What is whole body listening? It is often described as a set of behaviors that are needed to show others that you are paying attention to the conversation or activity that is taking place. The brain thinks about what the speaker is saying, the eyes are towards the speaker, body facing the speaker, mouth is quiet, and a calm body. However, whole body listening also involves perspective taking, feeling, and thinking. Teaching whole body listening helps children take the perspective of others and to show others like teachers or peers that you are listening and part of the group. While using whole body listening, children can become aware of their brains and bodies and ways to help them attend to others. It’s important as providers, parents, and teachers to understand that whole body listening come with challenges. Listening can be a difficult skill for children and most of the time they must demonstrate that they are listening to the speaker. In our culture, if you do not appear to be listening it can cause offense and lead to others having a negative reaction. But it is important to remember that everyone listens in their own way. How we show we are listening depends on cognitive and sensory regulation. Here are some tips for the eyes, mouth, and body for children to demonstrate whole body listening.
- Eyes- Look towards the speaker but remember this does not have to be directly. Have the child look at and observe facial expressions of others. To help children focus with their eyes, limit visual clutter and distractions. Remember that eye contact can be difficult, stressful, and overwhelming for some people.
- Mouth- Children can chew on gum, chew jewelry like a necklace, or drink water. This allows the child to receive the sensory input needed and they can also practice impulse control. While they are chewing or drinking, children are practicing thinking before speaking. However, some children need to produce verbal sounds to stay calm and process what is being said.
- Body- While listening and processing to speakers, have children squeeze hands or have a fidget available. Explore sensory exercises and strategies like deep breathing or adaptive seating. Some children need movement to feel comfortable and attend to others. This could be flapping or moving hands or moving around the room.
Whole body listening is not an easy skill for children and the process is complex. Children are expected to look towards the speaker with their eyes and body, keep their mouth quiet, their body calm, and process what is being said. Teaching children whole body listening develops into active listening as teens and adults later in life. Paying attention and listening are essential for learning and communication. Using these tips can help children stay alert and attend while others are speaking. Teaching children to use whole body listening can be beneficial for children to learn, grow, and succeed.
Resources: Sautter, E. (2019). Social Thinking Articles. Retrieved July 23, 2020,