Tuning In: How to Actively Listen to Young People.

Being a caregiver and/or educator of children and adolescents can be a daunting task. The intentions we have to be the best adult role models for our younger populations is often sound, but sometimes the application of this intent is somewhat flawed or misguided. How can we give young people the best of ourselves?

One theme that comes up repeatedly in my work with families and educators is the importance of active-listening. It is a skill-set that often can repair and improve relationships between adults and youth rapidly, when the key principles are applied.

As the name suggests, active listening is active in its intent, not passive. We have what I call ‘surface’ level listening. Where we skim over the information we are hearing, but we do not delve any deeper, and we don’t see any reason to do so. Surface level listening is perfectly valid for day to day listening tasks, such as listening to the radio while driving, but when it comes to relationships with people and especially young people, we often need to be better tuned in to what is being communicated.

Key Benefits of Active Listening

Active listening demonstrates to young people;

  • They are worthy of your love, care and attention
  • You are interested in what they have to say
  • You are willing to learn and understand the young person’s viewpoints and perspectives
  • You respect them

Implementing active listening can assist with conflict, address misunderstandings and foster a deeper acceptance, trust and connection.

How to Tune In and Implement Active Listening

  • Remove distractions when possible, turn of the tv, put down your phone, pull over when driving. Your undivided attention sends a positive and powerful message of interest.
  • Focus on the present moment, if your mind wanders bring it back. Practising mindfulness exercises can help with this aspect.
  • Concentrate on what the young person is saying and on their non-verbal behaviour as they are speaking.
  • Try not to interrupt until there is a natural pause to speak, also allow for silence when needed.
  • Ask clarifying questions; How are they feeling? What do they need?
  • Aim to be empathetic and considerate of the young person’s experience.
  • Avoid being predictive in what you think they will say next, you may be right or wrong, either way does not matter, you might miss information, whilst thinking of your own reasoning.
  • Check and show your understanding by summarising the key points of what is being said.

Example: You are hurt that Felix didn’t invite you to his party this weekend, when your other friends are invited, I can understand that would be upsetting.

  • Checking for understanding is an effective way of encouraging the young person to keep talking and provide you further insight and information.
  • Avoid judgemental language and subjective viewpoints. Example: Well, Felix is just a bully, who cares about his dumb party!
  • Avoid personal disclosure and opinion unless it is asked for. Shared experiences can be helpful, but not always, they can remove focus away from the young person.
  • If the young person asks for support/help be willing to discuss and develop solutions together.
  • Check in. When needed, do a gentle wellbeing follow up check in the hours or days ahead.
  • If the issue is serious or not resolving, seek further professional support to assist.

Keep well in heart and mind,


Acknowledging and working with fear in a pandemic world

Every time your fear is invited up, every time you recognise it and smile at it, your fear will lose some of its strength.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Embrace 2020 as a year of a different kind of personal growth and learning

Whilst currently experiencing weeks of pandemic lock down and supporting my counselling clients, I have noticed both personally and professionally, that fear has been affecting many of us and it is a regular theme in my client sessions.

I would encourage anyone significantly impacted by their fear state to seek professional support, but here are some practical offerings and perspectives, which may be worth consideration.

Identify your fear and acknowledge it

Once you have awareness of your fear, you can take steps to reframe and/or manage it.

Take some reflective time to identify what is the fear you are experiencing. Writing a word dump on paper can be a useful start.

Acknowledge the fear, avoidance can compound the anxiety we feel around it.

Stay present with your fear feeling and practice acknowledging them, with a gentle and non-judgmental attitude. How you react to fear? Do you become anxious, angry or numb? Is your fear affecting others? How?

Make a commitment to yourself to acknowledge the fear and support yourself in managing it in a way that serves you and others productively.

Create the safest environment possible at home. If your home environment is not safe, take affirmative action by reaching out for professional support as soon as possible.

Practice self-compassion

Be gentle and realistic about your abilities, expectations of yourself at this time. Be conscious of pressures linked to perfectionism or comparing yourself to others.

Perspective is everything

Reframe your thinking.  Aim to view your thoughts and emotions as a challenge, not a threat; you are less likely to trigger the fear response (fight, flight or freeze).

Barbara Fredrickson states that ‘positivity broadens our perspective’.

Make a list of the personal freedoms you still have available to you.

Focus on what you have rather than what you lack.

Focus on the aspects of your life you still have autonomy in and choice around.

Control the controllable and avoid putting energy into events and/or things you cannot predict or change.

Be conscious of the difference between numbing and nurturing relaxation behaviours.  Research informs us it is not possible to numb a specific emotion; such as anger, you will also numb happiness and contentment alongside them.

Numbing behaviours can be detrimental to our health. We also reduce the ability to develop other coping strategies that benefit in managing our emotional state. Focus on ‘healthy coping.’

Acknowledge the pain you are feeling- express it safely in a way that releases but does not hurt you or others. Cry or yell into a pillow, hit a mattress with a wooden spoon, write or draw in a journal.

Information management

Be conscious of the impact the media, news and socials are having on your mood.

Fear can increase our focus on negative events and reinforce that the world is scary.

Re-think your need for information – does it help or hinder? Are you conscious of how information and people’s opinions affects you?

Take a newsbreak. Ask a family member of friend to inform you of anything you really need to know. Notice if this helps you. If not, aim to limit your news intake to once a day.

Structure your weekends differently to your weekdays.

Embrace a screen free day each week to develop other useful interests and passions, that can combat the fear response.

If you feel panicked or numbed by fear implement your comfort kit

To support the practice of self-soothing create a comfort kit. Plan and resource activities that can redirect your mood and increase feelings of safety, calm and enjoyment. Suggestions include;

  • Connecting in with loved ones
  • Having a warm shower
  • Creating and listening to music playlists/ listening to podcasts /reading books
  • Do a ‘I’ve been meaning to do that’ job around the house.
  • Getting out in nature – walking, meditating, breathing exercises
  • Give yourself a hand massage
  • Completing a puzzle, quiz or card game.


  • Place yourself in a safe environment.
  • Prioritise a stress-reduction lifestyle and fear-management approach that works for you.
  • Shift your perspective to a positive mind-set when you can.
  • Find meaning and purpose internally in each day.
  • Seek support from family, friends and professionals.
  • Embrace the power of nature.
  • Give to others; become connected to something outside of yourself.
  • Know it is possible to live a meaningful life whilst experiencing fear/s.

Stay well in heart and mind,


Brown, B (2012) Daring greatly. New York: Gotham Books.

Fredrickson,B (2009). Positivity. New York: Three Rivers Press

Hanh, T (2000). No death, no fear: Comforting wisdom for life. Berkely, CA: Parallex Press

Southwick, S., Charney, D. (2012). Resilience: The science of mastering life’s greatest challenges. New York: Cambridge University Press

Preparing your Child and Adolescent to go back to School after Home-based Isolation.

It is possible that your child will have mixed feelings about going back to school. They have spent weeks in isolation, adjusting to learning from home and socialising differently. Some young people will have thrived with the reduced pressure of face-to-face learning and socialising. They may be feeling highly anxious at the thought of returning to school. Other children may be excited initially to return, but the adjustment back over days and weeks might be the next roller-coaster you face as caregivers!

 Here are some ideas to help the school return and don’t forget to monitor your child’s mental health during this transition.  


  • Discuss with your child their feelings about returning to school. Reassure them that it is ok to feel whatever they are feeling and that they can discuss any concerns with you, anytime they need too.
  • Ask them if they have any questions about returning to school and if they need you to do anything to make the process easier.


  • Help your child re-organise their school supplies and make sure they have everything they need.
  • Have your child try on their school uniforms, making sure everything fits (we know they can grow quickly!) and clean, press and hang it up ready to go.
  • Help your child catch up on any work or skills that they are worried about, but balance this with reassuring them that their teachers will be there to help on their return.


  • Go through and practice any specific hygiene and social distancing practices you or the school is requesting of your child before they return to school, so they are clear on what to do. This could be practising washing their hands whilst singing, where they are going to sit in class and what games will they play with their friends at lunchtime.


If you are positive, this will help your child be positive!

  • Get together as a family and reflect on all the positive and challenging things you have learned and done together in isolation. Discuss what you are looking forward to doing as isolation directives change. What are the things you will still do as a family that you didn’t do prior to isolating?
  • Ease off pressuring your child regarding their academic output on returning to school. Allow them time to get back into a learning routine.
  • Be compassionate and flexible regarding your child’s mood and attitude during their return to school. It may take some time for your child to adapt into their new school routine.


  • Where possible assist your child/adolescent in connecting with their friends and classmates prior to returning to school.
  • When able and safe to do so encourage a play date or social outing with a friend.
  • If you child has difficulty with social connection make contact with the school and ask for support and raise awareness with your child’s teacher about the concerns.


  • Help you child/adolescent adjust back in to a good sleep routine.
  • Prepare health snacks and school lunches with your child. Get them involved in planning and making their school lunch menus, if this is something they enjoy.
  • Encourage keeping any physical exercise routines that were useful in home based isolation.


  • Help your child remember the aspects of school they enjoy.
  • Allow for relaxation and play at the end of each school day to assist your child to unwind and stabilise their mood.
  • If there are significant worries or behaviours that your child is displaying regarding returning to school make sure you assist them with how to manage these concerns.
  •  You may need to enlist the support of the school or a mental health professional if your child is experiencing distressed behaviour, low mood, school refusal or their anxiety is increasing.

Be well!


Supporting your Children and Adolescents during Home-based Isolation.


This is the main priority. Your children need to be provided for and reassured.

  • Is the home secure? Does your child have a space to call their own?
  • Make sure your children are aware of any safety limits at home and remind them of these as situations arise and change.
  • It is common for adolescents in this developmental stage to withdraw from their parents. Respectfully discuss with them the importance of their safety and health and any necessary changes that may need to be implemented. Try and keep things as normal as possible and allow for independence and freedom of choice when appropriate.
  • Do you have emergency information at hand and if appropriate are your children aware of what to do if they have a serious concern or there is an emergency?
  • Are the vital needs of your family being met? Shelter, food, water, medical needs, mental and physical health, exercise, connection and creativity?
  • Monitor your child’s well-being and mental health. Take action if concerned. Encourage them to talk with you but also make them aware of online and phone based support lines if they need to seek support independently.
  • Reassure your children that these adjustments are different, but okay. Be truthful, but clear that as their parent/caregiver it is your job to take care of things and you are up for the job!
  • Be aware of your own reactions and responses as a caregiver. If you are feeling overwhelmed, take some time-out. Reach out to your partner, friends, family and/or seek support from professionals.


Look at you home environment with a different lens.

Is it a calming place to be?

  • Is the house clean and mostly organised or is there clutter and mess everywhere?
  • Encourage your children to reorganise their spaces, set up a space for quiet reflection/reading/napping. A space for school work. A space for creative play. A space for togetherness as a family.
  • Does it feel like a home? Is there adjustable lighting, a suitable temperature, soft furnishings, plants. Does it have life? Is it overly sterile or does it feel cosy, a place you would like to be? A place you can feel secure and relaxed in?
  • Don’t discount the importance of family pets, encourage your children to care for them and connect with them more than they may have been doing previously.
  • Create a ritual at night of herbal tea, warm milk. Instigate a story or a chat before bed. Develop ‘good-night’ connection, especially with your adolescents.
  • Good quality sleep needs to be prioritised. Encourage ALL technology to be stored and charged in a communal area at a set time each evening. Times may differ depending on the age and needs of the family.
  • Be conscious of how you are accessing your information and the impact this may have on your child. Is the TV news on constantly? Try and be mindful of how and when you need to be updated, but allow everyone, especially children to switch-off from outside news sources.


Discuss as a family the importance of having space and how this will be encouraged and respected when required.

  • Work on finding a balance between connecting and allowing for your children to have their own autonomy and space when needed.
  • Be respectful of each other’s space. Knock before entering bedrooms, seek permission to use each other’s personal things.  
  • Have a family meeting once a week to discuss any concerns, updates and changes that your family may need to address together.


When in isolation a weekly schedule is vital to assist in the reduction of anxiety and stress. Collaboratively work with your children to develop their Monday to Friday routine. Keep it as regular as possible.

  • Use their school weekly timetable as a guide and get creative together in how classes or activities can be replicated in the home environment.
  • Set up opportunities online with your child’s friends, fellow students. This could be a daily quiz, reading to each other a creative writing response or an art class.
  •  Use the web as a source of learning tools, how to videos such as an indoor exercise class or how to learn a new skill or talent.
  • Allow for weekend to be more relaxed and an opportunity to be together as a family, connect in with friends and reduced stress. Brainstorm as a family creative ways of how to maintain connection with others when in isolation.


  • Allow your children to connect in with their friends via social media platforms, especially visual ones.
  • Encourage a video chat, watching your favourite show while face timing with a friend.
  • Family movie and game nights. Allow family members to take turns in running the night. Choosing the game, preparing a snack and being the ‘host’.
  • Use this as an opportunity for your children to educate you on how they use social media platforms. You might want to set up a family Instagram account and post a daily photo, make a silly family Tik Tok.
  • Be more vigilant around online bullying. Make sure you children are safe online and know what to do if something occurs. Discuss and remind the importance of responsible use of technology.
  • Aim for ‘screen free’ time each day.


As a family talk about your individual strengths.

What is each member of the family good at? How their strengths might be used to support one another, contribute to the family from a practical and psychological perspective. Who is the encourager of the family? Who is the ‘truth teller’? Who likes to brush the cat? Who likes to create new recipes?


Helping others and encourage Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) can allow your child to focus beyond their own current circumstances, developing empathy. It lowers anxiety and stress and increases feelings of hope, connection and well-being.

  • Draw and/or write letters of introduction, poems, funny jokes, a weekly ‘Joe’s family update’ and pop them in neighbours letterboxes or send to friends and family.
  • Do a rubbish pick up on your daily walk.
  • Cook or make something for a neighbour who may be elderly or lonely and drop it at their door
  • Write ‘thank-you’ cards for healthcare workers, teachers, shopkeepers, truck-drivers.

Remember to be gentle and patient with yourself as a caregiver of young people. Don’t expect yourself to be the perfect person as you navigate this. Embrace the challenge but also accept that some moments will be easier and more successful than others. You’ve got this!


Silence is Golden



I set an exercise for my counselling students this week to guess how long a minute feels. Inviting them to close their eyes, I then asked them to raise their hands when they felt a minute has passed, encouraging them not to count in their heads!

Interestingly the average time all my students raised their hands was 32 seconds. Every single student had raised their hand before 45 seconds had passed.

Why did I set this task?

When I was first training as a therapist, providing space in the session was really challenging and both my students and therapists in supervision sessions comment frequently on this aspect of the therapy process and I have a few thoughts as to why this might be the case.

Firstly, as professional therapists we are usually very aware that we are being paid to provide a service and pay equates to performance, performance equates to doing something, so we “do!”

A counsellor, new to the profession, once told me she felt like a performing monkey. She felt that she had to keep providing her clients with strategies, resources and techniques, as much as she could give, each moment of every session. When I inquired as to why she felt compelled to do this? she swiftly answered, “because they are paying me to help them!”

OK, so does this mean doing = being professionally valued? Possibly.

I have no issue with giving my clients a resource, an approach to try or an idea to reflect on, all useful contributions to provide, but the question I think on first, is this useful to the client? And the timing of when this might take place, is it purposeful, not a filler, driven by my own professional insecurities.

As therapists, I believe we need to create space for our clients to truly connect with what they are needing to tell us. Sometimes our clients are conscious of this and sometimes not. If we create pressure on ourselves to “do” throughout the whole session, are we truly connecting with and providing space for our clients to “do” also, such as reflect and connect, which is more important, our agenda or theirs?

The fear of not being good enough, being found out that you aren’t competent as a therapist and you are a phony, runs deep for a lot of us in the helping professions, and filling up time and space can often be a symptom of this fear.

Another aspect is being aware of the pacing of our sessions by providing space, has in my view become more important than ever. The franticness of our society and the instant gratification in our Western world has impacted on our capacity and willingness to pause… just. wait. to. see. what. happens.

So, if we can model and allow our client and ourselves to pause during our session, what may be revealed, heard and understood? In my experience a lot!

However, space is a skill it takes awareness, both in the context of therapy and outside of it. As therapists I think we need to become comfortable with providing space and embracing silence, both purposeful and awkward, because with it comes the gift of clarity! Space enhances your ability to actively listen, understand, connect and build your therapeutic relationship with your client and isn’t that in part what we aim to do?