Student Well-Being Opinion

How Deep, Active Listening Helps Reduce Holiday Stress

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — December 08, 2016 3 min read
Oversized leader holding his oversized ear to better listen to the 4 smaller individuals talking to him.
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About this time of year, the rush of the holidays begins to take over. School events abound and families are attending concerts, plays and tournaments. We are thinking about our own family traditions as we attempt to be sure every child is recognized somehow. These are the moments of lifelong memories; most of them are joyful and filled with anticipation. Expectations are high and one cannot avoid the “hype” of gift giving and pull of family connections. The desire to belong is perhaps stronger in this season than in any other.

The challenge is to keep the youngsters engaged in learning as their minds wander and their bodies yearn to be outside as the snow falls across most of the northern part of the country. But, the holidays are also a very difficult time for some, both adults and children. Talks about what gifts are given or how the family will share a meal or worship are in stark contrast to those who have bad memories associated with the holidays or who will be alone or without a loved one or a gift. Children and faculty who are living through the first holiday without a parent as a result of death or divorce might be struggling profoundly. And, what about children who have been removed from homes and are in the foster care system? At this time of the year, the differences among our children invites us to walk in their shoes. It is an important time for leaders to be sensitive to the emotional needs of both the children and the staff. We need to remind ourselves and others that getting swept up in the energy of the holiday cannot preempt our capacity for attention.

A Time for Deep Listening

The Chinese symbol for listening reminds us that listening involves eyes, ears, and heart. Pressures and stresses provoke a lot of negative feelings. Those negative feelings can easily be dismissed as “typical” of the holiday season. Perhaps no one has listened. Or, perhaps the deep listeners understood but felt their own sadness at not being able to “fix” another’s pain or sorrow. Listening with an open mind, open eyes, open ears, and open heart is a challenge. Too often we listen with a filter to hear and respond to what we have in common, for things that support our belief system, for places where our stories overlap with another’s. But leading an organization requires deeper listening. Especially, at this time of year, we need to be listening for those who are silent and for those who are alone or angry. They may need our help.

At MindTools they call this “active listening.”

The way to improve your listening skills is to practice “active listening.” This is where you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, try to understand the complete message being sent...In order to do this you must pay attention to the other person very carefully.

You cannot allow yourself to become distracted by whatever else may be going on around you, or by forming counter arguments that you’ll make when the other person stops speaking. Nor can you allow yourself to get bored, and lose focus on what the other person is saying.

We have two suggestions for these next few weeks of school.

  1. Ask for a presentation by your school or community mental health professionals so the faculty and staff and leaders will be refreshed on the signs of a child who is struggling, is experiencing stress or is depressed. Invite parents to attend as well.
  2. Take a page from Stanford University’s BeWell Center and offer guidelines to the adults in the school community...keep expectations realistic, have self-compassion and take a break if feeling out of control... and don’t forget to have humor and be kind.

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.