Favorite Tips from the KidsPeace Institute

The KidsPeace Institute, the training and educational division of KidsPeace, provides many hours of workshops, seminars and onsite training programs to professionals in the mental health field, education and the community. The following tips were compiled from a variety of some of the most well received training sessions held over the past year.

10 Tips for Building Better Relationships with Teens

1 Listen to what teens have to say – Pay attention to your body language and tone of voice, making sure that you are communicating an open perspective.
2 Ask questions that indicate your interest in what they are saying, what they are interested in and what they believe.
3 Respect their opinions even if you disagree with them.  
4 Act on teachable moments – These “windows of opportunity” can open at any time.
5 Set age-appropriate limits/boundaries – They need the
structure despite their resistance to it.  
6 Stick to consequences – This is actually a relief to teens. Let them decide, then reward or give consequences based on those choices.
7 React with neutrality – Don’t let your buttons be pushed or take things personally.  
8 Encourage positive risk-taking – Help teens learn to fulfill their thrill-seeking needs in ways that are legal and acceptably safe.
9 Encourage participation in meaningful activities that can build their sense of competence and self-esteem.  
10 Control your own counter aggression – If you lose control, you lose your right to give advice or make demands.

10 Tips for Effective Counseling with Kids

1 Build a counseling relationship – Take time in the initial stages of a therapeutic relationship to get to know the child (not just her problems). Understand her perspective on life, what interests her and what bothers her. This will come in handy later.
2 Give unconditional positive regard – Learn to see every child in a positive way, regardless of his actions or personality. You have to do more than just SHOW unconditional positive regard; you have to BELIEVE it.
3 Make counseling a safe place – The client should feel that talking with you is safe, physically and emotionally. Do what you can to reduce stress and chaos during the counseling session.
4 Be attentive – Be in the moment with the client. Minimize distractions and follow her conversation. Be able to respond appropriately to questions or comments so that she knows you are listening.
5 Understand non-verbal behavior – Be aware of your body position, facial expression and eye contact. It’s best to appear natural and relaxed rather than cold or tense. Use these non-verbal skills to communicate attentiveness and ease with the information being shared.
6 Allow silence – Sometimes a child is silent because he is thinking. It’s okay for a few moments to pass without anyone talking. Don’t feel pressured to fill the space with advice or suggestions. Follow up the silence with a question about what the child was thinking.
7 Reflect content – Sometimes, when a child talks, the information is a bit chaotic and disorganized. The counselor can say back to the client a summary of what she just said to help her organize her thoughts. (P.S. – Don’t editorialize!)
8 Reflect emotion – Kids often have trouble naming the many emotions they have. A counselor can help by reflecting back the emotions that are evident in the counseling session. For example, “It seems like this is extremely upsetting and frustrating. Am I right about that?”
9 Use activities and assignments – Counseling “homework” can sometimes help guide and structure your session with the client. Journaling and worksheets are two examples of assignments that can be used.
10 Be culturally aware – Take into account the racial, cultural and/or religious background of the client in counseling. The style of conversations and non-verbal communication may be different, as well as what’s most important to the client. Leave personal biases at the door.

10 Tips For Effective Milieu Management

1 Relationship building – Get to know the kids and form a partnership as they work on their goals in your program.
2 Know your resources – Staff should always be aware of where and who they may call for additional staffing assistance.
3 Maintain a schedule – Having routines and schedules creates predictability and consistency, which reduce stress and anxiety.
4 Let the kids know the plan – Use transitional meetings as a way to pre-teach what will be expected from an individual in an upcoming time period.
5 Divide and conquer – Effective use of splitting the clients up into smaller groups makes it much easier to manage incidents and allows for more individualistic treatment.
6 Communicate with your team – This is essential for managing staffing patterns and keeping everyone “in the loop.”
7 Monitor tones and lighting – Remember that simple manipulations in volume, lighting, temperature, proximity, etc., can make a great deal of difference in a client’s mood and behavior.
8 Identify the roles the clients are playing – Contagion can spread quickly, and knowing who the leaders, lieutenants, followers, status seekers and scapegoats are will help when confronting the clients on the behavior.
9 Prioritize tasks and responsibilities – Know what absolutely must get done on your shift and what tasks could be postponed if need be.
10 Be prepared – Make sure you have everything you need prior to any activities or appointments.  Know the client allergies and medical conditions!

10 Tips for Successful Verbal De-escalation

1 Monitor your own emotions and counter-aggression – If you get angry and upset, the child will become more angry and upset.
2 Think about and manage your facial expressions – Try not to communicate anger or anxiety to the child through body language.
3 Listen – Most kids just want to be heard. Being able to state their side of things is very helpful in calming them down.
4 Avoid jumping to conclusions about what’s really going on, the child’s motives or thoughts about the situation.
5 Validate and affirm feelings – Acknowledge the pain they are in. Notice the pain they are in. You can do this without feeding into the behavior.
6 The angrier the child gets, the softer you should make your tone of voice – Remember, softer and closer. Increase your proximity to the child (without cornering or overcrowding him or her) and bring your tone down to almost a whisper.
7 Avoid giving advice about what the child “should have done” while the child is still upset – The time for learning new skills is later in the process. Help the child calm down first.
8 When in doubt, say nothing – Sometimes just your nearby presence is enough to comfort a child (even if he/she won’t admit it).
9 Reflect what you hear – Paraphrase what you’re hearing from the child every so often. This will let the child know that you are listening and understanding what he is saying.
10 Be sincere about helping them – Kids can detect a fake a mile away, but they also know when a staff member genuinely cares. Being around a sincere staff member can be instantly calming for a child.

10 Tips on Responding to Hostile E-Mails, Voicemails and Unreasonable Requests

1 Listen (or read) first – Do not interject or give your opinion. Stay completely silent unless you need to ask a question for clarification. Make sure you soak in what is being said AND the meaning behind it.
2 If it’s an email, re-read it at least once – In the case of email or voicemail, if you are angered by what is written or said, DO NOT respond right away.
3 Begin with a statement that ensures the other person you have heard what he/she said – EXAMPLES:
• “OK, so it sounds like…”
• “So what you’re saying is…”
4 Validate the person’s underlying EMOTION – Remember that you do not have to validate his/her behavior or agree with what was said. You are simply validating the emotion that is coming across. This tells the person that you are empathic. EXAMPLES:
• “Wow, that has to be so frustrating…”
• “I can see that you are very upset…”
5 Start where the other person is – Acknowledge that you understand the person’s perspective first. Then you can add your perspective to create a complete picture. (Think of a Gestalt image, where there are two pictures in one, depending on how you look at it.) It is never an EITHER/OR situation. It is always an ALSO situation. Do not engage in a battle over EITHER/OR.
6 If you need to challenge the person, try some benign approaches such as:
• “Is it possible…”
• “I also think it’s possible that…”
• “Do you think maybe…”
• “I think there’s more to this than meets the eye…”
7 Before you hit “send,” make sure you re-read the e-mail at least one time – Look for errors and examine the tone of your e-mail. Who is listed in the “To” box? Are you sending it to the correct person? Does it sound accusing? Does it blame someone? Does it intentionally put someone out there to be criticized?
8 Make sure you end with a plan or steps that will happen next – This gives the other person the sense that the problem can be solved, rather than leaving them hanging and angry.
9 Provide (and stick to) a date and time that you will follow up on the progress of these steps – This will make the person feel like you are on the same team.
10 Remember that voicemails and e-mails can be saved – Supervisors or other leaders could review what you have said/written. Even deleted messages can sometimes be retrieved. Don’t say/write something that you will regret later.