Ask The Source

How do I help this hurting student who won't open up?

How can I better engage a student that internalizes EVERYTHING? I know she is having issues at home but she never shows that side at group, church, or even around me one on one? How can I get to her heart and help her deal with life if she wonÕt acknowledge that she's hurting?

Jess, AZ


Dear Jess,

Your heart for students come through your email and we, at The Source, appreciate youth workers like you.

Since there's rarely just one issue or event a student is hurt over, there's usually not just one key to helping them process and move past that hurt. I like your initial question: “How can I better engage a student?” I don't have to tell you that you can't make her deal with it until she's ready, and you can't make her talk to you. So the simplest, best ways to engage her are:

  1. Pray for and with her. As well, point her to verses that speak of God and Jesus never leaving or forsaking us (Deuteronomy 31:5-9, Joshua 1:4-6, John 14:18, Psalm 9:9-11, Isaiah 49:14-15), or any other verses you believe will comfort her.
  2. Let her know that you're there for her when she wants to talk and that you'll respect her when she's not. When she knows that you're not going to push and prod too much, she may be more willing to open up to you.
  3. Master the fine art of question asking. Sometimes, a student just needs to be asked the right questions to get them to open up.
  4. When you get together with her, take her out for a Coke, a clean comedy movie, or attend a school event of another student in your youth ministry.
  5. Encourage her to take care of herself, to love and respect herself enough to do what's right and best for her.
  6. Remind her that while you're there for her, you're not offended if she wants to talk with someone else. Tell her the bottom line is that you believe it would be helpful for her to talk to someone who can understand what she's going through. Then try to connect her with a mature believer, someone she'll be comfortable with.
  7. Send a card now and then – meaningful or laugh-out-loud funny.

Here's a link to an article on Youth Ministry Exchange called Top 10 Ways Not to Help Hurting Students. I include it, not only for the good advice, but for the book recommendations at the bottom of the page, especially Chap Clark's excellent book on on hurting kids called Hurt.

Youth Specialties also has two great books on the subject of helping kids in crisis: Help, My Kids Are Hurting, and The Youth WorkerÕs Guide to Teenagers in Crisis.

As you probably know, here at The Source for Youth Ministry we offer free ideas to use in your student ministry small groups or midweek service, as well as special events and one-on-one discipleship. Specifically addressing hurting kids, from the top of our home page, under FREE RESOURCES & IDEAS, click on CURRICULUM & JUMPSTARTERS. From there, check out the following ideas on their respective pages:

We hope these ideas help as you walk students through pain. Thanks again for emailing us, and even more for your investment in Arizona students! Never stop investing in yourself as a leader and in your relationship with Jesus.

Same team,

Danette Matty, Resource Correspondent
The Source for Youth Ministry


Jonathan McKee

Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Guy's Guide to FOUR BATTLES Every Young Man Must Face; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers on Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.

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