Making Connections with Kids: Relational Intelligence for Student Volunteers

     For college students who work in the community with children – whether thy work with them in groups or one to one – initial training  makes the difference between a successful connection with the children or an uneasy or even negative experience for both the student and the children. In a college setting, the training should be informed by the latest research on what helps at-risk children the most, without being overly academic.

     Making Connections, based on the relational model of human development, is supported by the research that shows that at least one relationship with an older person can build the resilience that helps children survive the social forces and life events to put them at risk for serious problems in adolescence  (Rutter, 1983). The training we offer is also a hands-on, highly interactive experience for the students, whether it is a one-time session for all the students in the community program or an ongoing weekly training that gives them a place to discuss with their peers and a skilled psychologist the questions that arise as they try to build a solid connection with one or several young people.

     Making Connections uses discussion and visual tools to bring the students’ attention to:

  • dynamics in the group the student is working with
  • relationships in the lives of the children in the group, or the individual “mentee”
  • the relational web that surrounds the child or youth

     The student learns that many of the difficulties in the children’s lives require a look to relationships: to help an alienated kid rejoin the group, to help a child know where to look for support when there is the risk of serious harm or of another day of being bullied.

      The student gets a new perspective: it isn’t a group of kids he is working with, or a child in a hostile environment – it is a set of relationships with potential to support that child, or to drag the young person down.

     Making Connections builds relationships in the college student group so the students feel they have each other as “consultants” as the program goes on. In addition to learning from their leaders in the program, they are empowered as they see they can also teach each other.  

     This can be offered as a three-hour training, a full-day training, or a series of 6 to 12 meetings.