Clarify expectations to build competence and confidence

A few days ago a friend shared a story with me. He was out working in his yard when some elementary-aged neighbor children came out to visit with him. Before long they asked him if he would pay them if they would rake his leaves. My friend had plenty of other things to do that day, so he gladly agreed to give them the simple job. Several hours later, he returned to find all of his leaves raked….into a giant pile. He laughed as he told me the story, saying that he had left bags in the yard and made the assumption that the children would fill them with the leaves after they raked them into piles. However, he had not explained that part of the job to his young neighbors.

Youth are not mind readers. They have not had the years of exposure to knowledge, skills or experiences that adults have. While we as adults sometimes expect a baseline level of understanding, youth may not yet have it. There are some steps we can take clarify our expectations when we work with young people.

  1. Use clear, simple, step-by-step directions.
  2. Check for understanding by asking them to tell you or show you the steps.
  3. Express your confidence that the young person can successfully complete the task.
  4. Allow some time for the young person to try the task.
  5. Check back in to see how the young person is getting along. Help them reflect on their work.
  6. Clarify directions and modify steps if needed.

Once you have clarified your expectations, express your confidence again and walk away. Young people need the space to figure things out and develop competence in the task. Remember that as their competence grows, so does their confidence! For more information about ways to help youth develop competence and confidence, check out this link.