Being in a helping role can be very rewarding since you can make a real difference in a youth’s life. You can also come to know a whole family through the helping and educating process, and depending on where you live – small community or larger town or city – staying involved while keeping relationships professional can be challenging. Setting boundaries, or healthy limits, can be important.
Setting Boundaries and Limits
- Start at the beginning of the relationship
If you work with youth in an office setting, your workplace will have a policy about confidentiality. The usual boundary is that helpers can only acknowledge youth if it doesn’t impact confidentiality. When you explain confidentiality and its limits to the youth, you can also explain what might happen if you see each other in a non-professional community setting, for example in a grocery store or at the hockey rink. You might have a dual role as a volunteer at the rink – it would then be natural to know the youth in that setting and therefore okay to acknowledge them. If there is no natural connection, you would generally not communicate with them.
- Provide information to the family
If you work with a family to create a shared helping plan for their child, take the time to also mention what the limits are regarding, for example, contact outside the office setting. Is it likely you will see the family or child in the community at common events such as hockey games – if so, what will the limits be? Healthy boundaries suggest limiting conversations about the child or teen’s situation to a professional setting, and making this clear in advance can prevent awkward situations.
- Give yourself permission to set limits
Helpers and educators are encouraged to be open, to allow for expression of feelings and needs, and to be helpful. Though limits can seem counter-productive to the helping process, you can think of limit setting as a way to maintain the relationship and preserve confidentiality. When you set your limits and communicate them to those involved, you can more easily provide support and be a productive helper.
- Discuss boundaries with your supervisor or colleagues
There is usually procedures within schools, health settings and community agencies and programs. Learning from others’ experiences can help to establish best practices. You can also search online for healthy boundary and limit-setting practices. Check out the Links and Resources for more ideas.
- Set boundaries for yourself by practicing self-care
In many professions, drawing a line between work life and home life can be difficult. It can be a challenge to leave work issues at the workplace and not be tempted to review and re-visit them at home. This can at times be productive, as minds can become more creative outside an office or workplace and this creativity can lead to good ideas. However, if you find yourself focusing on workplace responsibilities most of the time, you should find ways to take a break. Activities such as physical exercise, meditation, practicing mindfulness or finding a rewarding hobby can help take your mind off work and relieve work-related stress.
Supports can come from other sources, such as:
Professional Association Memberships and Activities
You may be in a role that requires licensure – such as being an educator, nurse, social worker, occupational therapist, or other. If so, your professional association or college may have supports in place for its members. Check out their website or newsletter to find out what resources might be available to you.
Support Through Education and Professional Development
Organizations and employers often offer professional development events, whether they’re a speaker at a staff meeting, or a half or full day of education on timely topics or new policies. Attending these events offers an opportunity to network and share information with colleagues, and support and learn about new developments.
Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)
Many employers offer EAP free of charge to staff, to assist with a broad range of stressors. Most workplaces advise employees of these programs upon their employment, but if you’ve been in your role for a while, you might not be aware of them. If interested, ask your supervisor or Human Resources office if there are any available EAPs.
Workplace Wellness Activities
Many workplaces have included a “staff wellness program” in an effort to boost job satisfaction and recruit and retain employees. If your workplace has such a program, consider joining some of the events. Many of these are intended to promote teamwork and be fun at the same time. Some have perks such as nutrition breaks, reduced fees on sports equipment or memberships, and some can involve ongoing classes, such as yoga in the workplace.