When I was a parent of three young children, one of the most useful pieces of advice I received was to explain to my children as briefly as possible what I wanted them to do, rather than ask them ( or plead, command, instruct and often fail miserably) to stop doing something. For example, ‘ Explain to your brother why you would like to borrow his Ninja Turtle’ rather than ‘ Stop snatching and grabbing toys, look what you’ve done, now he’s crying, why can’t you two play nicely together……….!’. Of course every parent will have to say stop sometimes to their children but not all the time, and not every time. We can also see, as parents and as professionals, that children and young people do not like talking a lot about problems, especially the adult’s constructions of their problems. Children and young people like to look forwards, to try things out and work things out as they go along. You can observe this in small children as Therese Steiner says. You can also observe this in young people. I remember one of my sons trying to help me to do something on my computer. I wanted to understand each step, he just got very frustrated…’ Just try it out Mum, see what happens, just do it..!’.
This aspect of the Solution Focused approach, the future focus, what children and young people (and of course at times the adults in their lives) want their lives to be, rather than the problems in their lives, is deeply appealing to children and young people. In my experience this makes the approach easy for them to access, and useful, helping them to make changes. There are many other aspects of this approach which also contribute to making it a good fit for children and young people, such as the motivation and self- efficacy which flow from centralising the child or young person’s own best hopes, the building of new and strong stories of self at times when senses of identity can be in flux and in deficit, and of course not least, the brevity and pace of the approach! Many children and young people are not able to sustain attendance or attention in long or numerous sessions.
Three Useful SF Techniques
Here are three of the many techniques, well known to most SF practitioners, which I think work particularly well with children and young people.
I find children and young people are often able to answer a scale question even when they have said they don’t know to previous questions! Scale questions are brief and concise, they prioritise the child or young person’s perceptions, and they allow the practitioner to be in conversation with the child or young person without needing to know everything. For younger children, they can be made up of pictures or items which might be individually appealing to a child, and can be made large and physically walked. For young people the brevity and ‘secrecy’ of the scale can be appealing. Subscales and multi-scales can help children to talk about a multiplicity of issues without needing to prioritise them, and every scale becomes a visual demonstration to the child and young person of what is already working as well as small signs of progress. Children and young people often remember more easily what their scale shows them, that change is happening in sometimes the smallest ways and that they are not stuck in a situation which is making them miserable. Scales carry with them hope and are the maps for children and young people to find their own way.
The request for a list from a child or young person, for example of what they have noticed which has gone better for them, is often greeted with smiles, laughter or derision! It has a fun element to it mainly because it is perceived as impossible or ridiculous: 20 things, no, 30 things you have been pleased to notice! Children and young people often struggle to notice one or two things which have been better, and may feel they have to produce the ‘right’ answer. However a request for 20 things frees them up to include anything and everything, and as the list grows longer, so the child or young person may feel encouraged to start to take their time and search for answers, and motivated to complete the list. And as practitioners we know that the answers which need looking for and don’t just spring to mind are potentially the most useful. So we as practitioners can be motivated to use as many SF questions as we can to help the child or young person to complete the list! For example questions about different contexts (where else did you notice this change happening for you?), and about different people noticing (who else has noticed you doing this?) and questions which help the child or young person to unpack one answer for the bounty within ( so you have been concentrating more in lessons this week, tell me 5 things you have been doing which have helped you to do this?). Making lists help children and young people to see the breadth and depth of their changes, something they have done, can do and will do again, and not just random changes which happened by luck.
3 Other Person Perspective Questions
We know that exploring the perspective of others in this approach is important because it is the relational and interactive aspects of descriptions which help to embed descriptions of change in clients’ everyday lives.
Children and young people can sometimes find it easier to answer from another perspective than from their own. It can be at one remove from their personal perspective but uncannily accurate at the same time. Perhaps it is a safe distance from which to view themselves, or maybe just a more interesting or creative way to think. For young people we know that how others view them, particularly their peer group, is often very important to them and they can be more fluent from these other perspectives than their own. So questions such as what will your teacher be noticing in class, what will your friends be noticing, what will your best friend notice can all bear fruitful answers, and of course the better the person knows the child or young person, the more likely they are to see the idiosyncrasies and minutiae of change which is unique to that child or young person and goes beyond others’ generalisations. So other person perspectives are a wonderful way to help children and young people to generate more ideas and possibilities for themselves and can decrease the sense of isolation that they can sometimes feel about themselves and their problems.
I am already looking forward to hearing about your ideas and experiences, what you have found works with children and young people, questions you love using, challenges you have found and things to celebrate too, feel free to email me at the address below!
Author, with Harvey Ratner, of Brief Coaching with Children and Young People: A Solution Focused Approach, Routledge 2015