2 ways to make deeper connections with young people

2 ways to make deeper connections with young people

Have you ever struggled to connect with a kid? The conversation doesn’t flow, they answer your questions with one-word answers (or stony silence), and sustained eye contact is just wishful thinking? That’s how it’s been with my Little Sister, Andi (name changed). The truth is, connection is hard, and many adults are good at faking it. So maybe I had some false confidence about my ability to connect with kids. Either way, something had to change. During my last activity with Andi, I decided to employ two strategies I’ve learned at work from the Emergent Teaching Methodology used in our EDU program. Here’s how it went:

Strategy 1: Be straightforward in your messaging
Me: So…something I’ve noticed is that people seem to stare at us a lot when we’re out together. Have you noticed that?
Andi: Yes! Like that lady at the park today, and the guy doing the demonstration. They wouldn’t stop staring.
Me: Why do you think that happens?
Andi: I guess…maybe they haven’t seen people like us together.
Me: Do you mean because I’m white and you’re black?
Andi: Yeah, I think so.
Me: I bet you’re probably right. How does it make you feel?
Andi: It makes me feel really uncomfortable.

In this conversation, we didn’t come up with any solutions, but at least we both acknowledged what was going on. I think it demonstrates trust in your conversational partner when you can bring up hard topics and talk about them in an age-appropriate manner. Asking open-ended questions and allowing the young person to lead the conversation also meant that I was trusting Andi to be a full conversational partner. But I can still coach her to challenge herself—the conversation ended with me asking her to think of positive ways to deal with these interactions. I promised to do the same.

Strategy 2: Activate their ingenuity to solve problems
Me: I realized I’ve been planning a lot of our activities. I’d like you to plan the next one; what do you think?
Andi: What would we do?
Me: Well, I thought a reasonable budget would be $12 per person, and I can cover that cost. If you don’t think that’s reasonable, we can talk about it. But assuming it is…what can you think of that fits the budget?
Andi: (after a long pause): Can we get our nails done? There’s a place near my house, and I was hoping to get my nails done before my cousin’s wedding next week.
Me: That could work. How do you propose we handle transportation?

After getting a rough structure (in this case, a budget and schedule to work within), my Little came up with an activity all by herself. Looking back, I realize that I could have trusted her to do more activity planning from the beginning. Will I always love the activities she chooses? Well, no, but she runs the same risk. The point is that we trust each other enough to try it, and then to give feedback on how it went and what we learned.

Emergent Teaching Methodology is powerful because it asks, “What happens when students are trusted to navigate their own learning?” I hope you’re inspired to ask yourself the same question as you interact with the young folks in your life.

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