Talking with children using engagement and active listening

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As, I work with children I have noticed that some adults generally refrain from talking to children. I am a big proponent of encouraging adults to talk to kids and forge relationships when they can, the benefits of doing this are great for children in a variety  of ways.

  • Why do teachers talk with children? There are many excellent reasons, such as these:

    • • Children enjoy social conversations with adults.
    • • A few enticing words can encourage children to engage in a particular activity or behavior.
    • • Thought-provoking questions or using new words can extend children’s thinking and curiosity.
    • • Adults can directly answer children’s questions. A great deal of research supports the value of talking with young children.
    • • When adults purposefully talk more with children, children develop larger vocabularies (Hart & Risley, 1999; Hoff & Naigles, 2002).
    • • When children have larger vocabularies, they become better readers in middle childhood (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998).
    • • When adults talk to children with longer, more complex words and sentences, children have higher IQ scores (Hart & Risley, 1999).

• When adults talk with children in a responsive and sensitive way, they encourage children’s social and emotional development (Ensor & Hughes, 2008; Harris, 2005). In general, talking with young children encourages development in many areas: spoken language, early literacy, cognitive development, social skills, and emotional maturity. Speaking with children in increasingly complex and responsive ways does this even better. Source

So what to do?

What Can Adults Do?

Adults can play a major role in children’s ability to identify, understand, and express emotions in a healthy way. The following strategies are key in fostering emotional literacy in young children:

Express Your Own Feelings. One way to help children learn to label their emotions is to have healthy emotional expression modeled for them by the adults in their lives. For example, a teacher who knocked over all the glitter can say, “Oh boy, is that frustrating. Oh well, I’d better take a deep breath and figure out how to clean it up.” Or a parent who just got word that she got a promotion at work can say, “Wow! I am so excited about this! I feel proud of myself for working so hard.” Parents, teachers, and child care providers can make a point to talk out loud about their feelings as they experience them throughout the day.

Label Children’s Feelings. As adults provide feeling names for children’s emotional expressions, a child’s feeling vocabulary grows. Throughout the day, adults can attend to children’s emotional moments and label feelings for the children. For example, as a child runs for a swing, another child reaches it and gets on. The first child begins to frown. The teacher approaches her and says, “You look a little disappointed about that swing.” Or a boy’s grandmother surprises him by picking him up at child care. The boy screams, “Grandma!” and runs up to hug her. The child care provider says, “Oh boy, you look so happy and surprised that your grandma is here!” As children’s feeling vocabulary develops, their ability to correctly identify feelings in themselves and others also progresses.

Play Games, Sing Songs, and Read Stories with New Feeling Words. Adults can enhance children’s feeling vocabularies by introducing games, songs, and storybooks featuring new feeling words. Teachers and other caregivers can adapt songs such as “If you’re happy and you know it” with verses such as “If you’re frustrated and you know it, take a breath”; “If you’re disappointed and you know it, tell a friend”; or “If you’re proud and you know it, say ‘I did it!’” The following are some examples of games young children can play.

• Adults can cut out pictures that represent various feeling faces and place them in a container that is passed around the circle as music plays. When the music stops, the child holding the container can select a picture designating an emotion and identify it, show how they look when they feel that way, or describe a time when he or she felt that way. To extend this fun activity, give the children handheld mirrors that they can use to look at their own feeling faces.

• Children can look through magazines to find various feeling faces. They can cut them out and make a feeling face collage. Adults can help the children label the different feeling faces.

• Children and adults can play “feeling face charades” by freezing a certain emotional expression and then letting others guess what the feeling is. To extend this activity, ask the children to think of a time that they felt that way.

• In the mornings, have children “check in” by selecting a feeling face that best represents their morning mood. At the end of the day, have children select again, and then talk about why their feeling changed or stayed the same.

• Finally, the teacher can put feeling face pictures around the room. Children can be given child-size magnifying glasses and told to walk around looking for different feeling faces. When they find one, they can label it and tell about a time they felt that way. With a little creativity, teachers and other caregivers can play, adapt, or develop new games, songs, and stories to teach feeling words.  Source

Active Listening has some good ideas for promoting good communication.

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Active Listening

The most common problem in communication is not listening! A Chinese symbol for “To Listen” is shown below.  It is wise beyond the art. The left side of the symbol represents an ear. The right side represents the individual- you. The eyes and undivided attention are next and finally there is the heart.

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This symbol tells us that to listen we must use both ears, watch and maintain eye contact, give undivided attention, and finally be empathetic.  In other words we must engage in active listening!

Active listening is a skill taught to teachers and police officers, counselors, ministers, rabbis and priests. It is a skill we would all do better having learned, practiced. To begin being an active listener we must first understand the four rules of active listening.

The Four Rules of Active Listening

1. Seek to understand before you seek to be understood.

2. Be non judgmental

3. Give your undivided attention to the speaker

4. Use silence effectively

Let’s explore the rules of active listening.

1. Seek to understand before seeking to be understood. When we seek to understand rather than be understood, our modus operandi will be to listen. Often, when we enter into conversation, our goal is to be better understood. We can be better understood, if first we better understand. With age, maturity, and experience comes silence. It is most often a wise person who says little or nothing at the beginning of a conversation or listening experience. We need to remember to collect information before we disseminate it. We need to know it before we say it.
2. Be non judgmental. Empathetic listening demonstrates a high degree of emotional intelligence. There is a reason kids do not usually speak with adults about drugs, sex, and rock and roll. The kids already know what the adults have to say. Once a child knows your judgment, there is little reason to ask the question unless the intention is to argue. If we would speak to anyone about issues important to them, we need to avoid sharing our judgment until we have learned their judgment. This empathetic behavior is an indicator of emotional intelligence as described in Chapter 3.
  1. Give your undivided attention to the speaker.The Chinese symbol that we used to describe listening used the eyes and undivided attention. Absolutely important is dedicating your undivided attention to the speaker if you are to succeed as an active listener. Eye contact is less important. In most listening situations people use eye contact to affirm listening. The speaker maintains eye contact to be sure the listener or listeners are paying attention. From their body language the speaker can tell if he is speaking too softly or loudly, too quickly or slowly, or if the vocabulary or the language is inappropriate. Listeners can also send messages to speakers using body language. Applause is the reason many performers perform. Positive feedback is an endorphin releaser for the giver and the sender. Eye contact can be a form of positive feedback. BUT, eye contact can also be a form of aggression, of trying to show dominance, of forcing submissive behavior. All primates use eye contact to varying degrees. We should be careful how we use it when listening. If we want to provide undivided attention to a child, a better way to show your attention is to do a “walk and talk”.
  2. Use silence effectively.The final rule for active or empathic listening is to effectively use silence. To often a truly revealing moment is never brought to fruition because of an untimely interruption. Some of the finest police interrogators, counselors, teachers and parents learn more by maintaining silence than by asking questions. As an active or empathic listener, silence is a very valuable tool. DO NOT interrupt unless absolutely necessary. Silence can be painful. It is more painful for a speaker than for a listener. If someone is speaking, and we want them to continue talking, we do not interrupt. Rather, we do provide positive feedback using body language, eye contact, and non word sounds like “umh, huh”. Silence is indeed golden especially when used to gather information as a listener. Source
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