Research supports that children will thrive if they have just one positive role model. Kids are not necessarily trouble makers. It’s just that the teenage years bring on that developmental stage where they are individuating from their parents. But, they still need that most important sense of belonging. They just need a place where they feel comfortable, connected and welcome. They need a mentor, friend, adult role model who believe in them and guide them to make positive life choices as a young person. You can provide role models for your students that match values of the professional learning community!
But, you can also be that support as the counselor. Tired, tense and overextended counselors sometimes inadvertently fail at supporting their students in the way they need. Educators often give material favors or “empty praise” as expressions of support, yet the teen remains apathetic. Giving rewards doesn’t satisfy the question lurking deep inside, “Do my counselors and teachers really care about me?” and therefore fail to be the real support they require. We choose to spend time with people and activities that we love and bring us joy. If we rob our students of our time in lieu of material and financial objects, then they get the underlying message they are not valued and/or loved. Time is valuable, especially at this time of life when our teens are testing everyone’s love.
Try the following ideas, borrowed from both counselors and parents, to strengthen the counselor/student relationship:
- Plan surprises. Leave notes for your students or pull a few together for a special surprise such as a dessert you’ve prepared, popcorn party, etc. The time that you spent preparing the note or dessert sends an important message. Remember, actions speak louder than words!
- Play together. If personalities are clashing, play can lessen the tension. Pull the students to exercise, study together, simply play board games, etc. Use anything that promotes discussion as the “play”.
- Ask their opinions. Allowing student input relates the message that their opinions are valuable and leads to less friction and more understanding. Talking it out helps!
- Be accessible. An “open door” policy requires making yourself available to students. Be available during transition points in your student’s day as well as for appointments when they need extended time.
- Be there for your students. Attend your student’s sports event, plays, concerts, etc. Your presence is a gift of time that is priceless.
- Eat lunch with the kids. Make it a habit to eat with the students. Whether you are pulling specific students for special time with you or simply eating in their space, your presence is time given to them.
- Celebrate for trying. Give flowers after cheerleading tryouts (to all – not just that make the squad), give a CD for running for class office or for completing a special academic project. But, remember, these must be true gifts – not rewards every time your students do something. They should not expect something – Surprise is important here. The point is to show that stepping out and trying is valuable.
- Say no! Being firm and consistent across the school culture speaks a message of love and loyalty. On a deeper level that one only realizes as they mature, we appreciate our parents, teachers and administrators for being firm.
- Acknowledge their coming and going. Welcome them as they come into school. Part with, “I love you. Be careful;” or “Hang in there”.