How to encourage young people as a youth worker

One of the most enjoyable parts of being a youth worker is providing a measure of encouragement to our young people. Often the world sucks! Through broken people, the media and even their “friends” young people are attacked from all sides by people telling them how bad they are, that they are delinquent and even worse they are useless. Young people are behind the eight ball when it comes to developing their self-confidence and then society throws them under the bus to finish them off. No wonder our young people struggle to dream of a better future.
The difficulty with encouragement is that it is sometimes really hard to do!  Some of our young people are a joy to be around and others take a lot of effort. Some of our young people are easy to encourage and for others it is like pulling teeth. When a top performing young person does their normal activity it is relatively easy to find something to encourage them about. When a difficult young person goes about their normal activity we want to take to them with a baseball bat… (or perhaps that’s just me). So how can we encourage our young people even when we want to murder them???
We need a framework! A tool for the job! And it just so happens that I have one for you that I picked up in 2004. I Was doing an internship with a great youth organisation here in Melbourne when we were taught this amazing little gem. I do not remember who they borrowed the concept from but it is awesome to use as a foundation for encouraging young people. It can take less than 10 seconds, is three sentences and works every time… WE GUARANTEE IT!!!


So what are the three sentences?

I saw what you did…
That makes me feel…
I see you becoming… 


Lets spend some time and break this down for you.

  1. I saw what you did… You need to observe a behaviour in your young people (However small it might be) and put it into words. It could be an interaction with another person, An action they don’t often do like cleaning up without asking or even not acting negatively when provoked. As long as you observed it and can articulate what you saw then you have completed the first step.
  2. That makes me feel… I must confess this is the step I struggled with most, and still do sometimes (I am an emotionally stunted individual, at least that’s what my wife tells me when I have angered her). Once you have observed and articulated the behaviour you need to let them know how their behaviour has impacted upon you. Once again it doesn’t need to be monumental. I once told a young person that I was relieved that they hadn’t gotten into a fight with a half dozen other young people (I was in the middle of the group and saw my life flash before my eyes whilst a bright light emerged in front of me… I think I heard voices). Pick a feeling and let them know why you feel that way.
  3. I see you becoming…The final step is to let them know that you are seeing a transformation. If their behaviour was a meaningless blip on the radar it will have little impact on them when you point it out. If however, the behaviour is a step in the direction of awesomeness that has a lasting effect. It shows that you see their behaviour as a step in a process rather than a one off brain fart in their otherwise perfect record of naughtiness. It also leaves a thought in the back of their mind about where YOU see THEM heading in life.
This framework is great to use with difficult young people because it guides you and you don’t need to struggle with what to say. But it works equally well with a good kid, a little old lady (Just don’t tell them you see them becoming worm food…apparently they don’t like to be reminded they are close to death. Who knew!) and even with your spouse. It doesn’t matter who you use it with, just that you use it. We all know that young people need more encouragement and often it just seems too hard. This tool provides the leverage you need to move towards a more encouraging youth practice. 
Encouraging Young People


  • A young person in Out of Home Care who usually turns every discussion into an argument or a physical altercation decides to walk away from another young person when their chat begins to turn ugly. You walk up to her and say… I saw you walk away from Sarah just then. When you take action to stop a fight like that I feel confidant that you are maturing. I see you becoming better at managing your emotions.
  • When I was a street drug and alcohol outreach specialist, I came across a young guy who was obviously hanging out for a hit. I had known him for a few months and was aware that he had little self control when it came to his drug use. As we spoke he stated that he had told his dealer that he was not going to use on the particular night because a friend of his had overdosed a year earlier. I said, “I can see that your choice not to use has caused you a heap of hurt and that doesn’t look like its going to let up. That makes me feel like your mate meant a lot to you and that when things mean a lot to you you will go the extra mile. I see you becoming a man who will put himself on the line for what he believes in”. He continued to use for just under a year but the work we did for that time was firmly cemented in his ability to choose the hard path and commit to it even if it hurt.
A challenge to end this post. Encourage at least one person every day!!! If you struggle with what to say use our framework. The point of the exercise is to just do it. Society is so stuffed up that any encouragement no matter how staged or poorly enunciated is gold. People will lap it up like they had never been encouraged before. If you got to here I know you want to encourage your young people. It warms my hear to know that you want to make your young people feel loved and supported. I see you becoming an ULTIMATE YOUTH WORKER!


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Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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