A relative started volunteering with Lifeline recently and went through their training program before answering any calls. He’s always been the sort of guy that people find approachable and a good source of advice.
But the training surprised him. He had to stop and think again about how he was helping his friends. He realised there was more to listening and helping than he thought.
If there’s one skill every counsellor needs – and every parent/carer too – it’s to be available to listen, to have open ears, to show interest in what the other says, to refrain from coming up with un-asked-for advice or solutions, to hold back from reacting with too much emotion (anger, defensiveness, protectiveness), to show you have understood or are trying to understand, to validate their feeling, to avoid pity, to avoid the temptation to make the other feel better immediately, to stop fixing it for them when they can do it themselves.
Did I say ONE skill? There’s quite a lot there.
As adults dealing with children and young people we often are time-poor and feel a great sense of responsibility to fix things straight away when there’s a problem, to solve one more problem in a stream of problems we have to sort out in an exhausted rush through life.
Listening properly may take time but it’s efficient in the long run. It’s usually shorter than an argument. It’s also one way of respecting the dignity of the person (a theme at our school this year). When someone listens properly to us, we often feel relieved and also clearer about what we can do. Hugh Mackay claims that one of our basic needs is the need to be taken seriously. Good listening does that.
And the more you do the listening that your child perceives as supportive, the more likely it is that they will tell you when they are having problems such as being bullied/ cyberbullied, or are feeling down or anxious, or have some other sensitive matter on their minds.
After listening, our adult role might require us to go further, perhaps to take some action we believe fits the demands of the situation. Having listened well, we will be in a much better position to do that, and to be a ‘lifeline’ not only for children but also for partners, friends and colleagues.
On the school website there is advice on finding information and support for a range of needs (Current families > Counselling).