The Right Ingredients

Food is an important part of my life, probably too important. I’m quite particular about how I like my food, much to the annoyance of my wife. For example, if I have an oven baked pizza at home, I must add BBQ sauce, squirted in a circular motion from centre to edge and an extra sprinkling of mozzarella on top. It must be mozzarella, not that horrible cheddar. Once that’s done, its then cooked and I can savour the flavour. God forbid, however, the times we are out of BBQ sauce or mozzarella, as my reaction which is often disproportionate to the event, gets a little bit over the top. For me in that moment I’m unable to control the emotional disappointment as though something terrible has happened. I know it’s ridiculous, but without these two key ingredients added to my pizza, it is just not the best it can be!

Now I know I am probably over dramatising this event to make a point, but it reminded me of the importance of having all the right ingredients. Not having extra BBQ sauce and mozzarella is a problem specific to me and no one else. But I am sure we have all had the experience when making a cake, that we start with lots of enthusiasm and realise we do not have the right sugar, not enough eggs, the wrong flour or we’ve ran out cupcake cases. Often in these cases, the cake is made with what we have, but it is never quite the same as having the right ingredients. I have come to realise that life is often governed by the simple formula described in each of the examples – having the right ingredients is crucial to the best outcome! It is a rule we are all aware of at some level, whether it’s making the perfect pizza, baking a cake, growing a plant, writing a great story or having the perfect relationship. They all need the right ingredients to succeed.

When working with children and young people this is often a rule we must explore. You see, this rule is so easy to forget, ignore or take for granted, especially when you are a child or young person (but not limited to…us adults can be just as bad). When you’re young, you are getting to grips with this idea, trying to understand it and learn to implement it, at times with varying degrees of success. At school as a child and young person, I remember hearing many times, “If you want to be a success Jonathan you have to put the effort in, concentrate and be determined”. It’s not that I didn’t know what the ingredients were to my success, the problem was I just wasn’t good at including them sometimes and at others I just couldn’t be bothered. You see the challenge with including the right ingredients in our life journey is not necessarily which ones should be included, but which ones need to be better developed and which ones need more consistency.

Most children and young people when asked, “what ingredients help you succeed in life?” will be able to give you some fantastic answers. But when asked which ingredients they consistently include in their journey, it’s rare for an individual to confidently give you a comprehensive list of the ingredients they “use” well all the time. The reality is the more vulnerable the children and young people we work with, the less present these ingredients are in their journey. Is it because these children and young people don’t know what it takes to succeed? Sometimes maybe, but mostly no. Are they just naughty and misbehaved? Sometimes maybe, but I would argue mostly no. Most children and young people that find it difficult to include the ingredients necessary to succeed, often have unfortunate and challenging stories of hardship, significant adults that have let them down and little hope that things can be different. The amazing thing is that even though life can be difficult, it’s possible to enable children and young people to increase the presence of ingredients that will see them succeed. I’ve learnt that telling children and young people that struggle to display the right ingredients to “try harder”, just doesn’t work. We need to be adults that help children and young people understand, for example, what ‘determination’ looks like, why it helps, where they do it well, why they did it well and simple ways, they can succeed at it. When we do this, we are building a foundation for that ingredient to come to life, grow and live more consistently in the child or young person’s life.

Don’t get me wrong, helping individuals progress is far more complex than exploring a few questions, developing understanding and creating space to reflect. But it’s a far better place to start than just expecting the right ingredients to be there and being disappointed if they’re not. If we want the best outcomes for children & young people, we’ve got to do more to help young people find the ingredients and use them in the recipe of their life.

Jonathan Allen
Senior Manager, Phase Trust