Child safety officers must communicate with individuals and families in crisis; good communication skills are essential to achieve the best possible outcomes within a range of challenging circumstances. Interpersonal skills of listening, questioning and feedback are crucial when working as a child safety officer as they allow the officer to clarify, gain knowledge and understand. Active listening allows the child safety officer to clarify the child’s needs with empathy; doing this builds a trusting relationship. The interpersonal skill of questioning further allows the child to gain knowledge, make decisions and effectively problem solve.
Lastly, feedback allows the child safety officer to clarify understanding and encourage the child with positive reinforcement. Using these three skills allows both child and child safety officer to effectively communicate. Therefore, it is essential to effectively use the skills of listening, questioning and feedback to provide positive outcomes when working with children. Listening actively allows both child safety officer and child to provide evaluation and develop a trusting relationship on empathy. Active listening is defined as listening and showing understanding and meaning of what the speaker has said (Eunson 2012).
Active listening allows both speaker and listener to form a bond and develop a trusting relationship (DeVito 2011). Further, active listening allows the speaker to show empathy through maintaining eye contact and making appropriate verbal and nonverbal responses to show engagement and clarify understanding (DeVito 2011). Showing empathy is an important skill when working as a child safety officer; it is essential to listen nonjudgmentally with an open view of understanding while the speaker is speaking (DeVito 2011).
When communicating with children it is important to engage in active listening rather than talking over the speaker; doing this shows empathy towards the speaker whilst they are speaking (Bannister, Huntington, Jennings, Cossa & Kirk 2002). Having said this, listening critically is just as crucial during communication, as it allows the listener to provide evaluation (DeVito 2011). It is important to understand that children think differently to adults; which means they can easily be distracted or lose concentration (Bannister et al. 002).
Therefore, having interactive conversations and engaging in activities with meaning is essential to building a relationship built on empathy (Bannister et al. 2002). It is important to listen and respect the child’s point of view by trying to see through their eyes and focus on what they can do rather than what they cannot (Bannister et al. 2002). Communicating and listening with children enables both speaker and listener to learn as one; this can be a powerful way of learning between communicators (Davie 1995).
Davie (1995) also stated that people working with children who do not critically listen to the child can result in lack of understanding and agreement. Children should be listened to at there own right; rather than discussing information regarding family issues to parents, addressing the child first is more beneficial for obtaining information (Bannister et al. 2002). It is important to speak to children the way they speak to one another or as to an adult, doing this is very successful in communicating with children (Bannister et al. 2002).
Therefore, active listening is crucial for a child safety officer as it addresses empathy, builds trusting relationships and provides evaluation during communication. Effective questioning allows the child to gain knowledge through understanding, make decisions and effectively problem solve. Questioning is explained as the request for information resulting in an answer or response (Hargie 2010). Asking questions is a vital interactive skill as it contributes to the learning development, making decisions and problem solving to both speaker and listener (Hargie 2010).
Effective questioning is asking relevant questions to the set topic through showing an engagement while active listening, understanding what the situation is, and adapting to the personality of the speaker to ensure an appropriate question has been asked (Eunson 2010). Questions can either be verbal or non-verbal, for example, non-verbal questioning is using gestures such as ‘nodding’ after a question has been asked; this can indicate to another person that a response is expected, while verbal questioning is verbally asking the question (Hargie 2010).
Although questions can be asked non-verbally, most are asked verbally (Hargie 2010). The approach to take when questioning in an interview with a child is one of the most important elements of an investigation (DeVoe & Faller 2002). Asking children open-ended questions such as, who, what, when, where and why have not been as successful as direct specific questions for example, ‘Can you tell me what happened that day? ’ (DeVoe & Faller 2002). However, it is important to set a range of questions to gather extra detail as every child is different.
In some cases, close ended questions such as responses being either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ are more effective (DeVoe & Faller 2002). Therefore, effective questioning as a child safety officer is essential to gain knowledge, make decisions and effectively problem solve. Through active listening and questioning, a child safety officer is able to provide feedback relevant to the child. Feedback further assists the child with applying positive reinforcement and clarifying understanding. Feedback is defined as ‘the support and critique provided in response by one person to another’ (Eunson 2010, p. 2).
Feedback can be given in many ways; it can be either brief, lengthy, formal or informal (Eunson 2010). Giving effective feedback can provide positive actions and behaviours to the listener (De Janasz 2014). Providing effective feedback is crucial for the learning development as it can encourage positive reinforcement for future actions (De Janasz 2014). As a child’s social development is not as advanced as an adult’s, it is important to have a sensitive approach to children as a professional, doing this will result in a more sufficient outcome with the child (Jones 2003).
Tharinger et al. (2008) found that ‘fables’ meaning myths, fairy tales and other fantasy talk has significantly helped feedback be understandable to children. Direct feedback can sometimes be too much for children to take in as they can easily be overwhelmed (Tharinger et al. 2008). Using fables when giving feedback allows children to feel understood with the speaker as it gives the effect of accurate mirroring (Tharinger et al. 2008). If the child has been given effective positive feedback the outcome of them handling future tasks will be much more manageable (Skipper & Douglas 2012).
Therefore, giving effective feedback is a vital skill working as a child safety officer as it encourages positive actions for future problems and contributes to the learning development to children. Working with children can be challenging, as children view the world differently to adults, resulting in differing ways of communicating. A child safety officer must understand these differing qualities of communication with children to ensure effective communication is achieved.
Engaging in active listening, effective questioning and feedback enables a child safety officer to build a trusting relationship, gain understanding, effectively problem solve and encourage positive reinforcement. Therefore, it is important to actively listen to children, ask questions and provide age appropriate effective feedback. All of these skills used together can ensure a positive communication outcome is achieved when working as a child safety officer.