Listen, See; Pay Keen Attention to How Children Make You Feel by Sneha Pai

By volunteer Sneha Pai, FHI Bangalore

In my teenage years, like most of us, I remember feeling like I was being advised and lectured a lot on the consequences of my actions, not forgetting being often explained what to do and what not to. However, daunting these lectures came across at that moment, invariably all of those, in few hours, would end up in friendly discussions where I was assured of always being heard, seen, and understood, irrespective of my behaviour. And that reassuring feeling has stuck hard with me and I am grateful for what they have made me today.

Mirroring a child’s feelings

Amidst all the advice on the “to-dos” and “not-to-dos”, I always remember having my feelings reflected with sentences like “You seem upset about something, do you want to talk about it?”, “You sound angry today, is something bothering you?”, and at times even something like “You are too angry right now and won’t be able to talk, let’s talk about it later.” I never realised the importance of such talks until lately. This technique termed as mirroring or reflection of feelings gives the child a sense of security, of being heard, accepted and understood.

Mirroring implies carefully repeating back what was expressed as a verification method until the child is understood well. This can hugely be linked to a child’s emotional well-being and helps build, in the child, confidence in his parent/caretaker. 

Supporting a child’s emotional well-being with the help of mirroring

As the child grows older, when exposed to the mixed signals from the world can be brimming with mixed emotions himself and at times might resort to portraying negative emotions slightly higher than positive ones. This behaviour is quite normal and must be treated likewise. Some ways to identify this type of behaviour are: indications of being withdrawn, aggression in some cases, having difficulties in expressing clearly, or a short attention span. 

As volunteers, we could give mirroring a try in these situations. Recognizing the exact emotion which the child is displaying, giving it a name, encouraging the child to speak more about it little by little, responding in a comforting tone, and if required offering a possible solution are some ways to achieve it. All this leaves the child feeling that what they are experiencing in their minds is valid. 

Contributing in the child’s overall development by supporting his/her emotional well-being 

Secure and trusting relationships take some time to build and can get stronger only after repeated positive interactions. The way an infant or toddler treats his parent or caregiver will be very different from the way a teenager or an 8-year old would. As children grow, or are ready to move out of their comfort zones, they look to build a comforting and strong bond with someone they can look up to. It could be their sibling, mentors, teachers, friends, or even their caretaker or parent. They desire a secure place to turn to whenever they are overwhelmed. 

So, as volunteers, or for that matter even as caretakers, an elder sibling, as a teacher or a mentor, and as adults, who are better equipped to handle such feelings, as our duties must offer our full attention and effort to hear out the young. If not much, just listening to them intently can be of great help leaving them feeling positive.   

A child’s experience after all, of a healthy and meaningful relationship when young, will affect how they build relationships in the future. And building such fulfilling relationships, more than anything else is what the world currently is badly in need of. 

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