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Key Skills to Working with Children

There are various techniques which may help the child to express himself or herself.

A quiet tone of voice can help the child to feel safe, and shows that the adult is being sympathetic.

Gestures such as nods of the head (or whatever is appropriate within the particular culture) can encourage the child to continue to talk.

An appropriate degree of eye contact also helps the child: again this will vary with culture.

Listening attentively and demonstrating that you have heard the child - e.g. by summarising what has been said, seeking clarification etc. confirms to the child that you are actively listening.

Showing respect for the child’s feelings is also important - e.g. by reflecting the feelings (“that must have made you feel very sad/angry”, etc.). This helps to convey empathy - the capacity to identify with the child’s situation and feelings.

Avoid interrupting the child.

Confidentiality should be respected

Asking open questions generally will encourage the child to explain something in his/her own way: for example, an open question such as “tell me about life in your village” may elicit a more free response than a closed question such as “where did you live?”. It is usually best to avoid leading questions - i.e. those which suggest an answer to the child such as “You like school, don’t you?”

Simple language should be used, and which the child can readily understand. If there is a suspicion that the child has not understood something you have said, it can be helpful to ask the child to repeat or paraphrase.

A friendly, informal and relaxed approach will help the child to feel at ease.

Adequate time needs to be given to help the child to feel relaxed, to develop mutual trust and to enable the child to feel that he/she is being taken seriously.

It is important to allow for children’s limited concentration span.

A non-judgemental attitude which conveys acceptance of the child.

Adapted from UNICEF Working with Children


People communicate through words (verbal communication) and through a wide variety of gestures, body language, tone of voice etc. (non-verbal communication). It is important to note that there are significant differences in the way different cultures use non-verbal communication such as gestures. It is particularly important when working with children to be sensitive to what they communicate non-verbally as this may give important clues to what they are really thinking or feeling, especially when it is difficult to put their ideas into words. Equally, children can be highly sensitive to adults’ non-verbal behaviour so it is important for the adult to be aware of what he or she may be conveying to the child.

Adapted from UNICEF Working with Children