Self-Care for Adult Allies to Youth

Freechild Institute Adult Ally Toolkit

Our society teaches us that our value in the world is reflected by our income. That means the more money you make, the more important you are to the world. However, in the nonprofit and education sectors, organizations demand a lot without giving much fiscal remuneration.

Yet many of us know that some of the most important work done anywhere in the world is done by people who work with young people and make small dollars, while some of the most ridiculous money is paid to private sector who do nothing to make a discernible difference in the world.

Given that elastic understanding, its easy to see how a lot of adult allies to youth get burned out, whether they are youth workers, counselors, teachers, coaches or otherwise. The stress of balancing self and youth, work and family, bills and jobs, and so much more can be hard and feel unrewarding at times.

Adult allies to youth have to learn to take care of their selves. In order to do that, you have to take care of the reason why you’re an adult ally: your own youth. Your youth is two things: First, it’s the time you lived when you weren’t seen as a child or as an adult. Second, it’s the young people you are meaningfully connected to right now, whether they’re your children, students, program participants or otherwise. Youth isn’t “yours” in terms of possession; it’s yours because you are engaged in youth, whether we’re talking about the time of your life or the people you serve.

You need to survive your youth if it’s affecting your adulthood in negative, hard or challenging ways.

Over the past 20 years, the Freechild Institute has facilitated self-care learning for thousands of teachers, youth workers and other adults who work with youth. Many people have shared that their awareness of the adverse childhood experiences they lived through as young people shine through in their current jobs. They specifically work to support young people growing up with abuse, household challenges and/or neglect, and they’re very committed. These people are surviving youth.

3 Ways to Take Care of Your Youth

Many people are taking care of their own youth at the same time they’re working to support young people. When we work within these realities, we have to be precautious, patient and promising for ourselves. Here are three ways you can take care of your youth.

1. Be Cautious. Your experiences make you relatable and grant you powers of reciprocity. However, they can make you vulnerable, too. If you haven’t addressed your childhood trauma intentionally, if you haven’t addressed your wounds and sought healing, then be precautious. Even if you have dealt with your suffering and challenges but still hyper-react, overreact or otherwise act disproportionately to the situations, you might need to continue being precautious. Take care of your heart.

2. Be Patient. While you may want to challenge your own inabilities or charge into changing yourself and the world, you should be patient. Your calmness and self-control can be a model for the young people you work with, however you positively express them. If you feel anxious, excited or too ambitious, be patient and know that the challenges of your younger years are teaching you right now. Allow calmness to hold your heart.

3. Be Promising. Seeing a greater picture, understanding the wider world and knowing the best possibilities are the best way to be promising to yourself. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, and don’t promise things you can’t follow through. However, hold your heart accountable, listen to your intuition and keep yourself true and honest with what you know best. Set the bar for your heart and keep yourself accountable.

Surviving your youth is essential to being a hopeful, supportive and effective adult ally to children and youth. The steps above can help you understand where to begin doing that. There are a number of great resources emerging in the field, and more organizations are supporting their staff dealing with their trauma as well as promoting trauma informed care throughout education, youth services, at home, throughout communities, and beyond.

However, ultimately you need to deal with your youth. Soothing the inner challenges can only go so far, and these steps are simply triage for the complex wounds you might have. Deal with those challenges, get help and move forward in your career, your family and throughout your life.

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