10 things to know when you start intentional one to one relationships

Setting boundaries in one to one mentoring relationships

Following on from yesterdays blog on acceptance and knowing what we should take on (and importantly what we shouldn’t), I felt like it was important to look at how you define your roll with a young person, especially if you wear many different hats.

For several years I was a youth worker and I would see young people in a variety of settings from an open youth club, small groups or focused groups like a music project or young carers group where my roll, in part, was defined by the dynamics of the group. There would be very little one to one time because of the nature of the work. However, as it became obvious that there was need for some of the young people to have more specific and individual support I realised the importance of having intentional one to one relationships with some young people.

The key word for me here is intentional. When you start a one to one relationship with a young person, especially one that you know from a different context it is really important to define or redefine the boundaries of the relationship.

Boundaries are a crucial aspect of any effective one to one relationship. They set the structure and purpose for the relationship and provide a consistent framework for the helping process to be effective.

There is something very unique and powerful about a one to one relationship that does not exist in a group dynamic. An opportunity for a young person to share and for there to be real interaction and in depth exploration of their issues or at the very least space for them to tell their story without fear of judgement.

So here are 10 things to consider when starting an intentional one to one relationship:

  1. Get consent.

    Ensure that you have the consent of the parent or guardian to work in this way with a young person.

  2. Be safe.

    When you meet one to one with a young person, do so considering your child protection policy that should include a section on lone working. Make it a public place or somewhere where you can be seen by other adults. With most teenagers I have worked with McDonalds has been my friend here. You get a high turn over of clients and can find a corner to sit in. I usually encourage the young person to sit with their back to the room so that they are less distracted.

  3. Have a clear beginning.

    This may seem ridiculously simple but on your first session together recognise openly with the young person that this is different. That this is the beginning of something unique.

  4. Consider confidentiality.

    In building trust with a young person you have to not simply consider this but talk openly with them about. for me it may go something like this:
    “Do you know what confidentiality means?….For me it means that everything that you share will be between you and me. I think it’s important that you know that I will not go talking about what you tell me with anyone. However, if you share with me something where I feel that there is someone who will cause you harm in anyway or where I believe you may cause you harm to yourself then I may have to consider speaking to someone outside of this relationship. I do this because one of my main jobs is to keep you safe. Do you understand this?”

  5. Define the goals of the relationship.

    It may have been that this has started because the young person has come to you with an issue to deal with, a problem to solve or a story that they need to share. This may require you to set a SMART goal (I’ve attached a work sheet that you can use if you want) so you know when the goals have been reached. Or by defining a period of time that you will meet with the young person. This is helpful to ensure that you stay on task and don’t allow the relationship to wander. That you can continually come back to the purpose of the relationship.

  6. When and where. Stick to it!

    Consistency and trustworthiness is key. Meeting once a month will not help to create a flow of dialogue and if one session is missed it will be 8 weeks between sessions. Meet weekly and turn up early. Get your seat and wait. Don’t be late and don’t continually cancel (Of course there may be good reasons) But if you are doing this give everything you have to it.

  7. Work towards an ending from day 1.

    One of the worst things is coldly letting a young person know that they are in their last week, not having prepped them for the ending. Thats why if I know I will be working with a young person for 10 weeks we start talking about that in day one. They know it will be ending.

  8. Start by listening.

    If may be that you have set some targets or goals or simply have a plan of what the sessions will look like. Whatever you start with or wherever you think you are going. Start simply with listening and encourage the young person to tell you about them. Not many people with have done that in their life. It will feel strange to them. Open questions will be your friend. Even if the young person really wants to push to problem solve from the second they sit with me, I always slow them down, remove the panic and build relationship.

  9. Don’t promise anything.

    Here’s the kicker. You are not a fairy godmother and can’t waive a magic wand and fix everything. So don’t promise that everything will be ok. I usually say this in my first session and the thought of me as a fairy godmother usually breaks the ice! But its an honest realisation that not everything in the world can be fixed, but what we can do is take small step towards something.

  10. We cannot change anyone outside this relationship.

    So often you will hear: “If only the boys at school would….”, “I wish my sister would…” or “I want Dad/Mum to….” None of that is possible and we have to come to a place of acceptance that we cannot change other people but only have control over ourselves. So we will look at what we can do to change our thoughts or behaviours that may impact the situation for the better

I think I could probably go on for ever with things to consider but I hope that you have found these things, at least, a bit challenging as you consider this work for yourself.

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