Working with children and young people is one of the most rewarding jobs I have ever had. It isn’t always easy (if ever) but if you enjoy making a difference it is definitely a job worth seeking. Over the years I have worked with many different ages and abilities in a vast array of different settings. Examples of these include leading sessions at a playscheme, running PE lessons at primary/secondary school, facilitating and engaging young people at youth groups and organising play activities for almost 200 children in The Gambia.

All of the above may seem extremely different but at the centre of all of these activities there remains a child/ young person who is there because they want to be. It is really important to remember that all children are different. All of them have different backgrounds and live in differing situations. All of them have different emotional needs and to some young people you may be their only constant activity /face they see each week. With this comes many obstacles.

Does everything always go to plan? The answer to this will quite often be no. It can be frustrating when you plan something and then for various reasons it doesn’t work. Did enough/too many people attend? Was everyone at the ability your activity was planned for? Did you have enough equipment? Did the group want to complete the task? Did the dynamics of the group affect the ‘learning’? As a teacher, instructor, playworker or coach you must be adaptable. You must be able to accept that it is okay to change and divert from the original plan. Reading your audience is a skill that anyone working with children and young people must possess.

The biggest challenge that overrides every group you will ever work with is challenging behaviour. There are many different reasons as to why a child/young person may present particular behaviours and is it vital that when dealing with this behaviour you focus on the behaviour being challenging and not the individual. It is important to remember that behaviour is learnt and can therefore change. There were many times I would go into a new school/group and the first thing you would be informed is ‘who the naughty ones are’. This is something that after numerous occasions of tarnishing these particular children I actually asked schools/teachers not to tell me anything about the group prior to my delivery. If you are told this then you subconsciously have hawk eyes constantly waiting for that child to demonstrate bad behaviour. The worst part then is when the teacher says ‘ I told you he was like that’. I found that many of those being branded by their teachers were actually the children and young people that engaged and excelled in the activities I was doing. They were those that didn’t have the attention span or capabilities to excel in science but may be fantastic team players that could show great leadership qualities during a sports tournament.

Challenging behaviour can take many different forms and an inappropriate behaviour in one particular setting may be deemed appropriate in another. For example, it may be deemed inappropriate to yell the name of your friend across the maths classroom but during a team building exercise where you are guiding them blindfolded through an obstacle course this behaviour is perfectly acceptable. We must remember that behaviours arise in order to have particular needs met. It is linked to our emotions and perceptions and therefore the way somebody responds to particular behaviours is really important. I have learned over the years that shouting is never an option unless I deem it necessary to prevent an incident/accident occurring. If you shout at a child you have used all of the tools in your box to deal with their behaviour and there is nowhere else you can go to help them correct this. You also don’t always know what their homelife is like. They could be living in an extremely toxic household where domestic abuse is prevalent and shouting is all they ever hear. We must always be mindful of scenarios like this and never make assumptions about why children behave in a particular way. As the adults in the situation it is really important to remain calm when dealing with certain behaviours. We must actively listen to the child/ young person as to how they are feeling and why they may have behaved in such a way.

So why do children and young people present challenging behaviours? I have worked with many people who have the attitude of ‘they just want to be difficult’. This is most definitely not the case. Quite often the causes of the behaviour shown by the child are actually outside of the child’s control. Have they suffered a traumatic experience/ bereavement? Have they been subject to bullying throughout their school life? Are they a young carer? Do they have a dysfunctional family? Are they witness to abuse and substance misuse at home?

Whilst thinking about the above it becomes clear as to why a child or young person may appear difficult. This is because more often than not they are craving adult attention. Even if this attention is negative, they deem it more rewarding than being completely ignored. Let’s be honest nine out of ten times a child behaves badly the adult will respond to them as they have acknowledged the behaviour. This is welcomed by the child even if it means they are being told off. This will quite often happen with children or young people who have poor attachment with their parents. As someone who works in these environments it is essential to remember that we become role models. The example we set to them whilst engaging with them should always be that of a professional nature. Although we want to ensure we share a mutual respect with one another to enhance the trust within the relationship we are not their ‘friend’. By behaving in a ‘friendly’ way we don’t determine boundaries from the outset and this in turn can then make the young person/ child feel rejected when we can’t be their mate. This too can then lead to an outburst of unwelcomed behaviour. We may be demonstrating to them a situation they are far too familiar with which has meant they tend not to engage with any adults and distrust them.

We are all different. We all work in different ways and under different pressures and time constraints. We all work in different environments. We all have different interests that make us quirky. So do our children. As long as we ensure they are always at the centre of everything we do within our groups, companies, schools, organisations we truly can make a difference. We need to accept it is okay to do things wrong sometimes because that is how we learn. Listening and showing we care is all some of these children and young people want. Enjoy making a difference!

By Lizzy Duck, Safeguarding Consultant


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