Whole Body Listening


Last week I had a conversation with a member of the How to Speak Child Facebook Community around an article I had posted which dealt with instilling confidence in anxious children. As part of my response I said, "As ever, whole body listening is key. " She was very taken with the phrase and asked if it was a ‘thing'. I didn't know if it was a 'thing' outside my own usage, so I looked it up.

It turns out that it is a 'thing' but it's a thing that is used to try to get kids to pay attention, which is not the way I use the phrase. I use it when talking about adults paying attention to children. For me, it seems like the most succinct way to express paying attention with every part of yourself. High quality observation is a powerful and vital tool, especially when dealing with children, and I'm not sure it's talked about enough. To be able to take in and analyse information with all your senses, effectively and rapidly enough for it to influence your own behaviour minute by minute is a skill well worth developing.

To me, Whole Body Listening is being able to use eyes, ears, physical sensation, emotional intelligence, intuition and past learning, analytical thought processes, empathy and compassion..... and probably a whole load of other stuff too. It's giving your full attention to others or to an other with everything that you are and everything that you know. We don't do it that often. Our minds are distracted by what we are going to say or do next, by random thoughts unbidden and by our surroundings. When we really focus on another person, we learn so much about them.

Quite often if I'm observing a child from a distance, I will try to emulate their movements, or how they gesture, or hold them selves generally, to attempt to get a feeling for how they are in their skin and the internal workings that dictate that physicality. Their interactions with others are also extremely informative.

There was a social experiment where strangers were asked to look into each other's eyes for 4 minutes straight, there's a short film of it here:

When I watched it, it did make me realise how rarely we take time to really look at each other.

I haven't tried this with a child, but I'd really like to. If any of you get there before me, please let me know how it goes. Apart from anything else, it could be a good exercise to develop the ability to pay attention to that child, with Whole Body Listening. It's a thing!