guest post – discussions that help students share

Wisdom from my friend Dennis Beckner from Saddleback Church in Southern California. OK, so we’ve never actually met, but we share a passion for volunteering and resourcing other volunteers like ourselves. His niche is leading high school small groups, as displayed by his insightful questioning advice. He blogs at VolunteerYouthMinistry.com. Enjoy!

Sometimes a student will reveal something monumental in their lives that we’ll need to help them through. Conversations I’ve had or other leaders have told me about include such topics as drug use, gender identity, sexual impurity, abuse, thoughts of suicide, among others. These can catch any youth worker off guard. However, it’s always an honor to be trusted enough by a student for them to reveal such big issues. When we know how to help them share, we can make [the] experience easier for them.

Here are some questions and comments I use to help students share more about their issues:
1. Tell me more about that
2. How did this start?
3. This must have been a tough time in your life
4. Who else knows about this?
5. How did your family/friends react? or How do you think they will react?
6. In an ideal world, what would you like to see happen in this situation?
7. Tell me about your relationship with God while this has been going on. What do you believe he can do in this situation?
8. As I help you through this, that help might not always be easy or fun. You will have to trust me along the way that you’ll be better off as we deal with this together

All of these questions are designed accomplish five goals:
1. Gently pull the information out of them
2. Build a sense of safety
3. Become source of help
4. Create an opportunity to reveal the grace side of God
5. Lead to other questions and deeper conversations.

These conversations are tough emotionally, but are a great pathway toward intimacy between you, the student and God. Once you make it through helping one student, you’ll want to have more.

Three tips about these types of conversations:
1. Reflect their emotions. It’s healthy to have a wide range of emotions throughout this type of conversation including some comic relief. Laugh with those who laugh. Mourn with those who mourn. It’s incredibly draining, yet awesome.
2. Replace surprise with compassion. When you find yourself wanting to screech, “You did what?!?”, that’s the time to hold your composure and affirm them for taking the scary step of sharing it with you.
3. Show tough love. While you are compassionate, understanding and encouraging, don’t be afraid to set boundaries and standards. They’ll still mess up, but with you holding them accountable, they’ll be on the road toward health. If you don’t do this, you’re nothing more than a place for them to dump information to relieve themselves of guilt.

So, what shouldn’t I do?
1. Ask questions that elicit guilt. They don’t help and the student already realizes a need for change (which us the only “healthy” use for guilt in counseling situations).
2. Make comments that might intimidate or cause fear. The only place fear should appear is in relation to the specific steps necessary to move toward healing. Intimidation has no place in the healing process.

Read his original post here.

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andrew blogs about being a volunteer youth leader, teacher, video editor, husband, friend, child of God
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