How often do you change your tone of voice or find yourself adjusting your vocabulary when communicating with children? One of the earliest forms of communication for children is the ability to pick up on cues given by adults. Some of these are nonverbal cues, such as a smile, touch, furrowed brow, etc. Others are verbal, and come from reading subtle changes during an interaction, such as inflection and tone of voice. Tone of voice is very important in human interaction, as it tells us more about the topic of conversation than just the words. However, communication is not just about the words you use, but also your manner of speaking, body language and, above all, the effectiveness with which you listen. To communicate effectively it is important to take account of culture and context, for example where English is an additional language.
Good communication is central to working with children, young people, their families and carers. It involves listening, questioning, understanding and responding to what is being communicated by children, young people and those caring for them. To build a rapport with children, young people and those caring for them, it is important to demonstrate understanding, respect and honesty. Continuity in relationships promotes engagement and the improvement of lives.
The importance of listening to children
Children experience a range of problems and worries at home, at school, with their friends and in the community. Some children may talk in a way that ‘normalises’ abuse and neglect because that’s what they have experienced as normal. Alternatively, they may avoid discussing these topics because they are painful to acknowledge or because they’re concerned about the consequences of telling.
With that being said, it is vital that professionals and carers pay attention not only to what the child says, but also to what they are not saying. They also need to pay attention to how the child behaves. Listening to the child’s views will help social workers and others to build a trusting relationship with the child.
The importance of relationships
Looked after children and young people are vulnerable individuals. The experiences that led to placement, including mistreatment or neglect, will have resulted in separation from their birth family which, even if unsafe, was the home they knew. Developing trusting relationships is important for these children to help them build security through attachments. Continuity of relationships is key to helping children construct their identity and develop a strong sense of belonging.
A consistent message is that children value relationships with people who:
- are always there for them
- love, accept and respect them for who they are
- are ambitious for them and help them succeed
- are willing to go the extra mile, and
- treat them as part of their family, or part of their life, beyond childhood and into adulthood.
What skills do you need to communicate effectively with children and young people?
In order to communicate effectively with children, social workers need to be confident and have a range of skills. These include:
- active listening
- empathising with the child’s point of view
- developing trusting relationships
- understanding non-verbal communication
- building rapport
- explaining, summarising and providing information
- giving feedback in a clear way
- understanding and explaining the boundaries of confidentiality
In summary, spend some time reflecting on the words you use when communicating with children. Build a rapport, develop a trusting relationship and use language that the child will understand, but above all – listen.