Another Tool for Your Toolbox: Child and Youth Care Professionals

Respect involves treating others with courtesy and helping to preserve their dignity. This is not a concept that quickly comes to mind when faced with the difficult, challenging, and sometimes dangerous behaviors presented by children and youth in our care. In the moment of crisis, we often focus on emotional and physical self-protection for ourselves and the children and youth we serve.

Safety involves preventing danger, risk, or injury. This is essential in any situation and becomes crucial in a crisis. However, we cannot let the critical importance of safety grant license for disrespectful behavior. Respect and safety are interdependent.

Our ability to remain respectful toward each other and toward our kids—even in the face of crisis—speaks to our professionalism. This quality is one of the hundreds of attributes and skills that distinguish us as professionals. It is easy to respond with disrespect— anybody can do it. It takes a professional to always respond in a respectful manner. And not all professionals are able to do this all the time.

We develop this quality through the ability to remain rationally detached during a crisis. Rational Detachment is the ability to stay in control of one’s behavior and not take acting-out behavior personally (CPI, 2006).

Rational Detachment is an active process rather than a magic switch. The skill involves the recognition that we need to engage in respectful behavior toward ourselves, toward our colleagues, and toward our kids.

Part of the process of developing Rational Detachment is to develop ways to ensure that you're able to stay calm and under control in a crisis. This allows us to “think” and respond rather than just react.

It Begins With Me

In order to give respect, we need to know it and feel it. Action steps include:

  • Balance personal and professional activities.
  • Recognize strengths and limitations.
  • Engage in ongoing professional and personal development.
  • Maintain a respectful sense of humor!
  • Ensure that you've had enough sleep and that you're physically and emotionally capable of handling the job.
  • Congratulate yourself when you do a good job.
  • Say “thanks” when you receive a compliment—and mean it.

Be Nice to Each Other
We can only teach respect by modeling respect. Children and youth in care focus less on what we say and more on what we do. To show kids that we respect fellow staff members, action steps include:
  • Recognize each other’s strengths.
  • Support each other genuinely and positively.
  • Compliment publicly; correct privately.
  • Recognize boundaries.
  • Respect privacy.
  • Value diversity.
  • Maintain a respectful sense of humor!
  • Do not get involved in office gossip.

The Kids Are Part of the Culture
The children and youth we serve are at the center of our respectful culture.
  • Only expect of the kids what we can and will do ourselves.
  • Respect boundaries.
  • Respect reasonable privacy while maintaining safety for everyone.
  • Maintain a respectful sense of humor!
  • Treat children with the same respect we treat adults with.
  • Value differences.
We choose our profession for many reasons. Fame and fortune are not chief among them. We so often hear that child and youth care professionals make this choice because they care. And because we care, our work is demanding, exhausting, and rewarding. Our toolbox of talents and skills allows us to carry out our responsibilities competently and confidently. Rational Detachment is one of the most important tools we can carry in our caring toolbox.

CPI. (2006). Instructor manual for the Nonviolent Crisis intervention® program. Milwaukee, WI: Author.

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“I truly value how much CPI’s philosophy revolves around treating every person with dignity and respect at all times—even during their most difficult, vulnerable moments. This philosophy helps workplaces expand their culture of care and operate with compassion as a guiding framework. The more that compassion can drive us, the more we can create positive change.”