Active listening

Hear from young people

Young people told us that they want to be heard in their care placements

Skills associated with Active Listening

  • Open Questions

    These are questions that encourage more than a “yes” or “no” response. These questions commonly start with: “how”, “why”, “what”, “who” or “when.” For example:

    “How have things been at home?”

    “What would you like to happen next?”

    In contrast, Closed Questions normally anticipate a “yes” or “no” response. Closed Questions are useful when you need a direct response – especially in cases of figuring out if a child is safe or not. However, open questions create a more open and free dialogue.

  • Verbal Nods

    When we are speaking to someone face to face we often nod along, make gestures with our hands, change our facial expressions and use eye contact. All of this shows the person that we are listening. These are verbal cues like “hmm,” or “okay,” during the conversation.

  • Acknowledging

    If someone tells us something about their situation and/or present to us as being very emotional, we acknowledge this. It can be easy to skirt over emotions, especially those which we find difficult to talk about. Examples of acknowledging could be:

    “I hear you’re really frustrated by everything” 

    “That sounds really stressful.”

  • Clarifying 

    This is when we repeat information back to someone to check our understanding. When clarifying, we tend to opt for more closed questions – the simpler the answer and response, the easier it is to gain clarity. Examples of when we clarify parts of conversations could be:

    “You said that you run away from home because your Dad has been hitting you. Is that right?”


  • Summarising 

    This can happen naturally when clarifying something but can also be used when we need to move conversations along, or perhaps to encourage someone to pause and think things through. For example:

    “You’ve said that you’re ready to go back home but aren’t sure how staff at the home will react, so you want me to talk to them first.” 

  • Reflecting 

    Reflecting is a great technique that encourages someone to expand on something that they have said, simply by repeating their own words back to them in the tone of a question. For example:

    Child: “I don’t think I can go on anymore.”

    Professional:  ”You don’t think you can go on anymore?” 

  • Empathy 

    Empathy is the ability to demonstrate awareness of the feelings and emotions that people are going through and recognise the impact they are having on them. We should show children empathy instead of sympathy.

  • Exploring Options 

    This is the term we use for talking through the options that a child may have, or the actions that they could take. For example:

    “Have you thought about telling your social worker how you feel?”