10 Tips to Engage Youth – Presented by The Leadership Program

1.      Be present – It isn’t enough to just sort of listen to kids. They need to know that they matter enough to have our whole attention and they know when they don’t. Kids that really have your attention are going to be willing to engage with you because they can see that what they are doing matters. If it doesn’t matter enough for us to be fully present for them, then it should not be a surprise when the kids don’t engage.
2.      Be yourself – Kids need us to be ourselves, to bring who and what we are, authentically, to our interactions with them.
3.      Be passionate – Think about why you decided to work with kids and don’t lose sight of the passion that made you make that choice. It is a spark that the kids will see in your work with them.
4.      Be curious – Really care about the kids you are working with, about who they are and what they think. Ask them questions and really listen to their answers.
5.      Be surprising – There is more to you as a youth worker than can be seen. Don’t be afraid to share that. Tell the kids you work with about the time you went skydiving or saw a shark or that you can knit faster than anyone else this side of the Mississippi.
6.      Be imperfect – Make it ok to make mistakes. By expecting perfection of ourselves, we teach kids that their mistake are not ok, that their efforts, unless perfect, are without value.
7.      Be forgiving – Kids are genetically programed to do unexpected and often frustrating things. Be willing and ready to forgive those things and move on, whether they apologize or not.
8.      Be flexible – It is ok to make a plan, but remember that things never go just the way you want them to. So learn to be ok with all the ways that your plans won’t work and enjoy the spontenaity and fun.
9.      Be grateful – Gratitude is free. Chose to be grateful and to actively look for reasons to do so. It will change the way you see the world and the way the world sees you.
10.  Be foolish – We ask kids to take risks, to go out of their comfort zone and try new things. Show them that it is ok to be silly. Maybe you know that you can’t make a free throw, but try anyway. When you ask that child to try a new math problem, they will trust that their effort is worthy even if it doesn’t go the way they want it to.

    These ten tips seem like such common sense, but it is easy to lose sight of how important these things are. Kids are more perceptive than we give them credit for and while they are incredibly resilient they are also remarkably fragile. What it all boils down to is respect and kids deserve it just as much as adults. Engaging kids is as much about respecting them as fully human as it is any tip or technique. You have incredible power to impact the lives of the children with which you work and that is too important not to warrant respect. 

    Written by: Megan Brown