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  • Writer's pictureSarah Whitford

Supporting Young People through listening

'We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet (active) listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change that I know'

Carl Rogers

Initiating Contact

Shall we start by asking ourselves if we have ever had that moment when you have walked away from a conversation with a young person and thought they were quiet, didn't have a lot to say for themselves?

The truth is we all probably have had those experiences and not just with young people but for today I want my focus to be on those young people that perhaps we live with, work with or encounter in our everyday lives.

Lets start by looking at when a young person first comes to us seeking a conversation or maybe you have found them. Whichever way round the communication started what is key is your first response to them, this is when the trust starts to build or not depending on how the moment went.

I remember a colleague saying that when a young person comes to talk to you, you should grab that moment to talk to them. She felt that it was important through our initial contact that the young person could see and hear that they were important enough for us to stop what we were doing and take some time with them. This resonated with me and is something I bring to my practice every day. Children, especially if they feel they are in trouble, are in a hyper sensitive state and will recoil at any sign of rejection. To take that moment to lower their anxiety, I would say it is so important to future interaction, that you let them know you are happy to talk to them. Your positive reaction reassures them that by reaching out to you, no matter the time, day or night, their decision to choose you was right.

If time really is precious, reassure them that you really value their need and set a time for them to speak to you when you can really devote your whole self to their evident need. At this point in time being aware of their facial expressions, body language will help you realise if your response has worked for them. This is the start of a trusting, nurturing relationship to that young person.

After the conversation

Sitting with with a feeling, however uncomfortable or just 'niggling', that as you walked away from the conversation, you didn't get a sense of satisfaction, is difficult to manage. Perhaps you felt anger, frustration or a negative feeling that they weren't listening to what you had to say. If you are feeling that this has happened to you then I would suggest that you reflect on the conversation and allow yourself to work through your doubt, frustration or anger to understand what really took place in the interaction, this technique will reward you in later conversations. The question I ask myself often is, if I could go back and have that conversation again what would I do or say differently? More often than not I would say less and through a reassuring expression, with a smile or gentle posture, allow them to have the silence to slowly voice and express what is happening for them in their world.

Carl Rogers, whom I quoted at the start of this blog is the founder of Person Centred Therapy, which is the core of my counselling work with young people. My interest in this field of work started with 'LiNX Christian Youth Trust and a very special man called Nigel Taylor. Nigel was a 'Listener' at the school I worked in and taught me, along with the students how to really listen. This opened my eyes and ears to how 'active listening' really works and I often think of Nigel in the work I do as he shared his knowledge and wisdom and this is what I would like to do with my blogs.

This is an old adage:

'Silence is golden'


So, for today and maybe the rest of the week, shall we sit more comfortably with the silence?

I hear people, young and old say that they don't like silence and I wonder why? Lets sit with our silences especially when engaging in those special moments with young people, you never know it may just give them that opportunity to really tell you how they are feeling. Try to hold back on your own emotions and thoughts. Sit in a relaxed position with hands resting and gently look at the young person in front of you. Be aware of your expressions and nod, smile with encouragement when you start to hear their voice. Remember to breathe and keep holding onto your desire to tell them what they should be doing, rather ask how their thoughts make them feel and start to let them explore what is happening right now for them. This may be the first time they have felt able to really open up to you and their is a real vulnerability to their sense of self.

Its a privilege when a young person shares their thoughts or sometimes you may feel its not!

Reflection in your own time and space will allow you to process what has been said and work through the words and expressions of the person talking. It's a really good practice to reflect on some of our conversations and daily interactions in order to process exactly what happened as there may be hidden messages that we have first missed through our desire to 'fix' them.

This leads me into #HelloYellow2021


Wear Yellow and sign up to take part in this fundraising event for Young Minds

Anyone can get involved, just wear something yellow, take a selfie and post on social media using #HelloYellow - don't forget to tag @YoungMindsUK and donate what you can.

Spread the word for this simple fundraising initiative that supports the mental health and wellbeing of young people.

I am not advocating that you wear a banana suit but it would certainly make people smile:-)

Wishing you all an amazing day and hoping that you all have time for gentle reflection in your lives.

Thank you for reading my blog and I'll be back soon


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1 Comment

Carol Holbrow
Carol Holbrow
Oct 07, 2021

Great advice Sarah. Take it from me, once those barriers for communication have been put up, it's really hard to break through them again x but we keep trying ☺️

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