How can caring adults help when youth hit a rough patch?

Adapted from: Note to Parents & Teachers by Karen Gedig Burnett, author.

When teased, youth sometimes fall into a habit of feeling hurt, upset, and victimized. How can we help them break this pattern and learn effective ways to handle difficult times? The children’s book by Karen Gedig Burnett, Simon’s Hook, can help.

Children can get so involved with the emotion of a tease that they react instinctively rather than recognize that often the sole purpose of the tease is to get a reaction. Simon’s Hook compares teases to ‘fishing hooks’ and promotes the idea of “swimming free” of those “hooks”. This offers children a different and more objective view of the teasing process.

Often when children are teased they don’t think they have options – they have to “take the bait” of the person throwing them a “hook”. When people believe they have few options they feel powerless, stuck, or controlled by others. Simon’s Hook shows children many ways to swim around the “hook”. They see that they are not powerless. They have many choices.

Simon’s Hook concentrates on the actions of the “fish”, rather than the “hooks” or the fishermen. This encourages children to focus on their own attitude and behavior, the only part of the interaction they control. Complaining about the other person’s behavior, the cruel “hook” or the unfair situation is counter-productive and leads to feelings of helplessness and self-pity.

By focusing on their own actions children can begin to recognize the power they have – their own personal power. Personal power is not about power over someone else or the situation, but power over ourselves: our attitude, our actions, and our life. An empowered attitude is instrumental in a person’s ability to solve problems throughout life.

Encourage children to view themselves as strong, free “fish” with many choices, no matter what “hooks” the other person uses.

The road of life sometimes has rough spots, obstacles and detours. Often when faced with these difficult situations, youth freeze or react instinctively and impulsively. They don’t know what to do. As caring adults in the lives of youth, we can help develop and nurture skills to navigate these rough patches. Our ultimate goal is for them to be able to handle these bumps and ruts on their own!

By teaching responsibility, ownership and flexibility, we confirm that:
1. You cannot control what happens. You can control how you respond.
2. There are many ways to solve a challenge.
3. Build on success. Use successful strategies to address new challenges.

How to help youth develop the skills they need:
1. Listen and speak with empathy first:
Say things like, “That must be hard.” “Boy, you had a rough day.” “That’s a difficult one to handle.” “It sounds like your feelings are hurt.” “That made you angry.” Then, listen some more . . . often children just want to vent. Then, they can better handle the problem by themselves and move on.

2. After being heard, youth may be ready to problem-solve.
Say things like, “Did you take the bait?” “Someone’s been fishing.” “Did someone throw a hook at you?” “Oh, and you bit.” “How can you swim free?” “How could you avoid that hook?” “I see a hook.” “Were you caught?” “The fish are biting today.” “What are you going to do?” “How could you solve this problem?”

Teaching Problem Solving
Help youth identify and state the problem
Help youth stay focused on their personal choices and actions: Youth only control their part of the interaction. If they complain, wait, or hope for the other person to change- they may be complaining, waiting, or hoping for a very long time. No matter how unfair the situation, or insensitive the other person, help youth focus on what they control. Encourage and model for youth an active, “I’m going to do something!” approach to problem solving.
Prompt and encourage the identification of potential strategies or solutions
Brainstorming and role-playing: Help youth develop a repertoire of possible reactions to a problem. Teachers might use a “Three-Minute Huddle” to brainstorm specific strategies (words and actions) and list the responses on chart paper to review before recess.
For each strategy, ask “What might the consequences be?”
Discuss “Clear Thoughts” (positive-optimistic thinking) and “Mud
Thoughts” (negative, pessimistic thinking): A “Clear Thought” would be “I messed up this time, but I’ll do it better next time.” A “Mud Thought” would be,”I always mess up.” Replacing “Mud Thoughts” with “Clear Thoughts” helps keep youth in control and focused on their personal power and responsibility.
Talk out which strategies might be the best, and why
Help youth recognize techniques they have used over time and express confidence that they will find a way to resolve this difficulty, too.
Commit to stay involved as an ally
Encourage and support youth and their involvement in successful ventures. Highlight their finer qualities. Give examples where you see them exhibit these qualities. Hold out models for them to see how these qualities can benefit them as they grow.
When reviewing challenges and successes, highlight successes, emphasize problem-solving skills and help youth see the transitory nature of most problems.

Be the one youth can count on when they need help.

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