Creating positive environments

When youth interact with adults and peers who demonstrate and model positive behavior, they are more likely to engage in positive behaviors.

Nice matters, I just can’t say it enough. I know you mom, teacher and bus driver all told you that nice matters, but it seems we still need the reminder once in a while. Start every interaction with a smile and pleasantry; it sets the tone with adults and children alike. When people enter your meeting, site or event space, be sure the environment is welcoming and someone is greeting folks with a smile. Do you remember their name or if they have a favorite activity at your program? Engage them the moment they arrive and they might engage with you as well.

Everyone is special and so are you! Individual attention is preferred by many, but that doesn’t mean they want the spotlight; a simple hello or question about their day might do the trick. You may be the only person that takes the time to interact with them one-on-one that day. Every child needs someone to listen, care and understand. When you take that moment to connect, you create a moment of caring; it can be 30 seconds or 10 minutes with them.

Think about the last time someone took the time to actually connect with you by stopping, listening and looking. A favorite phrase that comes to mind for me is, “If you’re listening, you’re looking.” Make eye contact, that moment you look into the eyes of another human being and see into their existence. When have you had the chance to do that last? Can you remember when? If not, slow down and give it a try. You’ll be amazed at what you learn.

Volunteers and staff can and should let program participants know what is expected early on so everyone, including the parents, are on the same page. Youth rise to the expectations when they are clearly communicated. If you want even more excitement about achieving goals in your program, allow the youth to set the goals. You can lead the young people through exercises that help them determine expectations for the group and set SMART goals for themselves.

Volunteers and staff should challenge themselves to get to know the participants and be able to check in with them daily. Keep the goals where youth can see them or refer back to them with the youth on a regular basis so you can help them measure their progress.

When positive behavior is modeled by those in authority, it can send powerful messages. Building a community that expects positive behavior is not built on rules, but on relationships. When young people interact with adults and peers who demonstrate and model positive behavior, they are more likely to engage in positive behaviors. Afterschool programs, 4-H clubs and community youth programs can all benefit from taking a moment to consider how they go about encouraging positive behavior.

If you want to be one of those volunteers who encourage youth in your community, contact the Michigan State University Extension 4-H program coordinator at your local MSU Extension office.

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