They get REALLY mad when things are unfair, outraged when their plans are thwarted, really stressed when they have small responsibilities, anxious about how other people think about them and sad about life.
As a professional who works with kids or teens you probably already know that there are many different ways we can help young people deal with difficult emotions – depending on the situation, their age and how much time we have!
But often, an excellent first step in a classroom or therapy room – is to say three magic words to ourselves.
What are these magic words? They are these:
Not My Responsibility.
As professionals, it is not our responsibility to fix or solve the problems which cause kids and teens distress.
It’s not our responsibility to make life okay for “big feelings” kids and teens.
It’s not our responsibility to make sure they succeed.
It’s not our responsibility to make them happy, well behaved and content.
It IS our responsibility as professionals to:
- Care for them through their struggles
- Be empathic,
- Coach and teach skills to help them deal with these struggles
- Provide some structure to their lives – so we can help them learn to live meaningful lives.
- Work as hard and effectively as we can to help families problem solve
- Get support and ongoing training in this important work.
But that doesnt mean we are responsible for fixing families’ distress or their problems. Let me say this one more time, when kids and teens are upset – it is NOT our responsibility to fix it.
I think I’ve probably said it enough, but just in case I’m misinterpreted, let me clarify again that I don’t mean we don’t offer our young people empathy when they are distressed – actually, on the contrary, I think empathy is vital. We need to say, as often as possible, things like: I’m sorry you feel like this. That sounds tough. I’m sorry you are so frustrated/upset/worried about this.
I actually believe that often when we are clear that it is not our responsibility to fix kid’s/teen’s problems, it’s easier to be empathic.
And then we need to go on to think about what the missing skills are in this child/teen, and to work towards teaching them this. We need to think about what else we can do to support and help the young person cope.
But it’s not our responsibility to make them happy or to remove distress.
Try it yourself and see how it feels for you: next time you are working with a child/teen and they come to you in anger, frustration, sadness, worry or stress – silently say to yourself “not my responsibility” before you do anything else – and see how it feels.
And by the way…this is true for upset/distressed parents too. Our responsibility to be empathic, coach, support – not our responsibility to fix their distress either.