The child’s right to speak and be heard


Today is the end of National Children’s Week in Australia which celebrates the right of children to enjoy childhood. The theme this year is ‘The child’s right to speak and be heard’.

During the week I reflected on this as a parent and what the spirit of this means to our family.  I found myself asking the following questions.

  • What is the communication like in our family and with our kids?
  • Do our kids feel safe to talk about their problems and what is important to them?
  • Are we too quick to judge them without making an effort to really understand where they are coming from, what they are thinking?
  • Are we listening to our kids and giving them the chance to get things out?
  • Are we creating a caring, supportive and encouraging environment where it is safe to be vulnerable, to be open?

As Stephen Covey, an influential author and family expert commented:

“The deepest hunger of the human heart is to be understood, for understanding implicitly affirms, validates, recognises, and appreciates the intrinsic worth of another”

Stephen Covey also shared the following anonymous letter in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families which captures the essence of why it is so important to be understood.   He suggests you read it slowly and carefully, and attempt to visualise a safe setting where another person you care a lot about is really opening up.

Don’t be fooled by me. Don’t be fooled by the mask I wear. For I wear a mask. I wear a thousand masks-masks that I’m afraid to take off-and none of them is me. Pretending is an art that is second nature to me, but don’t be fooled.

I give the impression that I’m secure, that all is sunny and unruffled with me, within as well as without; that confidence is my name, and coolness is my game; that the waters are calm, and I’m in command and I need no one. But don’t believe it. Please don’t.

My surface may seem smooth, but my surface is my mask-my ever-varying and ever-concealing mask. Beneath lies no smugness, no coolness, no complacence. Beneath dwells the real me – in confusion, in fear, in loneliness. But I hide this; I don’t want anybody to know it. I panic at the thought of my weakness being exposed. That’s why I frantically create a mask to hide behind, a nonchalant sophisticated facade to help me pretend, to shield me from the glance that knows. But such a glance is precisely my salvation-my only salvation. And i know it. It’s the only thing that can liberate me from myself, from my own self-built prison walls, from the barriers I so painstakingly erect. But I don’t tell you this. I don’t dare. I’m afraid to.

I’m afraid your glance will not be followed by love and acceptance. I’m afraid that you’ll think less of me, that you’ll laugh, and that your laugh will kill me. I’m afraid that deep down inside I’m nothing, that I’m just no good, and that you’ll see and reject me. So I play the games-my desperate pretending games-with the facade of assurance on the outside and trembling child within. And so begins the parade of masks, the glittering but empty parade of masks. And my life becomes a front.

I idly chatter with you in the suave tones of surface talk. I tell you everything that’s really nothing-nothing of what’s crying within me. So when I’m going through my routine, don’t be fooled by what I’m saying. Please listen carefully and try to hear what I’m NOT saying…what I would like to be able to say….what for survival I need to say, but I can’t say. I dislike the hiding. Honestly I do. I dislike the superficial phony games I’m playing, I’d really like to be genuine.

I’d really like to be genuine, spontaneous, and me; but you have to help me. You have to help me by holding out your hand, even when that’s the last thing I seem to want or need. Each time you are kind and gentle and encouraging, each time you try to understand because you really care, my heart begins to grow wings-very small wings, very feeble wings, but wings. With your sensitivity and sympathy, and your power of understanding, I can make it. You can breathe life into me. It will not be easy for you. A long conviction of worthlessness builds strong walls. But love is stronger than strong walls, and therein lies my hope. Please try to beat down those walls with firm hands, with gentle hands, for a child is very sensitive, and I AM a child.

Who am I? you may wonder. I am someone you know very well. For I am every man, every woman, every child…….every human you meet.

Think about it: our children are tender, sensitive and vulnerable as they make a path in this world.  This is why it is important to create a loving and nurturing environment in the home. It is probably the most important thing you can do for your family.

So in the spirit of this year’s theme ‘The child’s right to speak and be heard’, I’m going to make it the year of communication in our family.  I’m going to commit to be a better listener and more observant. To listen to my children not just with my ears, but also with my mind, and heart.

What are you going to do to get behind this year’s theme?