One key to communication is creating an environment for open sharing. Many parents that we work with in the Ahead of the Game Youth Mentoring Program face this challenge. They often ask the question, “How do I keep an open relationship with my children when they seem so closed off?” One solution that we practice is a little something I like to call “checking in”.
Our sessions usually last up to 90 minutes, but throughout each session our mentor facilitators are encouraged to observe the audience to look for “outliers.” Outliers are unusual behavioural patterns in students. For example, a student who is normally energetic may come in one session and have low energy. This is an outlier because it is outside of their normal behaviour. When outliers are spotted it is imperative that the mentor “checks in” by simply taking a moment to figure out how that individual is doing. They may give a group activity, spend one-on-one time with the student, or encourage the student to get involved by sharing an experience or answering a question.
Check-ins are very powerful. During our second year in the program, I noticed a young man who was usually present at most sessions had missed one. Upon his return, I “checked in” by letting him know we missed him, and asked where he was. He told me that he was going through some things and revealed to me a wrist with over 15 cuts on it. I asked him if he wanted to talk, and we sat down for 20 minutes as I listened to him tell his story of verbal abuse at home and feelings of low self-esteem. We agreed that it would be best if we told the guidance counselors and principals at his school so he and his family could get the help they needed.
The young man came to the program the following session with less energy than before, so I checked in again. He said that it was a bit uncomfortable to have a psychologist in his personal space at home. I assured him that things would get better and if they did not, we would see about alternative measures.
As the weeks progressed I continued to check in. Slowly, things started to improve. His energy levels increased and he was more optimistic towards school. He told me that he felt more confident, fought less with his parents, and his home life was a much happier place.
A problem was solved. A potentially fatal incident was avoided because of the simple act of checking in. Using check-ins are an easy way to create an environment for open sharing. It gives young people a voice, and allows them to express what is on their mind and in their hearts. So remember to check in, before they check out!
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