**This week’s edition contains a lot of information that I deem necessary, so I’ve decided to skip recommendations. Recommendations will be back next week, but in the meantime, please take a few minutes to fill in the survey I created!

If you’ve ever been around children who are learning to communicate verbally, you may have noticed just how sad, frustrated and utterly disappointed they are if they say a word out loud that you don’t understand. With Lorenzo, I usually try to repeat out loud what I’m hearing. Balato, balato, I said the other day. Ballato means “danced” in Italian, it was the closest word I could guess from what Lorenzo was saying, so I asked whether he wanted to dance or had danced.

No, no, he shook his head emphatically. I asked whether he could show me what he was saying. He picked up his plastic glass, threw water on himself and repeated: balato, balato. Now I got it. Bagnato, I screamed! Wet! He was delighted, and so was I. I apologised for not having understood earlier and congratulated him on how well he helped me understand.

The frustration in not getting one’s message across is evident from studies done with children with speech impairment who often associate negative feelings with talking.

I started thinking about frustrating communication last week when I was doing my homework for the Entrepreneurial Journalism Creators Program. One of our recommended readings was Made to Stick: Why some ideas survive and others die, a book by Chip Heath and Dan Heath about sending your message across.

In the introduction, the Heath Brothers refer to a 1990 study by Elizabeth Newton, a Stanford University graduate student in psychology, who created a game: she divided people into tappers and listeners. She asked tappers to pick a well-known song, such as “Happy Birthday,” and tap out the rhythm on a table. Listeners had to guess the song. Newton observed that listeners guessed only three of the 120 songs tapped out, a low 2.5%. What’s surprising is that tappers had predicted that listeners had 50% chances of figuring out the song. As the Heath Brothers write: “The tappers got their message across one time in 40, but they thought they would get it across one time in two. Why? When a tapper taps, she is hearing the song in her head. Go ahead and try it for yourself – tap out ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’ It’s impossible to avoid hearing the tune in your head.”

The Heath Brothers refer to this as the Curse of Knowledge: tappers know the song’s name. “When they’re tapping, they can’t imagine what it’s like for the listeners to hear isolated taps rather than a song.”

The idea is that if you know something, it’s very hard, sometimes impossible, to put it across to the rest of the world just like you’re hearing it inside you: with the same clarity and urgency. Of course, the process is more complex for those who have a speech impairment or communicate non-verbally unless there are ways to establish ground rules for communication.

These reflections are beneficial in my roles as a mother of a toddler and as a writer. I spend days trying to give life to ideas deep down in my head and attempting to grasp what’s happening in my child’s inner world.

As I continue setting some ground rules with Lorenzo (for example, if he’s very excited, ask for a hug or jump instead of biting), I want to do the same with this newsletter. I want to make sure I am not simply tapping away my tune without having you, my community of readers, listening along.

So, here are some of the driving principles of my work, which I will also highlight separately on the website and update as we continue on this journey. Please let me know your thoughts below this piece, and let’s see whether we’re tapping the same tune!

  1. Children are a third of the world’s population, yet their views are not taken into account by policymakers or journalists. By bringing to the forefront the importance of childhood, I want to drive attitude and policy changes. The United Nations deems all under-18s children. I will try and problematise the use of the word children to refer to such a vast and varied age group. But in the meantime, I will focus on all under-18s who don’t usually have a voice in our societies.
  2. One hundred invested readers know more than me, one journalist. Among you, we have parents and other carers, teachers, early childhood educators, social workers, paediatricians – and every single one of you was a child once. You, with your lived experience, are also an expert. When I feel stuck, I’ll reach out and ask for your help because I trust and value your insights and experiences. And, of course, this trust will go both ways – if I make a mistake, I will own up to it and explain what went wrong. That way, we all learn from my mistakes. 😉
  3. You, my reader, are smart. I would probably have fun hanging out with you, as I do during our monthly chats with founding members. I won’t dumb things down or give you black and white advice. I will ask questions and lead you through my research, and share my insights as I go along.
  4. I try to focus on carers, not only parents. The words mother and father have many more facets than what Hollywood films tend to show. In many countries worldwide, grandparents, older siblings or other relatives are the primary caregivers for children. I want to recognise all carers in my work.
  5. I want to understand what we can learn from kids. I believe we need to kneel down to see the world from the 95-cm perspective, listening to them properly without patronising. Yet, I don’t think kids can solve all of our problems: they are kids, after all, and we can’t ask them to give us answers to everything. But I do believe there is an instinctual sense of humanity that we can relearn by watching them.
  6. Just like our brains start forming weeks after our conception and reach up to 80% of their adult size by the time we turn two years old, I view the first 1,000 days as a continuum. We can’t write about children without considering their birth or gestation and how their conception came about. There are no children without those who conceived and carried them, and I want to make that evident.
  7. My words and ideas come from my privilege as an able-bodied cishet middle-class European woman. I try to address this by engaging with a diversity of identities as much as possible, and I will start keeping a tab of the sources I use to be more accountable and share those regularly with you.
  8. I am a feminist, I believe in the right to choose how to self-identify and support transfeminism. This space will be antiracist, and I will try my best to question and dismantle colonial beliefs, learning about all the things I don’t know I don’t know.
  9. I count the first 1,000 days from conception, but this doesn’t make me opposed to the right to abortion. On the contrary, I believe the person carrying the pregnancy is the only one that can establish if the pregnancy is wanted or wished for and how to go about it. I support the movements that push for the legalisation of abortion worldwide because I believe we should protect and respect reproductive rights.
  10. This is not a parenting column. I don’t give advice because I don’t believe in parenting advice. I believe in information that can help us as parents and adults make better choices, informed by what children need.
  11. I will try as often as possible to tune into what children have to say and what they need. I don’t like to interview children unless necessary, but I try to draw information from personal anecdotes and studies. I will not use images of children unless I find them absolutely relevant.
  12. I am a mother, but I don’t share pictures of my son. I will only share information relevant to my work that will not leave him exposed later in life (as far as I can see now). I will do that with other children too.
  13. I am not a trained scientist. Whenever I refer to research, I will try my best to talk to those who can give me insight and help me understand better, and I will provide as much context as possible to show the research’s reach and limits.
  14. Play is a fundamental element of how we grow into the adults we are. This newsletter is a space for me to experiment and have fun along with my community. If I feel stuck, I’ll try again by playing.
  15. This is an ad-free, member-funded platform. I will be transparent about the money it takes to run it and the number of funders supporting it. I am preparing that information and will share it in an upcoming newsletter.
  16. I want to acknowledge that being an entrepreneurial journalist running my own business is not easy. There are many low moments and worries about my family’s financial stability. My calls-to-action to help me grow this community are not meant to trigger guilt or to annoy you. I do really need your support. So if you care about my work, please bear with my messages, and help when you can. Although I can’t make my stories freely available to all, at least not for now, I am happy to invite you to the community if you can’t afford to pay. Just drop me a line.

Before I go, I’d also love to hear what *you* have to say. I’ve set up a survey to understand how I can serve you better and what stories you would like me to cover. There are no compulsory questions, so it won’t take you too long. Here’s the link! I can’t wait for your answers!

With love and care,
Irene

📣 Imogen Champagne, a member of this community, edited and improved this newsletter with lots of love, logging in from Bega, Australia. Thanks, Imogen! (If there are mistakes, they are my fault, not hers!)

This is not a space to simply comment. This is where you take part in the community.

2 thoughts on “Tapping the same tune (Or: the principles behind my work and how you can help me)

  1. Hello, Irene!
    I finally had some time to sit and delve into one of your articles today! It felt so nice to be able to do that again. Life has been pretty busy, but I wanted to just add something that I found really puzzling to me when I was researching what we know about menstruation, menopause, and other female reproductive bodily processes. To say the least, it’s very little, and this made me wonder about why so little is known about female bodies–when male bodies have been studied quite a bit.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately with the stories coming out about how vaccines weren’t tested as much on women for COVID, for instance; so, we have less data on how it affects us. And THIS got me to thinking about how our current societal norms might be affecting young girls and young women–to know that for some reason they are “less than” important than their male counterparts. And it really frustrated me.

    Then there’s the whole recent debate on trans women in sports, which also really frustrates me. If you see yourself as a girl, you should be treated like a girl–be allowed to play girl sports, etc. And vice-versa for trans men. We have a real hang up on gender identity in our global communities, and while I understand that a lot of that stems from a patriarchal religious system into which many of us are born, I feel like we shouldn’t be putting so much emphasis on gender roles and gendering overall. And when I see studies that talk about “male” emotions or “male” responses to things vs. “female” ones, I get a little frustrated, too. Certainly there is some chemistry there that differentiates us, but shouldn’t we be focusing on what makes us alike rather than different?

    So dual frustrations there–disliking that there’s so little information on female bodily processes, and then disliking all the gender stereotyping when it comes to studies. But there’s obviously a difference in how our body processes work–still every body is different in its own unique way. I guess I just get tired of people being treated badly for their gender and feel that it shouldn’t matter if its a biological or chemical or genetic trait or a choice. Being and feeling good about yourself should be something that we strive for–for everyone. And maybe that gets back to your own thoughts about “norms”–and conveying ideas.

    We consider something normal or abnormal–when maybe it’s just simply something that’s not really understood, like language or ideas.

    Also, one last thing–I have always felt that people who have had children tend to be more confident or self-assured than people like myself. I often feel like I’m still twelve–laughing at fart jokes and loving stickers and just running or singing or jumping around for no reason at all. I feel like I probably should have grown up by now, but I also feel like some of that “confidence” I recognize in parents may come from having the responsibility of having to raise and nurture another human being. Perhaps it forces some biological or chemical processes that help in that regard. Parents always seem more able to step in when situations are happening and assert authority. It’s really amazing to see it when it happens, and for me to wonder why they just seem better at it. Have you noticed that in yourself or others? Am I just projecting, do you think? Anyway…something that I noticed and wanted to share with you.

    I guess that’s all for now, but I’ll go take the survey and hope I get more time like this when your next article arrives!

    Take care!

    1. Dear Jenni!
      So good to read your thoughts here, and sorry for taking some time to reply.
      I feel just as you do when it comes to the dual frustration of not having enough of a focus on sex-specific research on women’s bodies** while at the same time not allowing for space for elements that are out of the norm, like transgender athletes.
      I hope to get to write more about that at some point, so thanks for resurfacing it for me.
      As for the idea of confidence for parents with children… what an interesting subject to think about! I certainly don’t feel more confident, and -especially in the first months after giving birth- I was always worried I would show up to a meeting with a dirty blouse (babies make everything dirty!). But I will think about it more, it’s fascinating!
      I hope you’re well and “talk” soon again.
      Irene

      **If you’re interested in this, I highly recommend Invisible Women, a book by Caroline Criado Perez: https://bookshop.org/books/invisible-women-data-bias-in-a-world-designed-for-men-9781419729072/9781419729072

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