4 Tips on How to Listen to Kids

For those of us who have children or work with them, we likely spend a lot of time talking. Whether it’s in the form of relaying instructions or redirecting behavior or giving praise for a job well done, there are ample opportunities for adults to speak their minds. An important question to ask, however, is this: How much of our time and energy do we give to listening to children? And when we do listen to them, are we receiving the messages they give us accurately and with empathy?

Moodkins were created to help children share their moods, but these conversation tools work best alongside adults who are ready and open to listening. To aid you in sharpening your listening skills, here are 4 tips on how to listen to kids.


1. Listen with your earsNote the tone of voice with which the chid speaks. Is he hesitant or rushed in his answers? Does she speak loudly or softly?

2. Listen with your eyesBe aware of the child’s body facial expressions and body language. Does she maintain eye contact? Does he have trouble sitting still? What is her posture like?

3. Listen with your heart. Provide the child with a safe place to continue talking. Show empathy by mirroring his body language (ie. posture, tone of voice, talking pace). Be patient and comfortable with silence. Give encouragement with smiles and an attentive demeanor. (Important note: Set aside your own feelings for the moment and refrain from interrupting, justifying or reasoning.)

4. Listen with your brain. Part 1: Reflect what the child has said with a phrase such as, “It sounds like you’re feeling (insert emotion) because (insert reason if known)” or “Are you feeling (insert emotion) because (insert reason)?” Part 2: Validate the child’s need/want with a phrase such as, “Wouldn’t it be great if (insert need/want).”

Example: Part 1: “Are you feeling hurt because John didn’t invite you to his birthday party?” and Part 2: “Wouldn’t it be great if you got invited to every party?”

Once you have helped the child give his emotion a name and acknowledged it, then you can work together with him on how to deal with the emotion.

Examples: “You can tell me what is most upsetting about not being invited to the party.” AND “You are still hurt about not being invited and you are kicking your desk. I can’t allow that.” AND “Let’s come up with some ideas of what you can do instead.”

Let’s make it a priority to listen to children with our ears, eyes, heart and brain. Let’s show kids they matter and their feelings matter.


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