Listening is one of the most vital ingredients of our communication with children, partners, friends, co-workers and everyone else we come in contact with in daily life. In spite of it's importance, very few of us have any training in how to do it. Since communication includes words, voice tone, facial expressions and body language, it is important, as a listener, to give attention to each of these. Passive Listening may be all that is required in some situations.
Silence by a helper is often in short supply. Being quiet and not saying anything actually gives the other person space and uninterrupted time to talk about her issue, opinion, thoughts, or feelings.
The well-known saying, "Silence is Golden" is especially true in today's fast, busy pace of life. We are bombarded with noise and words and the pressure is to talk fast and solve problems quickly. When a child has a decision to make, a problem to solve, or just the need to express herself, silence provides the opportunity for her to take to talk, reflect and decide.
And while silence avoids the communication roadblocks that so often tell children that their messages are unacceptable, it doesn't prove for sure that you are really paying attention. It therefore helps, especially when there are pauses, to use non-verbal and verbal cues to show that you are actually tuned in. We call these cues "acknowledgments".
Since facial expressions and body language make up a very large part of communication, this is an especially powerful basic listening tool. Eye contact and such gestures as nodding, leaning forward, smiling, frowning and other body movements, use appropriately, to let children know that you really hear.
Be sure your non-verbal actions match, or mirror the child's. If you are smiling when someone is upset it will send a completely wrong message.
Eye contact is widely promoted, yet it is important that it be appropriate to the personality, culture and situation. In some cultures, making and keeping eye contact can be a sign of disrespect or to a shy person overuse can be unsettling.
SIMPLE VERBAL ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Short verbal acknowledgments such as: "um hmm", "so..., I see", "ah", etc., used in small doses, tell children that you are attentive, interested and that it's okay for them to go on talking.
DOOR OPENERS, INVITATIONS TO TALK
Sometimes children need more encouragement to keep talking, to go deeper, or even to begin. Such messages are called "door openers" and are very effective in showing children that you want to take the time to listen.
"Would you like to say more about that?
"Sounds like you have some strong feelings about that."
"I'm interested in what you're saying."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
Notice that these messages are open-ended questions and statements. They contain no evaluation of what is being said.
These passive listening skills, silence, acknowledgments and door openers, are very helpful in getting children started talking and in helping them feel accepted. But they have a limitation--they don't prove that the listener has understood. For that, you'll need to Active Listen.*
*Excerpt from Dr. Gordon's P.E.T. Participant Workbook