When I have no voice
This week I had a bug that has caused me to lose my voice and every time I wanted to talk, I coughed instead. I was not able to talk.
It left me feeling frustrated. I wanted to join in conversations, go to meetings, teach and play but all of these things were prevented because I was not able to speak. In this busy world I had to go about my usual week but without speech. I quickly realised that in a world of words, there was very little time for anyone to sit with me and attune in order to understand me. Neither was there time for anyone to consult with me or listen to me communicate in ways other than words. Unless I spoke, I realised it was hard to be noticed or heard.
This experience got me thinking about young children we work with who do not have a voice. There may be many reasons for this which include children who
- choose to be silent or very quiet when away from home
- are not able to make vocal sounds or they try to talk but no words come out
- are vulnerable or have additional needs
- have special educational needs or a disability
- use signs
- have nobody to notice or listen to them or try to get attention in ways that adults do not approve
- are not able to find the words to say what they want
- speak in a language different to yours
- are not listened to and can not make themselves heard
- are recovering from surgery or experiencing illness
There are many more reasons I am sure.
Loss of power
The more I thought about these children the more I became aware of just how many young children may not have the power of voice. They do not possess the power that words have to communicate and make their needs known. There is a definite power in being able to speak, to use words effectively to get meaning across and to be understood. In this world we need to be heard and often we have to speak up and speak out.
What if a child can not do that? What if a child can not say or express what they want or feel?
In the same way that has happened to me this week, children might feel powerless and stifled. Some perhaps feel like this always. I am fortunate enough to be able to write and communicate in other ways (thank goodness for computers and phones that helped me in my silence).
I am also able to emotionally regulate my frustrations, knowing that I will regain my voice and be back in the land of verbal communication very soon. But what for our children who do not have a voice? Let us be aware that just like me, a child who can not make themself heard may well stay silent or express emotion.
I suspect that they may experience a lot of feelings ranging from anger, frustration, rage to low self esteem, hate, neglect and depression.
10 ways we can listen better
- notice children's behaviour and body language
- take time to sit, wait, listen and notice
- believe that they have communicative intent and are always telling us something in what they do and how they play
- take time to attune
- wait for them and give time for a sign, cue, vocalisation or clue
- ask.. "Are you feeling?..." or "Am I right in thinking that you...?" and suggest what they might be feeling or thinking or saying
- provide tools and strategies for the child to be heard and consulted
- use signs, picture cues and other resources that you work out together until you find something that works
- use consultation techniques to really hear what children have to say and ask children their opinions and thoughts about things
- find alternative and creative ways to listen to children without the use of words
My lost voice this week helped me to reflect and empathise with young children but I will be glad when it is back and I can have a conversation again. Let us take time and effort to give children a voice and let us hear them in the way they communicate. The more we give time, sit with them, look and attune, the more we will know what they have to say and hear them in the language that they choose.
Further reading and resources
- Listening to young children by Northamptonshire County Council
- Listening as a way of life by the National Children's Bureau (2004)
- Let's talk about listening to children by Education Scotland (2006)
- Listening as a way of life (listening to young disabled children) by the National Children's Bureau (2011)
- Mosaic approach by Pupil Voice Wales
- Say your piece article in Nursery World by Alison Clark (2001)
- For more information check out the pedagogic resources section in the members' area on our website
Cathy Gunning loves working to enhance and support children's wellbeing and early play in quality enriching learning environments. She works part time for Early Education as well as being a part time nursery teacher and stay-at-home mum. She has previously been a primary teacher, early years coordinator and day nursery manager. Her pedagogy was nurtured and inspired during her time as an early years advisory teacher and whilst studying for a masters degree in early years. Most recently she was a nursery school headteacher where she developed and led an integrated centre for over 10 years. As a reflective practitioner and leader she enjoys continually learning about effective pedagogy in early education and refining her own.
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