Getting pupils to talk about themselves and what they have been up to can sometimes be a challenge when coaching. This is especially true in the early sessions when they still are getting to know you and work out your motives for helping them. So I find the main aim in the first few sessions is to build a relationship, particularly with Primary school pupils, and not dive into trying to solve the myriad of problems they might have brought with them. We also want them to be able to develop a process of figuring out their own solutions and reflecting on their behaviour, not depending on you all the time (you obviously don’t want to be coaching them forever!).
So, how can we get them talking? Asking non-judgmental questions that require them to give real answers is something I do. ‘Why’ questions often make a young person defensive, so questions that start, ‘what do you think……..’ for example, are usually good ones. Being nice, and inoffensive in the way you interact, reminding them why they like you is also something I try to do. And of course, if they react negatively towards you, don’t reciprocate, stay calm, and model the behaviour you want to see from them.
Using indirect communication is also a good strategy. Young people are more likely to open up when there is less direct eye contact, so when you are playing a game with them, for example, you can be asking questions in a non confrontational way (I like to play Jenga with students!). Also, reflect back what they’re saying so they know you understand, and then be quiet so they can talk more. If they don’t keep talking, you can ask another question, but keep your tone companionable, not interrogatory. Sometimes it might be appropriate to leave a particular theme of questioning and just chat for a while, but always with the aim of returning to the issue, maybe reframing the questions and the context they are asked in (for example, change the type of activity you are doing with the young person).