Becoming an Effective Listener

Listening to children requires letting them know we recognize the feelings beyond what they are saying.  Sometimes we have to become mind-readers because often the truth lies in what the child is not saying.

We recognize that when a person is upset, it tends to cloud their perspective. By listening in a reflective way, we can help a child think though an upsetting situation or problem. What I mean is that we can reflect and clarify the child’s feelings to help him lay a foundation for resolving the problem. As an example, the child might say, “The teacher is unfair and always picks on me in that class!”

Your response could be, “You’re feeling angry and disappointed, and you’ve given up.”

This response shows reflective listening because it involves understanding what the child feels and means. You become empathetic because you have stated something the child understands at his core. Reflective listening provides a type of mirror for the child to see himself/herself more clearly. It gives the child feedback. It shows acceptance and concern from your viewpoint, with the added bonus that the child may decide to give you more information. This type of listening means you produce open responses which reflect the child’s feelings, plus help him express them. You are doing this in a non-judgemental way and encouraging the child to feel heard and to keep talking.

Note that your facial expressions and tone of voice communicate whether or not you are listening. Also, it is a good idea to think of using adverbs to communicate that you understand and sympathize with the situation. For example, “You’re extremely angry at Stuart.”  or “You’re very sad about the fight you had with your friend.”

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