Louder than words

This week I have had another strong lesson in listening to my kids. Actually, now that I come to think about it, I’ve had lots, but one in particular could have averted a lot of trauma if I had listened better, sooner.

Regular readers will know that our 3 year old suffers from silent reflux. Silent reflux is a remarkably strange beast. Yes, reflux is vomiting, but with silent reflux it doesn’t come out, just comes up the oesophagus, burns, and goes back down. It is very difficult to spot in small children, even once you are familiar with it and looking out for it. There are no obvious, clear symptoms. What happens to our 3 year old is that she becomes progressively crankier. Her sleep deteriorates. She is quicker to tantrum, more easily frustrated, becomes clingier and even more shy than usual, and is generally out of sorts. Particularly as it’s a gradual process, this can be really difficult to pinpoint. There might be a little more burping or hiccuping than usual, but it’s generally not a dramatic change.

The causes of reflux are legion, but in our case, it’s usually one of her trigger foods (of which there are many, and I suspect we haven’t identified them all), or a cold.  Of course, sick kids, or convalescent kids, are often quite out of sorts, so where the cold ends and reflux begins can be difficult to spot, particularly when we had come to the erroneous but terribly beguiling conclusion that the reflux was under control.

So this has been going on for about two weeks after the end of the cold – since she stopped coughing and sneezing. I have lost count of the number of people who told me during that time that it was age related, it was a phase, she was testing boundaries, etc etc etc ad nauseam. I knew she was not herself. I knew there was something wrong. I thought it was the cold and would correct itself, and I thought that when she said “I’m terribly sick” in an affected tone of voice (truly, she all but put the back of her hand to her forehead and swooned) she was acting out her experience of having been sick.

When it finally dawned on me that colds can trigger reflux, and I watched her closely, I realised that she was, indeed, refluxing, and that we needed to increase her dose of reflux medication. Although it takes a few days to work fully and we only started last night, she is already much closer to her usual self, and I am beating myself over the head with the nearest kitchen utensil. (Fortunately it is a teatowel – could have been ugly!)

My poor little girl was telling me what the problem was in every way she could, and I wasn’t getting it. It’s so easy to forget to truly listen to your kids. This morning I got into a stand up fight with my 7 year old because she insisted it was a free dress day at school and I insisted the school would have sent a notice home if it was free dress. She was right.

We are not, as a society, very good at listening. Thursday was Close the Gap day, and in researching the subject to organise activities at our school, I discovered that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders know how to close the gap. (The gap in health and life expectancy between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and other Aussies – in short, 17 years less life expectancy! Babies 3 times more likely to die before they’re 1. Dying from simple, treatable things like diarrhoea. You get the picture.) They have solved the problem. Or at least come up with solutions that have been shown to work. But the government isn’t listening, intent instead on imposing its own will.

The solutions they have come up with involve self determination – training to become health professionals, setting up their own clinics, engaging with their own communities. But they need government support to make it a reality. (Want to help? Sign the pledge to Close the Gap.)

So why doesn’t the government want to listen? Why do we struggle so much with the idea of self determination? For communities. For children. For the disempowered anywhere. I wonder if it comes back to the same root cause. I have the power, and I am afraid of what will happen if I give it up. Yet everywhere we look we find wonderful results coming from a foundation of self determination.

Listening makes so many problems disappear. A wise friend recently pointed out that when it comes to dealing with defiance, you can dig your heels in and lay down the law, or you can take a deep breath and explore the reasons behind it – frequently making the problem go away in the process. There are very few situations that can’t be improved by a little active listening and constructive problem solving.

Let’s change the world one problem at a time. Let’s slow down and listen. To our children, our friends, and our communities. Imagine what we could achieve!

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