Beyond the Words, a Child's Voice
By Patricia Gatto
Voices have a way of falling into a pattern, not
unlike the sound of constant rain. At first, the rain is obvious as
it dramatically announces its arrival, and for a brief moment, you
acknowledge the intrusion. But slowly, the rhythmic sounds fade into
the background, becoming nothing more than a distant drone.
We are fortunate to have the ability to block out
sounds like the pouring rain; otherwise, it would be impossible for
us to concentrate. But what happens when the rain is actually the
voice of a child, and you are so focused on your own thoughts that
you forget to hear?
Even the most dedicated parent or caregiver can fail
to hear the understated nuances of a child's plea. It's impossible
to play detective and uncover the meaning behind every word and
every gesture. Sometimes a whine is simply a whine. But if your busy
schedule has you constantly preoccupied, you may be unintentionally
shutting your child out. And if you're not there for your child, who
Emotional and spiritual well being are just as
important as physical health. Even at a young age, you can help
teach your child a simple technique that provides you with a means
to hear the voice beyond the words. It's a little trick I learned
from my Mom, and all you need is a piece of paper and a pencil.
I grew up in a large family. With five children, my
Mom was concerned that she might miss a cue, a subtle hint that
would indicate when one of us was in trouble or needed to talk, so
she came up with a plan when we were very young.
Mom gathered us around the kitchen table and took
out a piece of paper and a pencil and she proceed to explain her
concept at the most basic level.
"Sometimes Mommy is busy, but I am never, ever
too busy for my children. I promise that I will always make time for
you, but I need you to let me know if you are having a
Then she drew a picture and showed it to us.
"If something is bothering you, draw a picture of a sad face
and give it to me. Mommy will never ignore it. This is our secret
code and I will be there to help you."
We were a demanding bunch, and I'm sure it wasn't
easy for my Mom. Sometimes that note would arrive right in the
middle of her making dinner, or while she was on the phone or when
she finally sat down to watch TV. But she would always take that
child with the sad-faced picture aside. Many times, she would have
to coax the problem out of us by asking a series of questions, but
we always felt better afterward.
As we got older, this little plan kept the doors of
communication wide open. In those difficult, embarrassing moments of
childhood, Mom was always true to her word. Whenever she received a
note, everything would stop and the writer would receive her private
and undivided attention.
Interesting though, were the far-reaching benefits
of this little plan. You see, by giving us this additional means to
be heard, we were taught that our concerns, problems and opinions
were valid and important. We learned how to express our feelings and
we knew the luxury of having someone there to listen. But we also
became responsible individuals and learned valuable lessons in
honesty and accountability. Our Mom showed us how to keep a promise.
And as a family, we faced our problems together and head on.
Although the idea was simple, it was also powerful.
This very wise, sensitive, nurturing woman empowered her young
children with the right to be heard and the gift of confidence.
Today I use this concept in my own family and in my work as well.
As advocates for children's rights, my husband and I
speak about the consequences of bullying. The best defense against a
bully is to tell an adult, but we are well aware that this is a
difficult task for some children. Even when a child is otherwise
vocal, discussing harassment at the hands of a peer can be painful,
embarrassing, or scary. We take great care to explain that unless a
child makes their concerns known, adults can't help. We explain that
sometimes adults don't pay attention, but this doesn't mean they
don't care. We encourage children not to give up and tell them to
reach out to an adult by writing a note or drawing a picture.
Someday, if a child hands you a note, we hope that
even if you weren't raised with a secret family code for
"please listen to me," you will stop what you are doing
and focus on the voice of the child before you.
Patricia Gatto and John De Angelis are the authors of MILTON'S DILEMMA, the tale
of a lonely boy's magical journey to friendship and self-acceptance. As
advocates for literacy and children's rights, the authors speak at schools and
community events to foster awareness and provide children with a safe and
healthy learning environment.