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David McCord
Jul 19, 2010

How Do We Reach the Tough Kids?

As a school counselor I have a lot of “friends” at school. Of course the word friend refers to those students who spend a lot of time with me. Throughout the past five years as a school counselor I have had a lot of friends. Some of them I have seen grow and develop and begin to make positive changes in their young lives. However, I have also had friends who show very little positive growth and development. Strangely, these are the kids that I have spent the most time with. So, what am I doing wrong or what do I need to do differently to reach them?

I guess to have everyone help me with this I need to tell you what I have done, or typically do to help those kids who have a lot of issues to work through. The first thing I always do is work on the relationship between the student and me. We talk about their family life, friends, school, and other things that they have experienced so far in life. We spend time playing and building mutual trust so that they know that my sole purpose in being a part of their lives is to help them. I am there for them when they are having a particularly bad day. On those days we work through the problem, discuss future strategies, and focus on making that bad day into a better one.

As a school we use programs like PBIS (a school wide Positive Behavior Support and Intervention Program), we have team meetings where we discuss how we can better support a student, we provide contracts where kids can earn rewards for meeting their goals, we bring in the parents so that all the adults in that students life are on the same page. We always try to remain positive and let the kids know when they are being successful. Yet, despite these efforts I have seen these kids continue down the same path that they started on.

Another common practice is of course to refer these students to a therapist outside of the school. This, of course is up to the parents to arrange and follow through on, but it is a great step and the school team is always hopeful that this will help this student. I have mentioned before that I wish that we could create a closer working relationship between the outside therapist and those of us in the schools so that we could better support the student. I feel that this is often a missed opportunity for therapist to hear from the school about what is happening, and also for the school to try some strategies that the therapist has in mind.

I haven’t given up yet, not by a long shot, and we as a school keep trying new things to see if we can help those kids who are struggling. Next year we are going to start an in school mentoring program where staff members will weekly spend time with a student and hopefully be a good role model for that student. I wrote this blog because I really want to hear from those of you who are reading this, so please comment or write me an email ( to let me know your ideas for how we can help reach those “tough kids”.

David McCord is a school counselor for Montgomery County Public Schools. His theoretical interest are in solution focused theory and play therapy

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