As Teaching Assistants (TAs) we need to build effective relationships in order to do our job well. There are several generic principles that underpin building a strong relationship with children, young people and adults. There are also differences which apply to each type of relationship.
Effective communication – One of the most important aspects of building a relationship is to find ways of communicating effectively. This issue was discussed in detail in my answer to criterion 1.1. If we think that our relationship with a child, young adult or adult is not as good as it could be, it is important to adapt our style of communication. For TAs a good starting point is to watch another adult and take note of the communication skills being used. It might be that the other adult is calmer, shows more facial expression or praises more. Smiling is particularly important when it comes to relationships. Smiling, being positive and acknowledging a child are all clear signs to the child that we are enjoying being with them. When we are less confident and comfortable we smile less .
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Identifying and sorting out conflicts and disagreement – Groups of children and adults have disagreements. As children become older these can move from mild squabbles to become more serious. In order for children, young people and adults to trust us, it is important that we can identify difficulties and help them wherever possible to find ways through them as quickly as possible.
Being consistent and fair – ???It??™s not fair!??? is a phrase often heard in my school; it is essential that our actions are seen as fair and getting a child to understand why something that seems unfair is in fact fair is a vital part of child??™s development. In my school TAs and all staff ensure children are aware of our ???Golden Rules??? and the rewards available for following them, ranging from stickers to golden raffle tickets awarded by the Head. We are also just as clear about what happen if the rules are broken, which range from moving down the ???reward rocket??? to more serious consequences like being sent to see the Head . To be fair we need to listen to what each child has to say before jumping to conclusions or apportioning blame. Fairness is something that adults need as well. Parents quite rightly expect that their family is being treated the same as every other family, while staff members need to feel that their workplace is a fair one where everyone is expected to pull their weight.
Showing respect and courtesy – Children and young people learn from adults and need respect and courtesy from us in order that they can develop these skills themselves. For example from the earliest age, we encourage politeness, taking turns and other social norms. The simplest way to show respect is to remember names ??“ not always easy when you have a class of 28!
Valuing and respecting individuality – Children, young people and other adults are all individuals. They may also come from different cultures. Valuing and respecting their individuality means showing that we are comfortable with their differences – we talk about them.
Keeping promises and honouring commitments ??“ Trust is a vital part of any relationship. Small things matter enormously to children and young people – for example the promise of first go on an activity tomorrow will be remembered! Not keeping promises mean that a child or young person may not trust us again and this does not make for a good relationship.
Keeping confidentiality as appropriate – Confidentiality is essentially about trust and respect. While as TAs we can never promise to maintain confidentiality, e.g. if a child reveasl that they have been hurt deliberately, keeping confidentiality is an important part of working with children, young people and others. Parents and other professionals will often give you confidential information on say a medical condition, on the basis that you need to know. They do so trusting that this information will not be passed on to others unless necessary and will not be gossiped about.
Building relationships with children and young people
The way that we build relationships with children and young people changes according to the age and stage of development of a child. Treating a young person in the same way as you would a 3-year-old is obviously not going to work.
Aged 3 to 6 years – From around the age of 3 years, children are more confident about being with people they don??™t know so well. While younger children will often want to hold your hand etc, in this age range they will gradually start to need you to give reassurance when you speak to them. This is linked to their language development. Children who do not speak English, or who have some language delay, may still want physical reassurance and this should not be discouraged. I give reassurance by smiling, praising a child or simply joining as they try out something new. At this age children begin to enjoy chatting and telling you their ideas. They also ask questions and are quick to pick out those adults who give them time listening properly to them. Not being interested or giving time to children can damage their emerging self confidence .
Aged 7??“11 years ??“ At this age, children still need adults to talk, but increasingly they need you to listen to them and explore their ideas, feelings and thoughts. it is important that they learn that they can develop their own views and opinions and that you are interested in hearing them. When you work with older children, it is important therefore to find time to listen to them when they want to talk, which may not always be when it is convenient! Reassurance praise remain important for children aged 7??“11 years, and sometimes this needs to be given unconditionally – children who think that they are only worthy of praise if they are doing well or pleasing an adult can lose confidence.
Young people – are likely to be undergoing significant changes in their lives at home and school as well as physically growing up. They need to be able to turn to adults for advice, reassurance and to be understood. Like children they are quick to identify adults who will listen to them and empathise. It is important not to dismiss young people??™s problems, however silly they may seem to us. When young people feel that they are not being listened to, they often stop talking altogether. This is worrying, as many young people will talk about mundane things before deciding whether or not to confide something that is upsetting or worrying them. You can build good relationships with young people by respecting their views, which may be different from yours, and also by giving them plenty of time and also responsibility.
Building relationships with adults
The key to building relationships with other adults is respect and the understanding from both sides. Although we may do things differently, everyone involved is working towards the same goal ??“ the happiness and education of the child. As I mentioned earlier, all relationships are built on trust and information that is given in confidence must remain confidential unless there is an issue about child safety. If TAs and other school staff break confidentiality this trust will be destroyed and be difficult to rebuild. Where we do not have strong relationships with adults, there is a danger that information may be passed inaccurately or that it is withheld because of a lack of trust. This can have serious consequences for children and young people in particular as recent cases, such as Daniel Pelka, in the press have shown .
Children??™s Services Induction Standard 4 ??“ Know how to communicate effectively (Walsall Young peoples and Children??™s Partnership
www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-coventry-warwickshire-23948615 – Daniel Pelka: Funeral in Poland for starved Coventry boy (BBC News – 3 September 2013)
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