Listening to a young person
If you've never had to discuss a sensitive issue with someone, think about what language you might feel comfortable using and how to make your conversation natural. It might help to set up a role-play with a colleague or other adult to run through the GRIP guidelines.
Here are some ideas you might keep in mind, when responding to someone who may be having personal problems.
Find a quiet moment to talk, and ask open-ended questions, rather than those which can be pushed away with a simple yes or no. For example, How are you feeling? or perhaps How are things going at the moment? It may be easier to start with something concrete, for example, You mentioned you haven't been sleeping very well. Do you want to talk about it?
If the person is not ready to talk to you, reassure them that they can choose to talk at another time. That's fine - if you did ever have things on your mind, though, you can always talk to me about them.
Suggest someone else
If you're still concerned, but the person doesn't want to talk to you, encourage them to find someone else. For example: sometimes it helps to talk about things … if you did have something on your mind, who could you talk to? You might suggest a brother or sister, a friend, a teacher or the school counsellor.
Listen with empathy but give them room to tell their own story. Avoid getting too involved, offering solutions, or reacting emotionally or in a judgemental way. Their values and situation may be different from your own. Reflect back what they say, to make sure you understand and to show empathy. I can understand that - it must be hard for you when your parents are fighting.
Talk about confidentiality
Respect confidentiality, but be honest about your duty of care as an adult in a role of responsibility. You have to tell others (but only those who need to know) if there is a risk of violence, abuse or self-harm, to the young person or someone else. Explain this in a firm but understanding way. I want you to trust me and be able to talk to me - in general, I won't pass on things you tell me in confidence. But if I think someone's going to get seriously hurt, I may have to tell someone else about it, so that we can help.
If the situation is complex you need to refer a student to someone else, such as a school counsellor. Explain this in a helpful way, and offer to link the student with the right person. I can see you're in a really difficult situation ….. I think … (name, for example, the school counsellor)… might be able to help. Would you be able to tell him / her what you told me? I can come with you if you like.
Maintain a connection
Keep in touch, even if other people have taken over the main task of trying to help. Observe the student's behaviour and relationships, to see whether things have improved. Find a quiet moment to ask: How are things going with … Or How have things been since you talked to …?
If the problem hasn't improved, encourage the student to persevere. You might say: I'm sorry to hear things haven't got any better for you … did it help when you talked to … ? A long term or complex problem may need more work, so empathise and offer encouragement: I know that must be frustrating … but maybe this will take a while to work out … will you keep working on it with … ?
If no progress is being made, get the student to think about other ways of approaching the issue: It's a shame things didn't work out, but there must be other things you can do … What will you try next? Again, don't get too involved and don't try to solve the problem yourself. If the student didn't connect well with the first person they saw, perhaps someone else could help.
Encourage the student to keep trying. For example: That must be really disappointing … Still, you don't have to give up. It might help to talk to someone else, like (suggest another person) … Can I introduce you to him / her?