There are days when it seems like another life time (40 + years ago), but I trained to be a counselling psychologist. I even went on to train several ‘batches’ of students in the use of counselling skills especially in the context of early child development. That training came in very handy in many different ways in a teaching career in several departments – of ‘Human Development’, of ‘Communication Media for Children’, even of ‘Performing Arts’. But for the last decade or so these are skills that I observe and use in the context of The Granny Cloud. It is certainly very helpful as I gauge the likely effectiveness of a prospective Granny but equally so as I get to know them, or help them figure out strategies to challenging situations. Or even just when I hear them share their stories – life stories as well as the tales that emerge around events in their sessions.
Given that many children, in many settings and locations have a relatively limited vocabulary and therefore face difficulties in verbalizing their thoughts, a key Granny skill is to enable them to express their thoughts. It involves expanding on their two or three word sentences to bring alive all that the children want to share. But that is exactly where it gets tricky as well. Which is why “listening” is such a key granny quality.
And we need to ask ourselves – “Have I really heard what the children are saying?” “Am I putting words in their mouth?” And the real biggie! “Am I interacting with them to satisfy my own need to talk – to share and to “tell”?” Note that I am not, at the moment, talking about speaking. I am talking about just the first step in communication. For the moment let us stay with listening. Because you can’t really be an effective communicator if you don’t know how to LISTEN.
Being a communicator is not the same as being an orator. And listening doesn’t involve only listening to the sound of words. It means listening for the meaning behind those words. Even the written ones! It means listening to the way those words are spoken, by whom, and when and where they are spoken. It means being able to remain ‘silent’. It means not being in a hurry to fill the silence with words of your own. It means being able to wait before you respond. It means focusing on what the person (child or fellow Granny) in front of you is trying to say, rather than rushing to put together what ‘you’ want to say. It is an error many beginning counselors (and teachers and sometimes even Grannies!) make. We are so busy thinking about what we want to say that we miss hearing what the children are saying to us….
That is where questions come in yet again! Not interrogative questions with predefined kinds of answers but open ended questions that could go any which way. Posing them is important and ‘waiting‘ for a response is even more so. Not ‘telling’, but asking gentle, fun, curiosity provoking questions and encouraging a response. Even something as innocuous as what did you have for breakfast this morning? ” or the more detailed “What’s the most fun / scary thing you have done in your life?” can bring forth range of responses. You could pose the question in a variety of ways. You could even use asynchronous strategies like Padlet and Linoit or just plain messages but if you really want to help take the children further you have to have the patience to wait for their response.
Basically, you have to LISTEN.
Note: Just a reminder that this holds true for interactions with Fellow Grannies as well. The next time you are tempted to respond to a post (even a query); hold back for just a bit – and listen…