Blog: The power of active listening

Active listening is a basic concept within the Gordon method. Active listening is a skill in which you “translate” the child’s behavior. You thereby primarily reflect the feeling and experience of the child. To be able to listen actively, you must observe carefully. You try to put yourself in the position of the child. What does he say, what does he do, what would he feel? Furthermore, you really have to mean it: you need the intention, the will, to understand this child. Empathy and empathy are indispensable.

The power of active listening lies in the fact that you give the child your full attention and support without “taking over” his problem. The child therefore keeps control. You only use active listening if the other person has a problem, not if you yourself have a problem with the other person’s behavior or if there is a problem. The use of active listening requires some practice but can be learned by everyone.

Active listening at 3-12 years

Active listening is possible for every age group. With older children, active listening doesn’t work differently than with small children. You may have to work a little harder with older children, because they are verbally stronger. A toddler probably feels supported when you say “That makes you a little sad, doesn’t it?”. But a ten-year-old might answer crying: “A little bit? A lot!” In order to connect well with the child, you will have to be more precise. Your tone and attitude must radiate that you really mean it.


If a child feels angry or frustrated about something, you will see this in his words, but also in his behavior and attitude. It may seem strange to say such active listening phrases to children who can verbally express themselves well. Yet this also has a supportive effect on them. It gives them the feeling that they can turn to you, that you are there for them. It often encourages children to tell more. For instance:


Olivier (10) enters the room of the BSO with red cheeks. “I will not play outside anymore,” he says. Child care professional Amy comes and sits next to him. “You just don’t feel like it anymore,” she says. “No,” he sighs. It is quiet for a moment. “They all tease me!”

“You don’t like how they act against you?”, Amy nods. “Yes.” He is left with an angry face. “If they start playing football, I have to be in de goal again. Well, I’m always in the goal! Then I miss a ball and they shout that I’m terrible at it! They all laugh at me! “

“And you don’t think that’s fair at all?” It is quiet for a moment Then his face brightens. “I’m just going to tell them to just get in the goal themselves.” “That seems like a good plan, Olivier,” says Amy, and Olivier cheerfully goes outside again.


Amy almost exclusively uses the “active listening” skill in her contact with Olivier. Amy always joins in with what Olivier says. She crawls into his skin, as it were: what is behind his words, what experience and emotion? This connection leads to Olivier coming up with his own solution.


Sanne (4) has been going to after-school care for two weeks. Childcare professional Linda comes to pick her up from the classroom. Sanne is startled when she sees Linda. ‘No! Mama is coming to pick me up! “She clings to her table. ‘I’m not going!’

Linda sits down on the table next to Sanne. “You are really mad, aren’t you? Don’t you want to come? “No!” Sanne shakes her head. “Mommy is coming to get me!” “So if I understand correctly, you are very shocked because you thought Mommy would come?” Sanne nods slowly. She has tears in her eyes. “That’s annoying, isn’t it, if things go differently than you thought?” Sanne sobs. “You thought Mom was coming and now I’m suddenly here!”

“I want to go home…”, Sanne sobs. “You’d rather have gone home.” Sanne nods and makes a deep sigh. She stops sobbing. “Difficult, right? But we can’t stay either. All the children are already gone, you see? “Sanne looks around the classroom. “Let’s go to the group, okay?” says Linda. Sanne nods hesitantly. Linda holds out her hand. “Come on. What would you like to do? Then we can see if we have that on the group.” “Crafts,” says Sanne. She takes Linda’s hand and walks out of class with her. “You like crafts? That’s nice, isn’t it? In the group we have a very large cupboard full of stuff …” By the time they reach the after-school care, Sanne happily skips ahead.


In this example, Sanne is relieved with the help of Linda’s active listening sentences. Her resistance diminishes when she notices that Linda understands her feelings. Linda does not feel offended by Sanne’s startled exclamation. She understands that something else is going on. Sanne apparently had in her mind that her mother would come. After a long school day, she was happy to be able to go home. Linda understands her feelings: it is unpleasant if the day suddenly turns out differently than you thought. Active listening takes quite some time in this situation, but no more than a fight would! Linda did not have to bring a struggling child with her. With angry words, the relationship between Sanne and Linda would have been damaged. Now Linda remains respectful and with that the relationship stays good.

The effects

You see that active listening sometimes – see Olivier’s example – has the effect that children come up with a solution for their problem themselves. That is not always the case. With Sanne the effect is that she feels less resistance to the prospect of having to go to the after-school care. Some things are just the way they are. Active listening therefore certainly does not mean that you give the child what he wants or only agree with what he or she says. You do not have to agree with what the child says: even then you can listen actively. After all, it is empathizing with the other person. After using your active listening skills, children are often more open to hearing your message.

Floor de Graaf
Pedagogical coach KinderRijk


Source: IN BALANS, Opvoeden in de kinderopvang volgens de Gordonmethode, Saskia Henderson.