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 will be?
Emotional and spiritual wellbeing 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 explained 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 problem."
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.
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