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Are you feeling heard?


Wednesday 02 October 2019

Have you ever been in a situation where it feels like you are not being listened to? Ever been waiting at the end of a customer service helpline listening to… ‘you are a valued customer, but all our lines are busy so please hold…you are in a queue, all our operators are busy, you are important to us…’ Is it just me, or does this drive other people crazy too? Under time pressure, I sometimes hang up in frustration and just say ‘forget it’ to myself. I don’t feel like a valued customer- this is just lip-service.

If we think about it, there are possibly lots of other times where we may not feel heard. Situations can arise in all contexts (at work, or in the community for example) where decisions made by others without consultation or at least sharing information can impact on us. This can bring a feeling of being powerless, and that feeling of not being heard is not a good feeling!

Powerless! We don’t want children to feel powerless. We are hearing a lot lately about the voice of the child and how important it is that children are listened to. Indeed, under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, children have the right to be heard. So it is important that we think about this in early childhood practice and consider how we are listening to the voice of the child so that they feel heard and empowered, as opposed to unheard and powerless. As you know, children’s voices are not always physically heard and therefore it is essential that we are skilled at carefully tuning in to children. We must observe all aspects of their behaviour for indications of their voice, particularly with very young children. Like adults in the scenario above, if children don’t feel heard, some may be able to communicate or protest and get their message across more easily but others may not and may withdraw instead or send other messages through their behaviour.

Two practical examples of ways to help us tune into children are through observation/documentation, and through a key-worker system. Observing and using learning stories to document life from the child’s perspective can help adults to tune in to the child. We must also involve children, including babies, in the process to have the most benefit. Rather than doing an observation ‘on a child’, work on documenting your observation with the child: remember it is their learning story after all and it should be meaningful not just for the sake of documentation. Children can take photos, draw, paint, sing, dance and play or be silent to tell us their stories. We just need to make sure that we are receptive and ready to listen. Having an effective key worker system in place can help staff to really tune in to individual children. Like with any skill, the more we practice, the better we will get (we hope) so spending more time with particular children should help us to hear their individual voices. Although, this can be challenging logistically at times, with staff turnover, maintaining room ratios etc. it will make a difference if it’s authentic and not just a policy on paper.

Getting through to a person on a customer care line is one thing, how they listen and respond to you is another thing! Similarly, tuning in and listening to children is one thing, but we also need to consider how we respond to ensure that children really feel heard. For children and adults, feeling that you have a voice is really important, feeling that your voice is heard and it actually has an impact is empowering.


Dr Jennifer Pope has been a lecturer in Early Childhood in Mary Immaculate College, Limerick since 2004. She has a particular interest in promoting the health and well-being of children in the earliest years. She is currently working on a publication with Dr Mary Moloney which is focused on children from birth to three.



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