The Value in Truly Listening

Have you ever experienced that infuriating situation when you share that you are going through a hard time and your loved one responds with, “Well, look on the bright side…” or “At least…” On the receiving end of these comments, it feels as though someone is minimizing any experiences you have had and taking away your agency in addressing your own problems. That lack of validation makes you feel like you have to prove that, yes, in fact, your life is tough and you really are struggling.

We do this so often when we talk to children. I teach in a low-income neighborhood, where many of my students daily face the typical stressors of poverty. Sometimes, when students express difficulties to me, I don’t quite know how to respond, likely because I do not want to bring attention to the difference in our backgrounds. I feel an urge to find the positive in my students’ situation and encourage them to see it that way, too. But I also would never want to make them feel invalidated in their feelings.

This week, I attended a professional development session in culturally responsive teaching. One of the major topics of this session was the way that educators should respond when children tell us about difficult moments like these. I have to say that I was not expecting this topic to come up in our session. But I realized how much time we, as humans, spend waiting for our turn to talk instead of truly, honestly listening to what others have to say. Instead of practicing empathy and acknowledging honest, raw emotions in our students, we often try to hand them solutions or force ingenuine positivity on them. I learned the potential impacts of saying, “Wow, I’m so sorry that happened to you,” or “I hear you on that. That must be really frustrating,” or my personal favorite, “I’m so glad you came to me to talk about this. Can you tell me more about that situation?”

As I sat through the session and thought about how to apply this to my relationships with my students, I realized that this is an interpersonal skill that the majority of people, regardless of their occupation, need development in. I vow to make sure the people who I interact with on a daily basis (people of varying abilities, backgrounds, and ages) feel heard, understood, and validated when they share their experiences with me. Instead of sharing my opinions, I will just listen. Will you join me?

— Written by Elise, KIT Blog Writer and Editor

Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at