Welcome to Part 5 in this series to explore the correlations between the underpinnings of social communication and communicating with compassion. Throughout the series I’ll be sharing specific methods, strategies, and activities based in social communication skills to help students in grades K-12 learn and use the language of compassion and understanding, especially when expressing emotions.
Recently I had the opportunity to present on this topic with my colleague, fellow SLP Danyela Williams, at the Social Thinking provider’s conference in San Francisco as well as the ASHA convention in Boston. In my last post, I shared an activity to target active listening skills in older students. You can read the post by clicking HERE.
Danyela has developed some great ideas for working with younger students that she shares below.
Empathetic listening is the hopeful end result of Whole Body Listening Skills combined with perspective taking abilities. We want our students to learn to focus on a person’s message, think about their words, guess their feelings and consider their needs as a supportive empathetic listener. However, what I observed is that many students , regardless of age, demonstrated significant deficits in certain foundational skills needed to support this final goal.
First, some of my students needed to learn to identify when a compassionate interaction was necessary.
Second, they needed to learn how to initiate the interaction while compassionately communicating any thoughts, wants or needs of their own.
Activity #1: Path to Compassionate Communication
I began by setting up repeated opportunities to observe an emotion provoking situation whether role played, video taped , or depicted in a picture – for example, a picture of a child who has fallen and skinned their knee. I then created a stepping stone format to emphasize each STEP of how we move through towards the end result in communicating with compassion. Our first step is to LOOK at situation. We then should NOTICE specific details about that individual or individuals including facial expressions, context clues, and body language and then THINK about what is happening. We then make a GUESS or SOCIAL INFERENCE about what that person might be thinking about to see if we can RELATE to, CONNECT, or UNDERSTAND how they might be feeling.
Since we are thinking about how that person feels we are CARING and showing CONCERN. Now, we can decide what we can SAY or DO in this situation to HELP , and realize how that shows KINDNESS and COMPASSION and fosters PEACE.
This was done on paper “stepping stones” in the classroom and therapy room, as well as a permanent concrete stepping stone pathway that was put into the garden area in the back of the school.
Activity #2: Kindness Ambassadors
As students became more familiar with these terms, I created a new title for those who began to exhibit moments of “Listening with Compassion” in order to demonstrate kindness, and awarded “KINDNESS AMBASSADOR” star signs. The students became eager to engage in activities when they were seen throughout the school carrying these stars and communicating while engaging in caring and helpful acts. They began to improve their ability to “think with their eyes” and be aware of opportunities to earn this prestigious title. I described the “Kindness Ambassadors” at a staff meeting so it was immensely reinforcing when other teachers would really heap on the praise and acknowledge the children as they were seen with their stars!
Activity #3: Whole Body Listening Characters
Several years ago, I realized the importance of teaching Susan Trusdale’sconcept of Whole Body Listening. While our student’s love the Whole Body Listening Larry books, they found it enjoyable to create their own Whole Body Listening characters. What began as a simple 2- dimensional paper “body” soon morphed in a 3 dimensional Styrofoam Kid cup, and then more durable yearly themes of Whole Body Listening sock monkeys, Stickbots, Elves, and Lego Listeners.
When done in a very drawn out and lengthy step-by-step approach of learning about the listening process it promoted pride in their creations and a sense of empowerment by this connection to their Whole Body Listening characters. Most listening parts were also removable – and I made direct corelationsbetween each child’s behavior and their character’s listening parts. If a child was not demonstrating listening hands – their character’s hands may be temporarily removed. They grew very attached and did NOT want this to happen.
Since children viewed their WBL creations as an extension of themselves, this offered a very safe and controlled opportunity to use these physical manipulatives to role-play and model social interactions requiring the demonstration of empathetic listening and compassionate communication.
One of the most difficult concepts for children to grasp is the idea of “Listening with your Heart”. If you are interested, I have a resource targeting this skill in my Teachers Pay Teachers store that has gotten great reviews! You can check it out here: Listening Skills: Listen With Your Heart.
And don’t forget to subscribe to my blog to be notified of my next post in this series — Activities to Build Assertive Communication/Older Students: Part 6 in Communicating with Compassion. Please click HERE if you missed Part 4: Activities to Build Active Listening Skills in Older Students.
How do you target emotional vocabulary skills in older students? Please share your ideas!