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Listening To Children – Recovering Words In The Residential Child Care Vocabulary

Listening to children – recovering words in the Residential Child Care vocabulary

The latest in the NCERCC series recovering words in the Residential Child Care vocabulary

Understanding listening is key to providing an environment in which all children feel confident, safe and powerful, ensuring they have the time and space to express themselves in whatever form suits them.

(from NCB Why and how we listen to young children Alison Clark Available here– a rich resource of theory and practice, and things to do for workforce development)

Click here for more. (Especially ‘creating a listening culture’)

‘Listening’ – a definition

  • An active process of receiving, interpreting and responding to communication. It includes all the senses and emotions and is not limited to the spoken word.
  • A necessary stage in ensuring the participation of all children.
  • An ongoing part of tuning in to all children as individuals in their everyday lives.
  • Sometimes part of a specific consultation about a particular entitlement, choice, event or opportunity

We listen to children because:

  • It acknowledges their right to be listened to and for their views and experiences to be taken seriously about matters that affect them
  • Of the difference listening can make to our understanding of children’s priorities, interests and concerns
  • Of the difference it can make to our understanding of how children feel about themselves
  • Listening is a vital part of establishing respectful relationships with the children we work with and is central to the learning process.

The Listening Cycle


An active process of receiving (observing and hearing), interpreting and responding to communication. The way in which you show you are listening is important – encourage through tone and body language, give time for children to express their views and ask questions to develop conversation. 


Recording children’s preferences and views helps practitioners ensure continuity of care – information can be shared more easily with parents and other practitioners which is essential during transitions between groups and settings.


Once in receipt of children’s views practitioners can reflect on their practice and consider how what they do and say affects children’s responses and experience within the setting.

Take action

It’s important for practitioners to act on their reflections to enhance children’s experiences within the setting and for children to see that their views have been listened to and valued. Children’s views that can inform improvements to the setting need to be incorporated into planning and delivery.


The difference between being listened to and feeling listened to – even if children’s wishes cannot be met, honest feedback is essential. Remember to share with children how their views have informed changes to the setting and celebrate their contribution.

More on Creating a listening culture here


Effective listening

  • Make time to listen. ‘Sit with’ children.
  • Give children your full attention. Position yourself at their level and make appropriate eye contact.
  • Listen as if you are going to hear something important.
  • Give children time to say what they want to. Try not to interrupt or finish their sentences for them. Don’t feel that you have to fill every silence.
  • Accept what children say. Encourage exploration and let children know it’s OK to make, and learn from, mistakes.
  • Acknowledge children’s feelings.
  • You can use reflective listening – repeating some of what a child has said – to check that you have understood their meaning and to show that you have heard them, or noticed feelings they have shown. This kind of listening helps you to concentrate on what the child is saying, not on what you are going to say next. It can also help you feel more confident when talking to a child about painful experiences such as a parent leaving home or someone dying. Instead of avoiding such topics because you don’t know what to say, or how to make things better, you can, by reflective listening, let them know that it is OK to talk and to have the feelings they have.
  • Be aware of the difference between closed and open questions. Closed questions tend to have yes/no or correct answers. They can help you to introduce a topic or check that you have understood what a child said, but they mean that you, not the child, do most of the talking. Open questions, e.g. “Tell me what you like at nursery,” encourage the child to talk and lead the conversation,
  • Remember that ‘why’ questions can make children feel put on the spot – they are often used when children are being told off or asked to justify their actions. General overuse of questions can make children feel like they are taking part in an interrogation rather than a conversation.
  • Recognise the value of silence and waiting – giving children time to respond
  • Talk respectfully with children. They know when they are being patronised and don’t like it any more than adults do.
  • Be honest. If you don’t know something, or haven’t understood, say so. If you’ve made a mistake, apologise