School counselors must have many tough conversations with students. However, if we do some ground work in creating a caring relationship with students, then those conversations become much easier to have.

What is a relationship of caring? I consider it a relationship of mutual respect where one party (the student) knows the other party (the counselor) has the student's best interest in mind even when the latter is holding the student accountable for his/her actions.

How do we build such relationships?

We as counselors must first show students we have a willingness to help them and be supportive. We want them to feel and see our concern. On the other hand, it is imperative to let them know they must be held accountable and take responsibility for their actions.

How do we continue to build upon the unique relationship that exist between a counselor and his/her student?

Well, it is in the little things, the small personal details. We support them by going to sporting events, dances and other gatherings for which we do not get paid. Students know when you are going above and beyond the normal job description — all of this is based on a caring relationship. Believe me, students really appreciate the time and effort you bring forth and show.

Once we have established the basis of fundamentally building a bond of trust with our students, this allows them to feel comfortable to share who they are and the various situations they have encountered or are being confronted with. You might be the only adult who has ever shown this level of support, concern and commitment in their lives. They also might not know how to react to it, and that is OK. Just keep caring and showing them you care.

Always remember that research tells us it takes seven positive comments to offset one negative comment.

Once all of those things are done, then you can start having the hard conversations with students and holding them accountable for their actions. In doing so, they will not feel like you are attacking them because they know you have their best interests in mind.

They know they come first, that you are not holding them accountable out of some power trip or a need to fulfill your ego by asserting your authority over them. You have created a caring relationship much like a parent and child of mutual respect and care for each other.

Students realize instinctively who really cares about them, and they will in turn care about you. Remember, the art of caring is modeled first by the educator.

By doing all these things that matter, we are better able to make a difference in a student's life, and counseling becomes a bit easier to navigate the more challenging cases.