How to listen to the youth

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Along with spending time together, listening and talking are at the heart of your relationship with your youth. The next two parts in our series are devoted to that all-important issue of communication. When you first meet your youth at the beginning of the relationship, you will have to be the one initiating the conversation. Hang in there! Youth will to test to see if you’re trustworthy, if you will accept them, if you genuinely care for them.

Be Patient

Most times, they won’t want to talk at all. Don’t feel like the silence is unnatural and feel the need to break it every time with small talk. Sometimes just you being there is all your youth needs. You have to give youth some time to loosen up. That means being patient. You can’t just force someone to not be shy and you can’t force them to trust you. Trust takes time. Take the time and effort necessary for your youth to develop trust in you. Trust is earned. A key to building that trust is to be direct in letting your youth know that they can confide in you without fear of judgment or exposure. Make deliberate attempts to let your youth know that you are a safe person to talk to. Statements like, they can come to you with anything; any problems, challenges, and be open with you really help. When you take every opportunity to make your youth feel important and that their opinions count, they will be more encouraged to respond. Focus on creating an atmosphere of transparency and openness with your youth that they feel safe and accepted when they’re with you. Youth can be expert liars and they have an uncanny way of detecting deceit. Above all, be honest.

The Art of Listening

One of the most valuable things you can do is to just listen–it is impossible to overemphasize the importance of being a great listener. “Just listening” gives youth a chance to vent and lets them know that they can disclose personal matters to you without worrying about being criticized. The process of venting can also help them (and you) gain insight into whatever is really bothering them. Often times, youth will come to their own (often right) conclusions without you butting in with your two cents. When you listen, your youth can see that you are a friend, not an authority figure. Many youth appreciate being able to bring up issues and having an adult who responds primarily by listening. Listening is a form of emotional support, something they very often lack. It’s ironic that although listening is so important in life, most of us never had a class in school on how to listen to other people – though we all could have used it! While we may think we’re pretty good listeners, in fact most people don’t listen as well as they could – but the good news is, this is a skill that you can learn and put to use immediately!

Here are some useful tips on how to be a much better listener.

1. Stay focused on the speaker – what she or he is saying – until it’s your turn to talk. Don’t make listening “the period in between your turn to talk so that you can make your point”.

2. Check out what you heard – you do this by playing back what you think the other person said in two ways:

a. Summarize the content – for example, you might say ‘so you’re finding English really difficult?’ or ‘you had a hard time with that test – is that right?’ – check for understanding.

b. Reflect back the feeling – here you check to see if you understand how the other person feels about the subject. You might say, ‘you sound really frustrated,’ or ‘sounds like that hurt your feelings.’

c. Give verbal cues that show that you’re listening attentively. Like, “I used to do that when I was little.” Not just “uh hmm-ing”.

3. Make eye contact with your youth – be aware of body language too. When you sit with your arms crossed you probably look closed – consider leaning forward a little. It also helps to sit when the speaker is sitting and stand when s/he’s standing. Also, be sensitive and responsive to the body language of your youth.

4. If you truly heard your youth, notice how relieved she or he looks when you affirm what you heard. Youth always feel like no one is listening to them or understanding them. If you can make them feel that they have been listened to and understood, it’s a powerful thing!

Besides listening, you can tell a lot about how the youth is responding through body language. They say you can tell someone’s true reaction to something you’ve said the split second right after they’ve heard it and before they cover it up with the reaction they want to portray. Learn to “listen” to your youth’s body language. Be intuitive to their needs and frame your words to meet them.

Key Learning Points:
· Trust takes time
· Above all, be honest
· Make youth feel that they have been listened to and understood, it’s a powerful thing!

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