Why Actively Listening to Children and Young People is a Skill
Most adults will agree that when you really need someone to listen to you it does not help if all you get are unsolicited advice, the other person’s opinion or worst still constant interruptions from their handheld device. In fact many adults are becoming quite vocal about how much they hate seeing a group of young people sitting together eyes down on their latest computer game, smartphone or absorbed in music through their headphones. How can they be in conversation let alone listening to each other? But how often do adults really listen to children and young people without telling them what to do, what they should have done or allowing themselves to be interrupted? It is not surprising then, that children and young people sometimes feel that the important adults in their life do not truly listen them to.
Actively listening, so that the other person feels heard, is actually a learnt skill that adults and young people can struggle with. The importance of feeling heard cannot be underestimated especially when we are having difficulties or challenges in our everyday life. Often just being able to talk freely with someone we trust can help us find our own solutions. To listen actively to another person you need to give your full attention to them which includes creating an environment where you should not be interrupted, facing them and giving eye contact where possible, and allowing them time to explore while not asking too many questions. In our everyday busy lives this may seem impossible but in fact creating the environment essentially means making the commitment to reserve a time in the near future when you can give this person your full attention. This can happen in any setting work, school or in the home. By making this commitment you are showing that person that not only do you respect them enough to do this but you are also giving yourself time to prepare to listen. This can also be done over the telephone or by writing, if it is not possible to do it face to face, however this takes some practice.
Preparing to actively listen to your child, partner or colleague can include taking time to set an intention to just listen as you let them talk, only ask relevant questions to clarify, and if possible avoid asking questions that can be answered simply by a single word (closed questions). Whilst listening you could use single words or body language that encourages them to carry on. This process is often misunderstood and people feel that they need to offer solutions but an adult or child is much more likely to act upon a solution they have decided upon themselves. This does not mean that if asked directly you cannot offer possible choices. But by giving the other person time to express themselves fully you allow them to access their own inner wisdom. One of the greatest gifts we can give to young people is the role modelling of active listening, it shows them that we respect their own unique point of view, that we trust that they will find their own solutions, and it helps them to develop their own problem-solving skills.
There are times when children and young people find it hard to talk to their parents or other adults who care for them. This maybe because they have had an argument or dispute with them, there are problems in the home or school setting, or they feel embarrassed or do not want to be seen to need support as can sometimes be the case in adolescence. This is when it is important that they know where they can go to get confidential and trusted information. The KJT Online Help Service is available in English, French, Luxembourgish and German. It is confidential and anonymous, and part of the Kanner Jugend Telefon asbl that has been established in Luxembourg for 25 years. Other services include a Telephone Helpline for children, youths and parents. As well as an English Online Help Service for parents in Luxembourg. All these services are available free and confidentially and are provided by anonymous fully-trained and supervised volunteers within guidelines recognised by Child Helplines International.
As part of the publicity for the Online Help for children and youths, the Kanner Jugend Telefon are publishing a postcard with a new theme each month. Each card covers a theme that is important to young people and carries a hidden letter. The letters over the year build up to form one word that is most important to the service. There will be a prize for the young person who submits the whole word to KJT at the end of the year. This month’s theme is where to go if you don’t feel listened to.
For more information or to contact the service go to www.kjt.lu
Article by: Lynn Frank who is a coordinator for Passage.
Last updated: Tuesday 4th April, 2017