Listening to children

Having a voice

There may be many reasons why young children do not have a voice. Perhaps they

  • choose to be silent or very quiet when away from home
  • are not able to make vocal sounds or they try to talk but no words come out
  • use signs 
  • have nobody to notice or listen to them or try to get attention in ways that adults do not approve
  • are not able to find the words to say what they want
  • are not listened to and can not make themselves heard
  • are recovering from surgery or experiencing illness

There could be many more reasons.

Loss of power

Children do not possess the power that words have to communicate and make needs known. There is a definite power in being able to speak, to use words effectively to get meaning across and to be understood. In this world we need to be heard and often we have to speak up and speak out. 

What if a child can not do that? What if a child can not say or express what they want or feel?


What for our children who do not have a voice? A child who can not make themself heard may well stay silent or express strong emotion.

They may experience a lot of feelings ranging from anger, frustration, rage to low self esteem, hate, neglect and depression. 

10 ways we can listen better

  1. Notice their behaviour and body language.
  2. Take time to sit, wait and listen.
  3. Believe that they have communicative intent and are always telling us something in what they do and how they play.
  4. Take time to attune.
  5. Wait for them and give time for a sign, cue, vocalisation or clue.
  6. Ask “Are you feeling?…” or “Am I right in thinking that you…?” and suggest what they might be feeling or thinking or saying.
  7. Provide tools and strategies for the child to be heard and consulted.
  8. Use signs, picture cues and other resources that you work out together until you find something that works.
  9. Use consultation techniques to really hear what children have to say and ask children their opinions and thoughts about things.
  10. Find alternative and creative ways to listen to children without the use of words.

Let us take time and effort to give children a voice and let us hear them in the way they communicate. The more we give time, sit with them, look and attune, the more we will know what they have to say and hear them in the language that they choose. 

Reading and resources

Further reading

Questions and answers

What? Why? When? Where? What for? – and Why? yet again. Sometimes children’s questions just keep on coming. It can be wearing, especially if you

Read More »

Settling children

Healthy settling for high wellbeing How can we best help children feel at ease so that they are secure and settled in their new provision?

Read More »


This page was written following our Community of practice about transitions. We had a lot of sharing and questioning about this and so we thought we

Read More »

Crying and what it means

When children cry they are telling us something important We need to understand and listen to their tears. Supporting children when they express strong emotions

Read More »

Become a member

For more articles and professional learning

Find out more

Browse Early Education publications