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The Silent Child: Communication without words

Posted by:

24 January, 2013

Title: The Silent Child: Communication without words

Edited: Jeanne Magagna

Publisher: Karnac, 2012

Reviewer: James King, senior nurse practitioner, Care UK Eating Disorders Services

What was it like?

Jeanne Magagna illustrates beautifully the communication that begins between baby and mother in the first moments of life, and briefly leads us on a journey into how the baby and later the child uses communication to meet his or her needs. But what of the moment that parent and the professional becomes alarmed at the loss of verbal communication?


The “silent child” presents a considerable challenge for professionals working alongside them and indeed for the families that care for them. Offering insight into the world of the silent child as well as providing clinical advice from a number of leading experts in the field of somatic illness, this book is aimed at both parents and professionals alike.

It is hoped that this book can be a useful guide to both thinking about and working together with the silent child or young person. As much as anything, it strives to demonstrate that no child is truly silent if you pay close attention to the communication expressed without words.  

What were the highlights? 

While it always seems unfair to pick highlights in a book whose sum of its parts make for a wonderful whole, Bryan Lask’s examples of communication with a young person unable to talk are perfectly pitched, demonstrating the simple step-by-step approach that can be used in the most complex of cases.

Jo Guiney’ s chapter based on her experience of working as a therapeutic care worker with children and young people in various stages of withdrawal from life also makes crucial reading for the in-patient nurse (not to be confused with the inpatient nurse…).

Strengths & weaknesses:

As far as weakness is concerned, this is lengthy book for anyone looking for a quick reference guide to good communication. However, any reduction in length would do a disservice to a complex subject. The book is well indexed meaning that there is an option to navigate directly to the area that is of most interest to the reader.

The strength lays in its depth, its gentle voice and its inclusion of a parent and of almost all disciplines of professional that commonly work with this population. The notable absence of a chapter by a nurse is a shame (though the excellent chapter on “The creative group experience” is co-written by a nurse who now practises as a psychotherapist). However, the editor has been clear that she approached a number of nurses to contribute, but sadly none was able to commit.

Who should read it?

For the nursing professional, this could make useful reading in order to gain therapeutic tools working with children or young people that engage in wordless communication. This is a must for nurses working in child and adolescent mental health. I would also say that nurses could recommend it to parents whose child has become “silent”.


























































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