is also on the faculty of and the author of the best-selling book, S’more Than Camp.

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Related posts:

  1. The Importance Of Candid Feedback
  2. Watch Out For One Another
  3. Children On The Autistic Spectrum
  4. Staff Pointers
  5. Bridging The Gap

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