Helping the Helpers

Imagine that you’re a busy parent, teacher and tutor at an after school program.  It’s been a long week at home. Your seven year old hasn’t been feeling well and your 12 year old daughter got in a fight with her best friend.  You have just finished up a big project at your other school for parent teacher night and now you’ve arrived at your second job, a tutoring session that you facilitate for some students at your church.  There are a wide range of kids at the center and while you are working one-on-one with one child, you see and overhear a group of other kids who are supposed to be working independently teasing one of the other kids for being a “SPED” and “gay.”  You feel like you should intervene or get help, but everyone is busy and you’d prefer to just finish up your day to get home to your own kids without winding up staying late to talk to your boss and other kids’ parents about what happened.

This is one of many situations that the RESPECT’s team works through with our adult participants in conversations and interactive role play during our adult workshops. The situations are real life – they reflect real conflict and real challenges. The challenges are provided by the participants who help problem solve through role play and discussion the various ways they can make a positive impact in a difficult situation.

In this situation many suggestions and options were “tried on.” Some are as follows:

  • “It may not be the first thing, but this person needs self-care. She should find a way to get some support herself for all the stuff she is trying to manage. I think you have to take care of yourself before you take care of others.”
  • “I would try to get someone else to help me. Maybe take a brief break from my student and call in the pastor or someone not immediately in the room. I’d either ask them to work with my student so I could talk with the group or I would see if they could talk with the group.”
  • “I think this is a learning experience for the whole group. I would drop everything and tell them that we need to stop and learn about something more important than tutoring for religious studies – respecting others.”
  • “I would do the same thing (above) but I would also see if we could have a lesson about bullying as a group, or a speaker or even a RESPECT program!  Would not want it to send there.”
  • “The education committee should for sure be made aware of this conversation, and the clergy.”
  • “I know someone who has special needs who is an adult who works at my business; I’d invite him to come talk with the kids.”
  • “You could invite someone from PFLAG and GLSEN too – and some kids belong to GSAs who might help.”
  • “We could do role plays with the kids! Probably some of them really don’t like the bullying but as bystanders don’t know what to do.”
  • “It’s important to tell the parents I think. Of the kid being bullied and the one who is bullying. Maybe a note home to all of them, I am not sure about that.”

Parents talked through and acted out many different solutions, noting how nonverbal communication and different aspects of verbal communication can change the impact of the message. They shared resources, noted that some people are more able to go straight to the point of a problem while others take a more meandering route! Some used humor; some were more structured and forthright. As with our groups of students they learned that there is not one way to communicate that works all the time, every person has their own style, at times you need help, at other times what you do is not successful but it always counts to try and you keep trying with different ideas and strategies. Almost always participants feel better sharing and learning with others, leave with way more ideas than they arrived with and find comfort in the fact that they are not alone!