Developing young people’s confidence is at the heart of Scouting. When young people believe in themselves and their abilities, they’re better equipped to withstand adversity and pursue their dreams. In Scouting, it is essential that all young people always feel comfortable and supported.
To support you in your role as a volunteer, we spoke to Dr Sheri Jacobson. Accredited for 16 years with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (during which time she worked for MIND, MENCAP, the NHS and others), she is now the Clinical Director of Harley Therapy and a retired senior therapist with a PhD in Counselling and Psychotherapy and degrees in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Philosophy, Politics and Economics, and Social Anthropology. She shares her insights.
Do you have any tips for creating an environment where young people feel comfortable contributing their thoughts in a group setting?
Be wary of a ‘thanks, next?’ approach. It can make anyone feel dismissed. It’s important for leaders to acknowledge and honestly appreciate contributions that are made, however small. Reflecting back works really well here. This is repeating back what the young
person said, the way you understood it. This not only makes sure their point has come across, but also helps them feel heard. Of course, if you aren’t sure what they said, ask open questions.
If there is someone in a group who consistently dominates the conversation, is there a way to create more room for others to speak up (without putting a dampener on that young person’s enthusiasm)?
There are many different reasons why some young people talk a lot. Some may be aware, while some may not. It is important to manage this carefully to avoid lowering self-esteem with negative comments.
There are different tactics you can try here. If you interrupt, do thank them for sharing, and again use reflecting back. This will soften the interruption and allow them to feel heard. Before they can begin to talk again, you can ask another young person a question. If the interrupting is really out of control, you could suggest that the two of you talk further afterwards. Make it a complimentary thing, and only suggest it if you have the time to carry through on the promise: ‘You have so much to share on this maybe you and I can talk about it afterwards?’
If it’s a need for attention that has them talking too much, you could always raise their confidence at the same time as opening the conversation up to others by gently interrupting them to ask them to ask the next question: ‘You are very passionate about this topic, so actually, could you come up with the next question for us?’ If they are the one asking the question, they then have to let others answer.
Is it advisable to encourage participation from someone who appears reluctant to speak?
Shy or introverted children, especially if they have anxiety, can really suffer if they are singled out or asked to speak up if they don’t want to. So it’s not really advisable to push them to do so. It would be better to slowly work to gain the child’s trust as a leader, making time to ask him or her their thoughts one-on-one. This might eventually help them feel more trusting and relaxed in the group setting.
If a volunteer notices a young person who is more reserved than usual or appears to have gradually lost confidence, how can that volunteer let that young person know that they’re there to listen?
Try to approach them about it so they don’t feel exposed or singled out. Then engage in a genuine, honest, and open-ended conversation – don’t go into it being sure you know all the answers. Don’t make assumptions, just point out your observations, allowing room for possibly being wrong so they don’t feel judged. ‘I could be wrong, but I noticed that you are a bit quieter than usual lately.’
Leave time for them to respond. Don’t push them. You can ask if there is anything they want to talk about, and if they don’t, then simply let them know they can talk to you in the future. Make it as easy as possible for them to talk to you, over a vague ‘talk to me any time’.
Note from Scouts HQ: Remember to follow the Yellow Card at all times, and if you have a serious concern about a young person, contact the Safeguarding Team at HQ.
Are there ways of phrasing things to encourage young people to persevere without putting undue pressure on them?
Young people need to know that adults and leaders trust their intelligence and instincts. If they feel they are being talked down to, or are being given an ‘I know best’ lecture, they are more likely to give up or withdraw interest. So consider starting any sort of encouragement by pointing out that you trust their own intelligence. ‘You know what is best for you, and I respect that, but I really think you’ve been doing a great job and should consider finishing this.’
Don’t overdo the praise. This comes across as insincere (as it often is). Praising in order to push a child to do something is not honest. Young people are the same as anyone. They want respect and honesty. So give balanced feedback. And ask good questions that begin with ‘what’ or ‘how’ (‘why’ questions tend to lead nowhere). A good question, followed by real, committed listening, can inspire anyone to move forward. And it can lead to you both realising what the real issue holding things up is.
What phrases or attitudes should we watch out for, and avoid, to create a positive and open atmosphere for young people to contribute their thoughts and feelings?
The word ‘wrong’. If you hear young people using the phrase ‘I’m wrong’ you might want to challenge it and introduce the idea of different perspectives. The ‘wrong/right’ mentality contributes to young people ganging up in groups or holding long-term grudges. Perhaps exercises designed to see other perspectives would be time well spent here.
How can we encourage young people to express their feelings? The same way we do with each other as adults – by asking someone how they feel if we are genuinely interested. If you don’t really want to know how a child feels, then don’t ask. Young people are smart. If they can feel you are asking as you feel you ‘should’, they can feel even more alienated and withdraw. You might find ‘how does that make you feel’ – referring to something concrete – over ‘how are you feeling today?’ is a better way to get young people talking. You can work this into each meeting, one moment where you discuss something that has happened and how it’s made them feel. This means if they are upset in the future about something personal, they might be more comfortable discussing it.
How can we use praise and acknowledgement to grow young people’s confidence?
Keep the praise genuine. Learn good listening skills, and then ask good questions. Nothing helps someone feel acknowledged like a considered question followed by good listening.
Do you have any tips for volunteers wanting to give constructive criticism to improve and develop young people’s skills?
Too many people think ‘constructive criticism’ is making one nice comment in order to pave the way for a list of what isn’t working. It’s especially important not to use this approach with young people. It’s far better to ask questions. ‘I like what you did here, but I have questions about this other part. Could you explain what you were trying to do here?’ This can lead to them figuring out for themselves what didn’t work out and how they can improve it, and gives you a chance to compliment their problemsolving, which raises instead of lowers their confidence.
How can we encourage young people to persevere while ensuring they never feel pressured?
Give them tools so that they can feel in control and make choices for themselves. Teach them about SMART (Specific, Measurable, Agreed upon, Realistic, Time-based) goals, for example. It can help to give them the idea of a mountain that you can break down into boulders, then rocks, then pebbles. How can they break the goal they are trying to achieve into smaller goals, and what is the one small step (pebble) they need to do next?
Is there a positive link between setting attainable goals and confidence and if so can you tell us a bit about this link?
The brain’s reward system ensures that each time we complete an assigned task we get a boost in dopamine levels leading to a positive sensation. We can therefore increase motivation through setting and achieving small goals. Dopamine levels can be increased with positive feedback, so you can establish a virtuous circle. If you fail to achieve a goal, try some self-compassion, and move on to the next small task to return to the positive cycle.
What are your top confidence boosting tips?
Never compare young people or compare finished projects. If you do give praise to raise self-esteem, give exact detail. So ‘great project!’ becomes, ‘great project, I especially liked the way you compared the two methods and the pictures you included were very helpful’.
How can volunteers develop their own confidence in order to be a more positive role model for young people?
Do what you love. It sounds simple, but so many of us get so caught up in doing what looks good on paper, or what impresses our family and friends, we forget this simple maxim. Doing what you really love raises your energy, gives you more enthusiasm in life, and shows self-respect.
Pick one thing that you love doing and make a non-negotiable weekly commitment to it, whether it’s a dance class or practising a foreign language online. It might sound unrelated to being a good leader, but it will change the way you come across.
Gratitude is another easy but proven way to feel better about yourself as it makes you focus on what is going right for you. But you do need to be consistent with it. Try attaching it to a daily habit like teeth brushing, coming up with five things you are grateful for as you brush.
Make it even more effective by then coming up with five things you accomplished in the last 24 hours, no matter how small, such as having a good conversation or making a nice lunch for yourself, for example. You can, of course, include bigger accomplishments, too.
Guidance care of Dr Sheri Jacobson at harleytherapy.com.