Transcript for
Engaging children: Exploring children’s strengths and interests

Runtime 00:13:59
Released 4/4/22

Narrator (00:02):

Welcome to the Emerging Minds Podcast.

Remy (00:12):

This is the Engaging Children Podcast Series by Emerging Minds. If you’re a practitioner who works with children like me in relation to our mental health and wellbeing, or a practitioner who’s wanting to expand their work with us, or a practitioner looking to move your work in that direction, then this is the podcast for you.

Chris Dolman (00:35):

Hi everyone. I’m Chris Dolman, one of your co-hosts for today. And I work with Emerging Minds, along with my colleague, Jen Ly. Hi, Jen.

Jen Ly (00:42):

Hi, Chris. Hi, everyone. Here we are again.

Chris Dolman (00:44):

Yes, back for our second podcast in this series. Would you like to tell the listeners a bit about what’s ahead for today’s topic?

Jen Ly (00:50):

Yeah, sure. It’s called “Getting onto good at”. It’s all about ways of opening up conversations with children, and  about their strengths, skills, and know-how.

Chris Dolman (00:58):

Yeah. It sounds like a good thing to do.

Jen Ly (01:00):

Yeah. Well, children have said in research studies that they like adults to be interested in what they’re into, what they need, and how they respond when things are happening around them.

Chris Dolman (01:09):

They sound, pretty reasonable requests, really.

Jen Ly (01:11):

Yeah. And they like adults to be positive and encouraging as well.

Chris Dolman (01:14):

Yeah. And this is important feedback for practitioners, isn’t it? Because I think it can be some of those things that can set a real context for beginning to understand what’s going on for the child that’s problematic for them, and to understand it from their perspective as well.

Jen Ly (01:28):

Yeah, that’s right. So in today’s episode, we’ll be exploring this theme, and we’re going to hear from some practitioners who share their reflections on this topic. And then we’re going to pose some questions to our audience, Chris, for them to reflect on and discuss with colleagues.

Chris Dolman (01:41):

Yes. That’s always good. Actually, shall we start with a couple of those questions now?

Jen Ly (01:46):

Yeah, sure.

Chris Dolman (01:46):

All right. Well, we’d like to invite listeners to be thinking about, how do you approach hearing from a child about their strengths? How do you go about doing that? What things do you ask about? And also, what are some factors that sometimes make it hard to open up conversation with children, about what they’re good at? What are those factors, and how do you navigate through those things?

Jen Ly (02:10):

Yeah, I guess it’s not always easy.

Chris Dolman (02:11):

Yeah. And so I guess when it isn’t easy, as a practitioner, what do you do? What are other ways or approaches you can kind of have up your sleeve to respond?

Jen Ly (02:21):

So we’ll hear from our interviewees now. This audio clip features Lisa Johnson, psychologist and school counsellor, Sally McLaren, Annette Flanagan, and Liz Lodge. Counsellors from Centacare Catholic Family Services. Ali Chisholm, an OT here at Emerging Minds and elsewhere. And you’re in this one too, Chris.

Chris Dolman (02:39):

I am.

Jen Ly (02:40):

Let’s hear from them now.

Lisa Johnson (02:41):

I’m really interested in pretty early on to get to know a bit more about them, that I might not get to know if all we are focusing on in that first conversation is the problem or concern. If that becomes the sole focus, then I may be missing out on details of that young person’s life that are likely to be the source of creative ideas or glimmers of hopes or pathways that we could perhaps pursue, maybe not in that first conversation, but down the track.

Sally McLaren (03:21):

I think that children can get really caught up with a dominant story in their family, or in the school, or in their classroom, or even how they see themselves. And often it’s quite negative. And I think they can get really fixated on that negative story about themself, so getting them to see themselves through a different lens can really shift things for them.

Annette Flanagan (03:44):

I think it’s hard to just open up a conversation at a conversation level, “what are you good at?” Some kids will know, some won’t. That’s also in lots of games, like, what are you good at? You can see some kids will say, I don’t know, not much. But what would someone else say that you were good at? What would mom or dad say you’re good at? What do your teachers say you’re good at? But sometimes there’s no information there for the child, so you just have to find a… you have to be with them. And you will know what they’re good at. So if you play and you’ve got a wide range of toys in your room, you’ll see what they’re good at. It might be, you’re really friendly. You’ve come in here, you were really brave coming in here. You’ll find something.

Lisa Johnson (04:22):

Sometimes it’s understanding what they are absolutely not interested in, or absolutely against or protesting about. Because no matter what I’m hearing about, I’m always interested to know what that suggests about what a young person values, what a young person believes, what a young person understands, what they’re kind of on about. And so there are signs for getting to know this, I think everywhere, but it takes a certain … for me, it’s almost like a quality of listening and it’s creating questions that bring that forward.

Annette Flanagan (04:59):

There are resources you can use like strength cards and car cards and you can put them out and you can say like, what car are you? It might be the one that’s feeling all scared, or it might be the happy, bright one. And the same with strength cards. I’m good at being a friend. I’m good at talking. I’m good at being quiet, you know? So you can kind of go into what their strengths are through those kind of resources. You can ask questions, like, how did you get good at that? Who else is good at that? Again, it depends that, that’s a very cognitive thing that child just might want to say, this is my card. You might draw pictures of it, copy it. And then you might end up doing hangman on the whiteboard. And that’s a good game where you say, what’s a feeling that you’ve had or what’s something you’re good at but you have to guess, and they’ve done the letters, probably misspelt. It doesn’t matter. And you’re guessing the letters and they’re writing it up.

Chris Dolman (05:48):

If a child’s doing well at Connect Four or Uno, we can be acknowledging that but try to be curious about that. How long they’ve been good at Connect Four? What do they think it takes to be good at Connect Four? What do you have to be good at to be good at Connect Four, for example, and they start to speculate on that. And then I can ask them some questions, a bit about whether they are also good at those things or the extent to which they’re good at those things as well. So children, again, get to speak about some skills that they hold.

Liz Lodge (06:14):

Quite often I’ll ask them what they value in other people. And we’ll do a bit of an experiential in that. And they’re very quick to name qualities that they admire in other people in adults and friends. And then I’ll ask them to show me which ones they have that matches their friends. And that’s when it gets really tricky. I’ll ask them what they’ve think their friends like about them the most as well, what they think they have in common as friends and what their friends value in them. A characteristics survey that you can do online for adults and children. I sometimes do that with kids and it picks out lots of things that they hadn’t even considered.

Ali Chisolm (06:55):

If I see a child, if I see a behaviour that is a strength or a skill that they’re working on, I’ll name it so that they can hear what that is, and they can be able to name it for themselves. I’m hoping that kids will start to be able to articulate and identify their own strengths and their own skills so that they can be proud of what they can do. And it starts to be a bigger story than the problem story. And then they can to take those skills and those strengths into other environments or into other relationships at school or at home, and start to develop their own sense of agency.

Chris Dolman (07:27):

Well, there’s lots of ideas there. I’m sure different things, Jen, have stood out to our listeners.

Jen Ly (07:32):

What stands out for you, Chris?

Chris Dolman (07:34):

Well, I liked what they all had to say really. I guess maybe what Liz had say about friendships and finding out about what the child values or admires about other people. I think friendships can be a really rich source of meaning making for kids.

Jen Ly (07:48):

Sure. What about when friends are hard to come by for some children?

Chris Dolman (07:52):

Well, yeah, I guess that makes it trickier, doesn’t it, as a theme to explore, but children can be friends non-humans too. I think that’s good to remember. They can be friends with pets, stuffed toys, favourite toys. I think children can also imagine friendships with characters in books and movies, TV, whatever YouTube clips. But I think I really appreciated this, quite a number of interesting reflections by the interviewees.

Chris Dolman (08:19):

And now it’s time for a word about today’s featured resource. Which resource are we looking at today Jen?

Jen Ly (08:28):

It’s the Emerging Minds Engaging Children Rich pictures e-learning course.

Chris Dolman (08:32):


Jen Ly (08:33):

Yes. Today’s topic is one of the skills based practice modules included in the course. It’s called ‘Getting onto good at’, and there are five.

Chris Dolman (08:41):

And what are the others please, Jen?

Jen Ly (08:42):

Collaborate or Perish.

Chris Dolman (08:44):

I think that message is pretty clear there.

Jen Ly (08:46):

Yes. Plus. ‘Another window to strengths and skills’, ‘When words are few’, ‘Let toys do the talking’ and ‘When it’s not going so well’.

Chris Dolman (08:54):

Yeah. I know what that’s like.

Jen Ly (08:55):

Well, I think many practitioners probably know what that’s like.

Chris Dolman (08:57):


Jen Ly (08:59):

So each of these practice skills modules includes interviews with practitioners, video demonstrations of practice with real practitioners and child actors, and interviews of practitioners and actors reflecting on the practice demonstration, as well as comments from parents and reflection activities. And also the opportunity for people engaging in the course to contribute comments that become part of the course.

Chris Dolman (09:21):

So folks, if you are interested in developing or extending on your skills in working with children to develop a rich picture of their strengths, their skills, their know-how, values, as part of your work with them, you might like to check out the Engaging children, Rich pictures e-learning course.

Jen Ly (09:37):

We’ll be putting a link to that course in the show notes.

Chris Dolman (09:44):

So we’ve had comments submitted by participants on today’s topic that have been posted in the learning course already, Jen. And we thought, didn’t we, we’d mention a couple of those right now.

Jen Ly (09:52):

That’s right. Yeah. Actually Sonya from South Australia picks up on the friendship thing you referred to, Chris. She wrote, “This module showed engaging kids through their interests and feelings, which is still internal toward how they engage with others and the emotional-social world around them. This is relational perspective and practise. Establishing this early on in the work can provide a solid platform to talk about preferred identity. I am good at being a friend. I am good at caring for others. I am good at sport, et cetera.”

Chris Dolman (10:23):

Yeah. I like that idea of moving from the internal to the social world of children and how that kind of makes so much more possible in terms of descriptions of children’s identities.

Jen Ly (10:31):

Yeah, that’s right. A number of people commented on the friendship theme. Also Uneza from New South Wales writes, among other things, that “reflecting on this topic has me wanting to know more about when we decide to speak with children alone versus when we decide to speak with the whole family together. And what might we do as a practitioner if our efforts to interrupt the idea about that the child is the problem are not successful.”

Chris Dolman (10:55):

Yeah. They’re good questions, aren’t they? Actually, the first one about how we decide whether to speak with children alone or with like the whole family together or, bringing other adults, parents or carers into the room, this is a topic that’s actually covered in the Engaging Children Good Beginnings course. And we also did an online event on that topic earlier in the year. I’ll put links to both of those in the show notes, as well. I think even as second question about what might we do if our efforts to interrupt the idea that the child is the problem are not successful. I think this is a really interesting one. I think we could probably explore that down the track, Jen.

Jen Ly (11:29):

Yeah. And others wrote about the using games and activities and especially commented on the Jenga game shown in one of the demonstrations.

Chris Dolman (11:37):

Yes. With the Annetta and Ava.

Jen Ly (11:38):

Yeah. Lisa from Tuross Head in New South Wales and Jane from Brisbane, both referred to using games to reduce the power imbalance between the child and the counsellor. Lisa wrote, “This is a huge shift of balance for the child as being seen as equal and being able to ask questions of the practitioner. This scenario allows the child to relax, feel comfortable, as they feel respected and allows for the opportunity of the child opening up.”

Chris Dolman (12:05):

Yeah. So paying attention to relations of power in the counselling room can be really highly significant, I think.

Jen Ly (12:10):

That’s right. So thanks to Sonya, Uneza, Lisa and Jane for your comments. In fact, all of those that have posted comments and contributed to the course, got a whole list of them actually. There’s Liz, Chris, Vera, Rachel, Rachel, Angela, Tracy, Susie, Carolyn, Susan, Isabella, Samantha, Naomi, Josephine, Joanna, Michelle, Jacob, and others.

Chris Dolman (12:33):

Great. That’s quite a roll call.

Jen Ly (12:36):

It is. And we really welcome these contributions.

Chris Dolman (12:38):

Absolutely. Well, that’s it for today, folks. Thanks for joining us, everyone. And thanks Jen.

Jen Ly (12:43):

Thanks Chris. Bye everyone.

Remy (12:46):

You have been listening to the Emerging Minds, Engaging Children podcast, dedicated to exploring the possibilities for working with children in ways that are helpful and hopeful. Help us spread the word by sharing this with your colleagues, supervisors, classmates, tutors, GP, and Pilates instructor. You can subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or YouTube, and follow us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. And if you’d like to contact us about this podcast, please send us an email at [email protected]

Narrator (13:28):

Visit our website at to access a range of resources to assist your practise. Brought to you by the National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health led by Emerging Minds. The National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health under the National Support for Child and Youth Mental Health Program.

Subscribe to our newsletter