All my adult life I've wanted to help people, especially children, deal with challenges, which we all face in life. I've dreamt of becoming a child psychologist, and while I certainly have not abandoned that dream, my feeling right now is that 4 (OK 5) years of college was enough for me. However, I haven’t always let that stop me from playing amateur psychologist. I used to love dishing out (sometimes) unsolicited advice, or I would attempt to use logic to explain to someone why they should or shouldn't feel a certain way. I would try to help kids see that a certain behavior was good, or that a certain behavior was bad. I would talk until I was blue in the face, and the child was understandably green in the face.
I wish I could say that, using this approach, I met with mixed results, but that would imply that I experienced at least one or two some positive results. The reality of it is that I think my constant babbling produced zero results.
Now, I’m not talking about teaching kids the difference between right and wrong, honesty, etc. I’m talking about actually working with an individual child who is facing a serious challenge. I’m sure we've all felt the frustration of trying to lecture to and reason with people and feeling like we are getting nowhere.
This is where the power of listening, and this blog’s titular phrase, “Primum non nocere,” come in. This Latin phrase generally translates as, “First, do no harm.” It is one of the foundational principles in medicine, and it’s my guiding principle in working with children. When working with children who are struggling in some area, I see myself not so much as a person who is there to fix their problems, but as a listener. If the child wants to share their thoughts/feelings with me I will be happy to listen with interest, and to try and understand where they are coming from. I offer little to no advice, unless it is asked of me. If the child does not wish to talk at this time, I try to gently remind them that if they do wish to talk in the future I will be happy to listen.
With this approach, I believe that I meet with a positive result a much higher percentage of the time, but even if no result is met the child is no worse off than before our conversation. I don’t run the risk of saying the “wrong” thing.