Modeling Authentic Empathy

Staff create the space for empathy to develop by serving as authentic models for the youth. Spaces cannot be safe unless the staff are continually modeling empathy and emotion management skills. The staff must model owning their own identities.

Although staff model being authentic, appropriate boundaries are maintained. “They maintain those strong boundaries. They maintain clarity in terms of expectations. They maintain that it’s about holding ourselves accountable with them, too, and with one another. ‘Hey, we can work through this. It’s okay for people to disagree,’ ” shared Allison Williams at Wyman.

Fundamentally, the staff model empathy skills by developing appropriate, empathetic relationships with the youth. According to YWCA Boston (YW Boston):

The relationship between youth and staff can best be described as a mentoring relationship. We put a strong emphasis on setting clear boundaries so that youth workers can build rapport and relationships with the youth while also meeting professional obligations, such as ensuring youth’s safety, meeting program goals, and exercising authority when needed.

Ultimately, youth and staff recognize that modeling empathy and caring about others makes an impact beyond the program. A youth at The Possibility Project (TPP) said:

It’s not just a program about getting to know each other, but it’s a program about, “What else can we do?” It’s not just about us. It’s about everybody because the program isn’t just changing our lives. It’s going to change everybody else’s lives because it starts with us, but it branches out.

Further Reading

Join the Discussion

How does your program explain how to maintain appropriate boundaries to new staff? How do you ensure authentic, but appropriate engagement?