A Child’s Voice

Who remembers what it was like staying at their grandparents or other family members’ houses for the weekend or during the week when their parents were at work? Some of you probably hold very dear memories of them, where there’s lots of laughter, good food, a house full of cousins running in and out of doors, and the elders are sitting around telling stories about the “good old days.” While others, either have no memories worthy of sharing, or the stories are so far stretched from the good old days, that they prefer them to be unreachable. I can attest to both.

Quite often, my siblings and I stayed days with my maternal grandparents while my parents were working, and I can tell you right now that they had their own ways of doing things. They had very clear expectations of how they felt children should conduct themselves; and when they asked you to do something, you had better already be in the midst of moving as you were saying “yes ma’am or yes sir.” They were strict, and they subscribed to some very old school rules and ways when it came to raising children. Some were good and some weren’t. One in particular, that I remember clearly, yet never liked, was their motto, “children are to be seen and not heard.” That meant speak when spoken to, in the manner that you were taught to respond, and nothing else, and it didn’t matter if the grown ups were right or wrong, you better not utter a word that formed behind your lips. There was no room for any extra commentary, opinions, feelings, or anything else that may have been going on in your head. Now I’m not referring to being reprimanded for talking back to your parents because I do agree with teaching respect. I also believe that all that extra lip service when a child is in trouble for doing something wrong is disrespectful and grounds for a parent correcting that. Rather, I am talking about having absolutely No voice at all, or being able to express yourself. There was no room for that in their house, and I always felt like there was something wrong with shutting a child down like that. Some say that it doesn’t impact children at all, but I believe that it does, mostly because I was one of them.

woman placing duct tape on her mouth
photo by Maria Krisanova of Unsplash

The Questions: Now that I have my own children, I sometimes find myself critiquing and doing self checks to see if what I do impacts them negatively or positively. So here are some questions. How often do you talk to your child(ren)? Do you know what he or she is feeling or thinking about certain things like themselves, their friends, you, the things going on around them in the world, or school, and the possibility of a hopeful future? Does a child’s voice… your child’s voice matter, or are they meant to be seen and not heard?

If given the time to hear the responses to some of these questions, you may be surprised at the answers. An even better question to ask self would be, if they are not talking to you, then who are they talking to? Either one of a few of things are “possibly” happening if they are not talking to you: they are speaking to someone else they feel more comfortable with, (which could be good or bad, depending on who that individual is), they are not talking at all and trying to figure things out on their own, the best way that they can, based on what they see and hear from others, or they are not talking at all and are internalizing everything that they see, feel, hear, and think, which can also have unpredictable outcomes. Either way, at some point, there will be some effects to muting or disregarding a child’s voice, and the chances that they will not be positive are there in wait.

So why is this such an issue? I believe the issue may be that some of us, as adults, do not know how to communicate and express ourselves effectively, so how can we completely do the same with our children. Go back for a moment and think about how you were brought up. How did your parents talk to you and vice versa? Were you able to confide in them, and if not, how did that make you feel? Who did you talk to? Do you think these things had an impact on you? Okay, now fast forward to today. How do you communicate in situations with other adults now? What about other people’s children versus your own? How do you respond when you have to discuss something uncomfortable or hurtful, and what about when you have to admit to a wrongdoing or address one? Those can all be some difficult things to explore depending on who you are, your background, and how you process and approach situations. Everything is not always as simple as it seems.

Now I know that those are a lot of questions to consider and meditate on, and you are probably commenting to yourself on some of them right now, but it All matters. Hopefully your voice mattered when you were younger, but if not, I am hear to tell you that it should have, and I invite you to encourage your children to have a voice as well.

Their Voices Are Important, And it is equally important that we learn how to communicate with them in a manner that shows that they matter, while still making sure that they respect the parent- child relationship. So how do we do that? In an article published by a company called Benestar, they assert that, “parent-child relationships are complex” and “communicating isn’t a straightforward process” because “Too often, miscommunications and misunderstandings occur because the message received wasn’t the message intended… Many parents feel disconnected and unable to communicate with their children, resulting in frustration and even heartbreak for both parties. It’s crucial for parents to consider whether their communications — both their words and their actions — support or harm their relationships with children. Apart from the written and spoken word, communication can be non-verbal and expressed using body language, touching and even eye contact through giving someone a “look”, whether that be a loving, angry, quizzical or even that crazed look we sometimes see on a parent’s face when they are at their wits’ end. The key thing is that each of these forms of communication results in sharing messages and meanings. Do you know how your children interpret your conversations with them?” (McAlpine, “Benestar”).

Now that was a lot to take in, but I like it, because I know that there are times when we say something to someone, and they take it completely different than we meant it or vice versa. Consider coming home from a really long and crappy day at work, (which I have experienced on more than one occasion), not wanting to be bothered at all but unintentionally take your frustrations out on whoever is around, either through attitude, speech or body language. I have definitely been guilty of doing that before, but I am imperfectly human and it happens. I think the problem shows up, when it becomes a damaging habit to those it is directed at, our children.

So back to the question posed prior to the information from the article, what do we do? How do we exercise positive communication with our children, and still maintain that parent-child respect level at the same time. I think that being aware is the first step in anything before you can consider ways to correct the issue.

One thing you will hear me say often is, there is no such thing as a “one size fits all” approach to parenting. You can always find some similarities and differences between people, however, what works for one, may not always work for another. Therefore, in my opinion, some practical tips to examine are always a good starting point.

I read a lot, and outside of what I have learned as a parent myself, or from other parents, organizations, and even children, (because remember, there are things that can be learned from “their voice” as well), there was always something beneficial that I could apply. I may not agree with everything that I have seen and read before, but life is like that, you pull from the things that serve you in great ways and the ones that don’t, you leave them where they are, because it may work for someone else. So I am going to post some of the tips that I found encouraging in this current article from Benestar, and you may find some of them useful as well. I will also attach the link for those who are interested in reading the full article.

Below are Tips from Dr. Rosina McAlpine’s (Benestar) article “How to Build a Healthy Parent-Child Bond Through Effective Communication”:  

– Focus your words and actions on proactively educating your children about what to say and do, rather than putting them down and labeling them

– To help your children develop good self-esteem,you can use your communications to create opportunities for your children to reflect on their own achievements and on their beliefs about themselves

– Help your child understand that communication is about an exchange, so there are times when they can speak and times when they need to listen. One of the main ingredients of good communication is active listening. Research shows, however, that most people are not good listeners. People want to be heard and understood and it is for this reason that active listeners tend to have more successful interpersonal relationships. Give your child opportunities to practise their listening skills. You can also practise your listening skills by asking your child if they feel they have enough opportunities to share with you what is going on in their lives and if they feel that you share openly what is going on in your life. Relationships are about open communication from both sides, so these kinds of activities help parents and children become closer.

– Instigate a short daily talk with your children to “catch up” and share what is happening in your life and theirs. This activity opens a regular communication channel between parents and their children, supports relationship building and trust and, most importantly, provides the opportunity for your child to share their concerns and for you to discover any difficulties before they become big problems. It’s best to simply listen rather than jump in to fix things or offer advice and solutions. Ask if they need help first and, if so, offer a variety of ideas they can choose from rather than provide “the” answer. This will help your child develop problem-solving skills for themselves and feel that it is OK to reach out for help without being “lectured to” or told what to do.  

– Invite them to observe a person’s body language and to learn to trust their instinct when they feel a person is not being truthful with them. By being truthful with your children you model trustworthy communications.  

– Help them identify the qualities they are looking for in a friend so they are more likely to attract and nurture supportive friendships. Helping children know what it means to be a good friend and to develop communication skills will help them make and keep the right kind of friends. Research shows that having even only one good friend can be a major support and can reduce the incidence of depression and suicide when times are tough and children need someone to lean on.

– Help your children manage and express their anger in a way that does not hurt others. Feeling anger is a normal and natural part of life. Things can go wrong and people can get angry! However, some people take their anger out on others and this can destroy relationships. Ask your children if they’ve noticed that when they’re angry they often say or do things they feel sorry about later. For example, when they’re angry they may say hurtful things to a friend or family member and then have to apologise when they calm down. Help your children understand that they are smarter when they are calmer because anger affects the mind. Using age-appropriate language, explain how the process works. When people get angry (adults and children), certain processes occur in the body: the heart rate goes up, blood pressure increases, body temperature rises and hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) enter the brain. Anger is associated with the fight, flight or freeze response to a situation when the person feels threatened. When that response kicks in, the part of your brain responsible for making decisions, the conscious brain (logic and sense-making), takes a backseat to the unconscious, primitive part of the brain responsible for reacting quickly to stress (running, freezing or fighting). It’s good to help your child remember that it’s their primitive brain functioning when they’re angry, so what comes out is usually not very smart! That’s why it is best not to act or speak when they’re angry except, of course, to get out of harm’s way. Help your child understand that it’s best to calm down before responding. That way they will have less to apologise for as they will be able to respond from the smarter “conscious” brain rather than the primitive “unconscious” brain.

To read the full article go to: https://benestar.com/articles/parent-child-bond-through-communication

My Final Thoughts: I think Dr. McAlpine is onto something in her strategies here. I hope you discover something beneficial between the things that I have relayed in this blog, and the research based information provided from Dr. McAlpine. Keeping in mind that each child is unique and that there is no “one size fits all approach to parenting” doesn’t it feel good to know that, even if you don’t agree with everything you hear, it is most definitely a plus to have something to reference from. Communication is important, and in that, we must be able to give our children a “Voice” while we maintain our own as we parent them. I know first-hand that Parenting can be just as challenging as it is rewarding, and that is why We Are “More Than a Parent” that continues to learn as we teach while raising our children. – All things done in love. Thank you for reading. I welcome you to please feel free to share your thoughts, experiences, or tips in the comments; and if you are interested in reading more, Please Like, Subscribe, Share, and don’t forget that You Are More Than A Parent.

~ Peace and Love,

Kiyoko D.

Featured photo by Chinh Le Duc of Unsplash https://unsplash.com/photos/TV1QYUtTxJ8


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