Monthly Archives: January 2018

Meeting them where they are

When we are in conflict with a youth, our whole task is to be with him or her.

And we won’t see any change unless we can show the other people in the child’s life – their teachers, and parents, and youth workers – how to be with them.

The youth needs to grow their brain. This is a structural problem for them. Their needs are primary. The brain has not grown the channel where the youth meets other peoples’ needs, except perhaps when they encounter a safe situation, such as with younger children. In that case they can teach younger children how to meet their needs the same way as the youth would meet that kind of need himself or herself.

When a toddler wants something, they might yell at the top of their lungs, “I want it and I want it now.” That strategy won’t work for a youth who has yet to learn to be reciprocal. When the youth yells, random people don’t meet the youth’s needs.

In order to help a child grow a reciprocal brain, his or her parents, and professionals who work with the youth must see their behaviours, although delayed, as a developmental stage and not be fussed or pay particular attention to the child’s demands. By not fulfilling the demands until the youth becomes more civil, we can actually watch the youth’s brain growing right before our eyes.

Thus, when working with a youth whose brain has not had an opportunity to grow in that way, we must acknowledge that is where the brain is. The youth is not doing this on purpose. In any event, their strategy is ineffective, and they are unable to take part in the balance between their needs and another’s needs.

This youth is without a peer group, doesn’t accommodate other people, and isn’t learning. Their lack of emotional regulation is about the brain, and is merely another brain function. When it has not been built in, it has to be taught.

The brain, as we talk about it, grows as a biological organ. It is a real thing. As it grows it creates processes that allow for thinking.

As we start to understand the relationship between processes and organs, we can deconstruct them a little bit and observe that the child’s brain has suffered insults.

Our first step is to meet the youth ‘where they are’.

Conflict and balancing needs

A youth worker says, “I am in conflict with a fourteen-year-old boy. I want him to talk to me and engage, and he doesn’t want to have anything to do with me.”

Although the youth worker would like to balance their needs with the boy’s needs, in this extreme situation – because they are in conflict, until the youth worker extends and builds trust, there is no balance.

It’s the youth worker’s job to go to where the boy is. First, they must earn the boy’s attention, build some trust, and become mutually engaged. After that, if the boy becomes curious, only then can it be about balancing both of their needs.

Being proximal in conflict

Some families are limited in their capacity for empathy and understanding for the needs of the other, although they are not limited by lack of intelligence or by lack of wanting to be attached to other people. They are limited by their experience of that attachment.

When people have never been able to get their needs met, it isn’t that they are unreasonable when trying to interact with others. They want what everyone else wants underneath, but they don’t know how to do the sharing part. They are so overwhelmed by their own needs that they can’t get outside their own needs to see that other people have needs too.

Each person has a growing brain. Optimally the brain is given emotional material early in its development that supports it to grow in empathy and reciprocal behaviour through practice and repetition.

When we don’t get to kids who haven’t developed reciprocal behaviour by the time they are fourteen and fifteen years old, we’re behind the 8-ball if we try to get them to use something that isn’t there.

All we can do is to let them do what they need to do in order to meet their needs, and give them the experience of being with them while they’re doing it, without demanding that they meet our needs.

Behaviour that shows up as conflict

A child who doesn’t have the capacity to meet his or her own needs may try to resolve their inner struggle through behaviour that shows up as conflict.

When they come into contact with regular society, every interaction is a threat to them. They are given the message that they don’t have a capacity for judgment, or have any worth.

Their behaviour becomes a desperate attempt to hold some sense of self together, where they are not overwhelmed by the external world telling them they don’t have a sense of self.