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How we speak about the clients shapes how we act towards them. The type of clients that we believe we have determines the type of workers we should be. It also determines what we believe will help our clients. Pay attention to the language you use, and consider the assumptions that are behind it!
How often do the staff make statements about how bad the children are? Examples are:
“You’d better watch out putting that in your pocket. These kids will steal it from you in a minute.”
“These kids don’t care what we say as long as they get what they want.”
“You always have to watch your back around these kids.”
“You have to act like a jerk towards these kids so they don’t take advantage of you.”
Do the staff tended to bond with each other around how awful the kids are?
If the kids can’t be trusted, are out to take advantage of staff, will hurt you if you turn your back on them, how should the staff act? They should be vigilant, hyper alert, unrelenting, and distant. What would the ideal staff for these bad kids be? One who was firm, uncaring, unaffected, unrelenting. This staff could brag about all the bad things they had experienced from the kids and how they had been able to tough it out and not react.
What if we challenge these assumptions? Usually we don’t even notice them. What if we describe the kids as scared, hurt, lonely, self-protective, lacking skills, afraid to trust?
Then the ideal staff would be caring, involved, trustworthy, and authentic. When at times the kids treated him badly he would see it not as a personal betrayal but as a statement of their fears and expectations.
And this staff could brag about the connected moments he had with the kids, and how one had shared a vulnerable feeling with him.
It’s all in how we talk.
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