Five Secrets To Becoming A Child Whisperer
For as long as I can remember I’ve had a strong connection with young people. A friend of mine nicknamed me, a “child whisperer”, after her daughter held onto my leg and said I can’t go home after a visit with them for a week. I was a complete stranger to this young 5 year old, and yet she demonstrated a strong connection to me as though as I saw her all the time.
I’ve had some of the worst misbehaved kids silence a group of peers so I could make an announcement during my Camp Director days. Most recently, I’ve become a step-mom to 3 children and the youngest, who is 9 years old, runs excitedly to the door when I get home to greet me.
You may have heard the term horse whisperer – that is a person skilled in taming or training a horse, typically using body language and intuition.
So what is a child whisperer? I define a child whisperer as someone who easily commands the positive attention of children by being attuned to what they need and/or want in a given moment.
So what’s the big secret? Well, there are a few things that I do consistently with children that I attribute to the connections I have built with the young people in my life. So here is my big secret revealed…
SECRET #1: I REALLY Listen To Them
How do I do this? When I am talking to a child I give them my undivided attention. How many times have you seen a parent/teacher or camp counsellor talking to a child but they are doing something else at the same time? This is usually what happens, however I do the opposite. I give them my full attention and I genuinely want to hear what they have to say.
I stop what I am doing, lean in and face them and if they are very young get down on their level. I also usually have my cell phone put aside, so I am not distracted by incoming communications.
If they tell me something that might be relevant to a later conversation, I make a mental note to bring it up again – so they KNOW I was listening.
SECRET #2: I Acknowledge What They Say & How They Feel
The biggest part of listening is acknowledging what they tell me. This can come in the form of a simple “I see” or “Thank you for telling me” or “Wow cool!” – whatever is appropriate to the conversation. I often hear kids speaking to parents, grandparents or other adults and they repeat themselves several times before the adult will even look up from what they are doing and say, “what did you say?”. Kids notice when they aren’t acknowledged and it doesn’t feel so good.
If they are upset I will often echo what they said by saying, “I understand you are upset about [fill in the blank].” Sometimes just saying that you “hear them” is all that is needed to start to calm the situation. Saying something to acknowledge what they have told you is vitally important for children to feel heard. You don’t have to agree with what they said, you just need to acknowledge it.
SECRET #3: I Demonstrate Interest In What They Say
Children have a different reality than adults. What they think is funny, enjoyable, or difficult, can sometimes be challenging for adults to relate to. Adults can easily “forget” what it’s like to be in the shoes of a child. Whether it is siblings not sharing toys, struggling with homework, or a request to hang up their art work, what is important to them can often seem trivial to adults.
Whatever they are saying is REAL to them. It may be silly, uninteresting or “nonsense” in your viewpoint, however, not showing interest tells the child that they are “less than” you. Your disinterest tells them that they are not important to you, which is not the message anyone wants to receive. I encourage you to find something that is genuinely interesting about what they are saying, physically lean in with good eye contact and listen to and acknowledge the child. The more you do this the more they will act in kind when you speak to them.
SECRET #4: I Encourage Them To Make Decisions
Our 9-year old will often ask me to help her make decisions. For example, what should I wear? What colour should I use? What should I do now? I generally do not make decisions for her, unless it is somehow a threat to her overall well-being and even then I make sure I explain the reason for the decision so she learns from it.
In the case of everyday decisions I’ll say, “I trust you to make a good decision.” I say this very intentionally because children can feel that the adults around them don’t trust them because they are continually “called-out” by them when they make mistakes. Our youngest has actually told me more than once that other adults in her life have said that to her, so I am very intentional to rebuild her ability to trust her own decision-making skills.
Sometimes I may help her by asking questions like, “What are your options?” “What do you feel like wearing?” I ask questions until she makes a decision or I simply repeat “I trust you to make a good decision.” Then I leave her, to decide on her own. This practice builds the ability of more complex decision-making skills later, so I encourage you to do this regularly.
SECRET #5: I Treat Them Like A Person
One of my mentors describes children as “adults in small bodies” and this makes sense to me. As such, I treat children how I would want to be treated – with attention, respect, kindness, love, support and ongoing coaching so they can improve.
Saying things like, “Not now, I’m busy” or “I’ll look at it later” are okay on occasion, but then you must follow-up later and actually give them your time. Parents are super busy and sometimes it is challenging to give them all the time they desire. Just make sure you set aside a few minutes of quality time everyday – it is what you would want from those you care about.
Treating them like a person also includes their personal belongings. For example, my step-son received a beautiful silver-plated cup as a gift and it came in a box. Instead of throwing the box away, I first asked him if he wanted to keep the box or if I should put it in the recycling. I didn’t want to assume, as it was not mine to decide. He was extremely appreciative that I asked him first (which he told me) and he said it could go into recycling. My point is that you wouldn’t like it if anyone threw away your belongings or moved things around in your room without asking, so don’t do it to your children.
So these are my five secrets to becoming a child whisperer. The more you do them, the greater the connection you will have with the children in your life. Does it take more time? Yes it does. But the long term benefits far outweigh the time spent. Give it a try and let me know what happens!