Dealing with Sensitive Issues

Posted: October 24, 2011 in Monday Morning Message
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Emotionally and physically safe environments adults to build deep and meaningful relationships with young people. As these relationships are built, youth sometimes share information that is sensitive in nature. How a leader handles these situations is crucial to maintaining a healthy and safe environment for young people. Below are some strategies when issues of a sensitive nature arise with young people. These strategies are also located in your iChampion manual on pages 18-19.

Health and safety always come first.[i]

When a member of your group discloses something that leaves you questioning their health and safety, it is important that you know how to respond. Chapter 11, Section V titled Training and Awareness of Child Abuse Reporting Procedures of the 4-H YDP Policy Handbook is a great place to start. Click on the link above to review these procedures BEFORE the situation arises.

If you are having a conversation with a young person and they hint at child abuse or neglect, consider talking to the youth in a quiet space and ask one or more of the following questions to clarify the discussion.

  • Are you going to hurt yourself?
  • Are you going to hurt someone else?
  • Is someone hurting you?

Don’t do it alone.

If you don’t know how to handle a sensitive issue that has come up with a young person, don’t be discouraged. There is nothing wrong with referring the youth to another adult who you feel could provide better assistance or support on the topic disclosed.

Consider making a list of allies and/or mentors within the 4-H program in advance.

This will serve as a list of resources you can consult in order to ensure safety, support, and comfort of the youth.

Ask for clarification.

This helps you better understand the needs of the young person.¬† Ask a simple question like, “How can I help you?”, to initiate a request from a young person. This helps them feel comfortable sharing desires, needs, and hopes in relation to a sensitive topic.

Leave out judgments and opinions.

This, perhaps, may be the first time a youth member tells an adult about an issue. Your response, or lack of one, will determine how and if the youth continues to seek guidance and/or support. Although everyone is entitled to an opinion, be sensitive to the needs of the youth. At times, voicing your own opinion or judgment can conflict with that of a youth member.

Remember that you play a critical role in the positive development of our young people. Dealing with sensitive issues in a proactive way will help young people develop a strong sense of character. Furthermore, a relationship between an adult and youth built on mutual trust and respect can invite the young person to self-reflect on sensitive issues by allowing them to explore thoughts, feelings, and incidents in their lives.


[i] iChampion Adult Volunteer Leader Guide p. 18-19

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