How to Help a Troubled Youth

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Reprinted with Permission from CPI

©CPI 2014. All content herein used with the permission of Crisis Prevention Institute, Inc. All rights reserved.

By Erin Harris | Posted on 08.26.2014 |

Oftentimes, kids with cognitive, emotional, or behavioral issues need your help.

But sometimes the behavior of a child or teen who struggles with a physical or emotional challenge can be hard to handle to say the least. The issues troubled kids deal with can cause them to act out in a variety of ways: They might be angry, frustrated, or defensive; they might be withdrawn or aggressive; they might challenge or resist your attempts to help. In these situations, their stress responses can flood them with emotions so intense that they’re unable to think or communicate rationally.

So what are your options when everything you try to do to help ends up escalating a kid’s behavior instead of defusing it?

“Engaged, conversational connected time with individual youth is paramount to building and maintaining reclaiming relationships with the youth in our care,” writes CPI’s Dr. Randy Boardman, Ed.D., in Conflict in the Classroom.

“Walk around, and talk to and listen to those you serve at your facility,” Randy writes.

This helps in a multitude of ways—whether you work in education, social services, juvenile justice, a group home, or in any capacity with troubled youth. Communication is the foundation for two especially important ways to reach kids: Establishing trust and identifying triggers.

Establishing Trust
Getting to know a child helps you create an emotionally safe environment for them. By asking questions, listening empathically, and giving the child your undivided attention, you can show them that you’re there to protect them and to empower them to feel comfortable and safe. Find out about their family or home history, key events in their life, and little things, like their favorite TV show or their favorite season. What helps them cope and makes them feel better? When a child trusts that you know them and that you understand and respect where they’re coming from, you can create a safe space in which they feel valued and secure.

Identifying Triggers
Another benefit of asking questions and—most importantly—listening and tuning in to words, emotions, and body language, is that it clears a window through which you can recognize the causes of problematic behavior. Consider aspects such as:

  • Precipitating Factors.What sets the youth off? Is it something someone says or does? Is it the way someone says something—their tone, volume, or cadence?
  • Are you offering more support than the child needs? Not enough?
  • Can you change something in your own behavior to prevent the youth from escalating? Or maybe you can change something in the environment—block a bothersome glare from the sun, adjust the positioning of a desk or a bed, modify a lunch menu.

When you identify what causes a child to react negatively, you can tweak things to prevent that factor from triggering behaviors.

Of course, these are just a few techniques. Training is important for learning and customizing behavior management skills to the unique needs of your organization and the kids you strive to help. CPI offers an advanced program for professionals who are certified to teach our Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training program within their organizations. Called Enhancing Verbal Skills: Applications of Life Space Crisis Intervention℠, the program integrates CPI and Life Space Crisis Intervention (LSCI) Institute concepts for advancing your verbal and nonverbal communication and relationship-building skills.

©CPI 2014. All content herein used with the permission of Crisis Prevention Institute, Inc. All rights reserved.

Lori Lynass Ed.D.

Owner & Executive Director of SOUND SUPPORTS. Dr. Lynass has 22 years of experience working to support student, families and schools. She has worked directly with over 1,000 schools, in over 100 districts and 3 state departments of education on their implementation of academic and behavioral systems of support. Read More >