In training this week we had a fascinating discussion about what it is that best helps troubled young people.
More specifically, what is it about those people who are particularly good at it, that makes them stand out?

Photo courtesy of ©123rf/Panithan Fakseemuang (adapted)

Two key features of rock star colleagues…

We all have them – colleagues who are just plain talented. The ones who seem to be able to connect particularly well with the young people.
Ask yourself, why is it that these people are so good?
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Our training discussion arrived at two characteristics:

  • Stability 
  • Empathy


This comes back to that old attachment theory thing – the secure base.
If a child is ever to feel safe enough to explore the world and learn, they must first feel they have someone they can rely on. Someone to crawl back to when things get scary out there on the carpet!
[callout]                   Stability – continuance without change, steadfastness, constancy of character.[/callout]
Troubled teens are no different. Before they can start to deal with their histories and start exploring the world around them, they first have to find someone they can lean on. Someone they feel safe with.

Photo courtesy ©123rf/Opas Chotiphantawanon (adapted)

Photo courtesy ©123rf/Opas Chotiphantawanon (adapted)

Someone they trust – a secure base.
Becoming that person is the challenge we all face in trying to help the kids we work with.
I think that there are 3 basic constituents to this: consistency, predictability & reliability. I’ve written about these at greater length before – here.
[shareable cite=”Jonny Matthew”]Empathy – the skill to get inside someone else’s experience and care for them.[/shareable]
They work because the messages they give to young people are ones which promote and consolidate attunement and attachment:

  • Consistency – “I will deal with you the same way each time.”
  • Predictability – “Because I’m consistent, you can anticipate me – I’m trustworthy.”
  • Reliability – “My consistency and predictability mean that I’m reliable. You can lean on me. You can rely on me.”

In this way we can become a safe person for troubled kids to feel secure in. Once they have this, they will trust us with the stuff that really matters.
That’s when the progress happens.
Stuck with what to do with a troubled child or young person? Help is at hand – click here…


If you’re anything like me, you know who you can talk to.
You’ll know which people you want to talk to when you need to vent. Or you need a moan. Or life is tough and you just need someone to listen. Someone who gets it.
What is it about them that makes us want to share our tough stuff? They have empathy.
[callout]                  Empathy – the skill to get inside someone else’s experience and care for them.[/callout]
There’s a breakdown of what we can do to communicate our care to young people, here.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto\ejwhite

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto\ejwhite

But some of the important little things we can do “in the moment”, are:

  • Good eye contact – (if they’re comfortable, of course) This communicates our focus and attentiveness.
  • Non-verbal cues -Simple nods are affirming and reassuring. As are reflective facial expressions (mirroring), mmm-ing and smiling.
  • Touch – (safe touch, of course) physical reassurance via a hand on the shoulder or upper arm, a knuckle touch or high-five can make a connection that says, “I get you” or “I’m with you.”

These kinds of things come naturally to some. For others, we have to be more deliberate and thoughtful about how best to communicate our care.
Either way, these things (and others) can be a huge help in guiding us through those tricky encounters when children and young people are still suspicious and looking for reasons not to trust us.
[shareable cite=”Meryl Streep”]The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy…[/shareable]
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Final word…

The key factor in all this is that we actually care. When we do, this comes across. They know.
No amount of taught technique, acquired skill or experience will ever replace genuine care and concern. If you have that, you’re half way there already!  :0)

What do you think?…

  • What do you think are the factors that make some people very good at building trust with troubled young people?
  • Please let me know your thoughts…   Leave a comment below or click here.

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© Jonny Matthew 2016