It’s not you, it’s me… or is it the other way around?
Tips & tricks on being paired with an introverted Little
You’ve heard all the coaching points – silence is golden, allow the conversation to flow naturally, it will take time for your Little to open up… easier said than done, right? Although we recognize that every relationship is different, it’s somewhat of a challenge to build rapport with your Little when they seem to clam up as they sit in the backseat of your car.
Is it me?
Do you hate my taste in music?
Did I do something wrong?
Before we dive into tips, here are a few things to remember:
This is a brand new relationship for them: Your Little may only have interactions with these types of adults a) their parent/guardians or immediate relatives, b) teachers, or c) authority figures – these ‘relationships’ have a predetermined set of expectations from each respective party. When being paired with a Big, we hope these Littles are a) free to be themselves, b) able to pose questions and concerns without judgement, c) are part of the process of making decisions. These characteristics may not be found in every adult relationship. They are trying to figure out what is ok and what isn’t!
Separation anxiety: It’s a real thing, folks. Just think – they’ve been surrounded by family all of their lives. It is uncharted territory for them to go out in to the community with someone other than their guardian. Although you are planning a fun outing for them, they may be stuck on the fact that mom, dad, or grandma won’t be with them. They need to adjust!
They aren’t used to initiating conversation: They are ‘talked at’ all the time by adults. Again, their teachers and parents are there to fulfill a role, so it will take some time for them to start asking you questions about yourself.
If something is bothering them, they may not want to rehash it: Think back to when you’ve had an exhausting day – do you feel like retelling the story? Especially if they’ve talked to their friends or family about a situation, the last thing they want to do is relive it. It’s easier to say ‘everything is cool’ rather than rehash the experience, hence reliving the emotions and feelings.
Ok, so my Little will be quiet forever?
No! At least we hope not. Unless they are taking a vow of silence, they may need some coaxing in beginning to open up.
Here’s what we suggest:
Find common ground with your Little: If your Little is obsessed with Pokemon, Marvel Comics, and computer games – why not do a Little research? Your Little is more likely to open up if you show them that you too know a bit about what interests them. Instead of saying, “How was the Batman vs Superman movie?”, show off a bit and say, ”Can you believe how different the 2016 Lex Luthor is from the original 1978 Superman movie?” Mic drop, you’re Little is impressed! Not only that, but you’re showing interest in things other than school, and their friends.
Play the Question Game: This is a classic Improv game! The challenge is to have a dialogue with someone while only being allowed to respond with a question; it’s particularly challenging when you have to stay on topic and move the conversation forward:
Person One: “How are you?”
Person Two: “How do you think I am?”
Person One: “Would you be offended if I said you looked tired?”
Person Two: “What makes you think I look tired?”
Person One: “Would it surprise you if I were tired of green eggs and ham?
Person Two: “Do you like Green Eggs and Ham?”
Imagine the fun you and your Little will have! Not only does this take the pressure off of asking questions, but you can also pepper in other questions like Do the kids at your school like green eggs and ham? And eventually What types of friends do you make at school? You can structure the game so that you and your Little stay on one topic, or you can make it a free-for-all. It will be a bit silly at first, but fun! Tip – if your Little seems hesitant, show them the game on YouTube, and then challenge them to do it with you!
Ask questions throughout the activity: You’ve heard us say this time and time again – Littles are more likely to strike conversation if you are engaged in an activity. So whether you are bowling, doing arts and crafts, throwing a football around, or playing mini-golf, they are more likely to engage in a question during an activity rather than during lunch.
Incorporate questions in to the activity: Play 20 questions, but with a twist: if you happen to bowl with your Little, set it up where you each get to ask a question after every frame. Prep your Little first with the type of questions they can ask –oftentimes they will be stumped, so encourage them to ‘copy’ the questions you ask them, or give them specific topics or ideas. To take the pressure off the Little, free to pick questions beforehand and have each of you ‘pull’ a question out.
‘If you were interviewed by a reporter, what would you say are the best things about your life right now? What would you say are the things that cause the most worry?”
‘If a genie could grant you three wishes, what would they be? If they could take away three worrisome things, what would you like them to remove?”
‘What’s it like being ______?’ (insert age)
‘Who is the closest person to you right now? Why?”
‘If you could plan a perfect day from start to finish, what would it look like? Include where you would go, who would be in your ‘perfect day’, what you would eat, and so on!’
Other things to keep in mind:
- Still one-word answers? It’s ok, it’s a start. If you feel there is more to the story, inform your Little that you are open to listen. Say, “I would love to hear about _________when you feel like sharing.”
- They say something, but you don’t know how to keep them talking? Depending on the topic, avoid advising. It’s the fastest way to get your Little to clam up. Affirm that their story or feelings are indeed frustrating/exciting/upsetting.
- Change your position. For many people, talking face-to-face makes a person feel like they’re in the hot seat. Something as simple as being side-by-side – sitting and talking before the movie begins (before the previews, folks), taking a walk along the lakefront, or watching a sports game – can make it easier to connect. Think of the card ride – if your Little is looking at the window, instead of watching your face for any sign of a reaction, their words might flow more freely. Or, they could be listening to the Justin Bieber song on the radio. One or the other. 🙂
- Your biggest ally: the Little’s parent: Talk to your Little’s parent/guardian about what they say after an outing, ask them for tips on how to begin a conversation with your Little, and inquire as to whether the Little is enjoying their time with you. You and the parent/guardian are in this together! Share some of your concerns and partner on how to improve the rapport building process. They can provide a perspective or insight that you otherwise may not have received.
It takes time: There really is no time limit as to when your Little will miraculously open up. It’s hard to put an expectation as to when one becomes more comfortable, but it is important to recognize that it is different for everyone. Be patient, and watch out for the few moments that your Little opens up. It may not be anything drastic – a small question here, a mention of how school was there – but please, celebrate those milestones! Although they may be few and far between, they are signs that you’re Little’s comfort is growing. Don’t fret if they ‘regress’ or aren’t as talkative on the next outing… it takes time. 🙂
You have experienced puberty and it is inevitable that your little will also endure it. Don’t fret! Whether you feel prepared or unprepared to handle the changes during this time is completely fine. Here is some information to help you along the way.
What You Need to Know:
The changes that youth go through differs between male and females. Usually, puberty starts between ages 8 and 13 in girls and ages 9 and 15 in boys. It is important to keep in mind that each Little will start when their body is ready and it will not be the same for each person.
Boy Littles might wonder about their height, muscle development, and voice changes.
Girl Littles will have inquiries about their physical development as well, including breast development and beginning menstruation.**
** Having pads and even a pair of sweatpants in your car is a good idea in case your Little gets their period unexpectedly on an outing!
How to Discuss with Littles/Parents/Guardians
One way to prepare yourself for changes your Little will encounter during puberty is to talk to your Little’s Parent or Guardian. See if there are any concerns or things they would like for you to communicate to the Little as a support to what they may have already shared with their child.
It might feel awkward, but the goal for you, the Big Brother/Big Sister, is to make your Little feel like you care and that the changes they are going through are normal, not embarrassing.
Listen to them if they share or ask a question. Also, in collaboration with the Parent or Guardian, talking with your Little as questions come up will help him or her clarify any misinformation that their peers might share.
There are several websites to browse if you are interested in specifics about puberty or other topics pertaining to child development, including:
We like to think our Littles will remain little forever, however that is not the case! Your Little is constantly growing developmentally, emotionally, and socially. As your Little begins to learn more about themselves and the world, they may start to ask you questions or disclose personal details about themselves.
First things first, don’t panic!
While we encourage all of our Bigs to discuss early on (whether at the beginning of your match or around age 12) with their Little’s Parent/Guardian how they wish for certain topics to be discussed or not discussed in the match, and what they expect for you to share with them. There are always surprises along the way but having the discussion preemptively can help you navigate these conversations with your Little.
Again, don’t panic!
Remember, you are NEVER expected to discuss or do anything you are not comfortable with. Please be open with your Little and their Parent/Guardian about your own personal boundaries or let your MSS know. BBBS is an open and transparent agency; do not be embarrassed to bring up this topic with us! Additionally as your Little gets older, expect your MSS to also begin to check-in about your Little’s dating life and any known sexual activity with all match parties. We have provided steps below as a guide for how to talk about the topic of sex should your Little or their family bring it up.
What to do if your Little discloses sexual activity:
- Listen calmly. Acting surprised, angry, or disappointed may inhibit your Little from sharing openly with you.
- Ask clarifying questions. This is to prevent misunderstanding and also to have a clearer picture should you need to talk to their Parent/Guardian or you MSS.
- Ask what has happened or why your Little wants to talk about this topic.
- If your Little has had sex, was it consensual? How do they feel about what happened? Are they expecting for it to happen again? How do they feel about that possibility?
- If your Little is thinking about having sex, why do they want to have sex? Do they feel pressured?
- Does your Little’s Parent/Guardian know?
- Is your Little safe and healthy?
- Reassure your Little. Let them know that, as their Big, you are here for them no matter what! You will support them without judgement.
- Discuss the possible consequences of having sex including pregnancy, STIs, and social consequences (i.e. having other people know, affect on academics or extracurriculars). Depending on your comfort and the situation, this step may need to wait until you have touched base with your Little’s Parent/Guardian or MSS.
- If your Little discloses something that makes you fear for their safety, you must disclose this information to their family and your MSS immediately. To maintain trust in your match relationship, we ask you to let your Little know that you will need to share this information with their parent so they can keep Little safe healthy and happy. While this can be scary, we find that matches are able to recover and matches are able to rebuild trust in the relationship.
**It is okay to put a “hold” on this conversation with your Little at anytime to discuss the situation with your MSS first. Just say,
“Thank you for sharing this with me. I am sure that was really difficult! I understand you want my help on this subject, and I would love to discuss this with you further. But first, I need to check-in with [your MSS] to make sure I help you in the right way.”
What to do if your Little’s Parent/Guardian discloses a Little’s sexual activity:
- Listen calmly. Allow the Parent/Guardian to disclose any information and/or vent about the situation. Staying calm will help to normalize the situation and to keep the Parent/Guardian as calm as possible if they are upset.
- Ask clarifying questions to make sure you understand the situation and everyone is communicating clearly.
- What does the Parent/Guardian know happened vs. what the Parent/Guardian thinks may have happened?
- Has the Parent/Guardian spoken with their child?
- Does your Little know that you are being informed? How does your Little feel about you knowing this information?
- Is your Little safe and healthy?
- Reassure your Little’s Parent/Guardian that they have your support and that your primary concern is also your Little’s safety. You are not judging them, their parenting skills, nor your Little.
- Discuss with your Little’s Parent/Guardian what your role should be.
- What does the Parent/Guardian want you to do or talk about with your Little?
- What are their views on early sexual activity? On contraception? On STI education?
- What are you, the Big, comfortable with doing or discussing? What are you NOT comfortable with? Let them know your own boundaries and limits. Keep in mind that, even with the “okay” of a Parent/Guardian and even if you are comfortable doing so, you should NEVER provide contraception, reproductive options, or transportation to obtain any contraception or reproductive options.
- Should you approach your Little along with their Parent/Guardian or privately on an outing? Or wait until your Little tells you directly?
- Decide on your next steps. Be sure to remind your Little’s Parent/Guardian that there are no secrets in the program and that your MSS needs to be informed of what is going on.
- They may need reassuring that early sexual activity DOES NOT make a Little ineligible for the program.
- Inform your MSS immediately! This not only protects your Little, but also protects YOU!
*It is okay to put a “hold” on this conversation with Parent/Guardian at anytime to discuss the situation with your MSS first. Just say,
“I understand how stressful and scary this must be for you as a parent! I would love to discuss this with you further, but I need to check-in with [your MSS] first to make sure we are following agency policy and I am not overstepping my boundaries.”
What NOT to do:
- DO NOT take your Little to a Planned Parenthood or any other medical provider, clinic, or reproductive-options facility or organization.
- DO NOT take your Little to a religious leader or organization.
- DO NOT buy or give your Little contraception including condoms, birth control pills, “morning-after” pills or Plan B, female condoms, diaphragms, etc.
- DO NOT drive your Little so they can buy themselves contraception.
- DO NOT pass judgment and/or refer to your Little as bad, immoral, or stupid.
- DO NOT pass judgment on the type of sexual activity that was disclosed (including the gender of the individual your Little may be involved with).
- DO NOT go against the Parent/Guardian’s wishes (i.e. giving your Little information about how to obtain a “morning-after” pill if the Parent/Guardian is opposed to abortion), as this can be detrimental to the match. If you feel your Little’s safety is in jeopardy, talk to your MSS! We are here to navigate tricky situations.
- Last but not least, DO NOT freak out!
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