Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Why children should be seen AND heard - Practical Parenting

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Sometimes I wish my mouth had a backspace button. I’d certainly (and frequently) use it to undo all the things I wish I hadn’t said. In fact, I think it would be great if we all had this ability. But I especially wish whoever coined the phrase “Children should be seen and not heard” could delete these words from the universe. For I think this phrase has robbed humanity of the beauty and wonderment children bring to our world.

Now, I’ve not actually heard anyone say that exact phrase lately but it seems clear to me that our society accepts this idea as an unspoken rule of thumb. How do I know? Because airline companies are introducing child-free flights and coffee shops post signs that read “Unaccompanied children will be served espresso and a puppy”. This clever tongue-in-cheek phrase is witty but it clearly communicates one important thing; children are not welcomed here.

Why? Because they are loud or don’t follow the same social cues as you? Or perhaps it’s because they speak their mind loudly and are endlessly curious? Of course they are. They are children. Isn’t it beautiful?

I think that children have a lot more to contribute than we give them space and time for. Instead we get so hung up on our own rights that we often miss the simple childlike beauty right in front of our eyes. And besides, children have rights as well. They have a right to be heard. And, yes, you have a right to read the paper in peace. So what are we to do?

Imagine with me though, what would happen if we began to live as if children were valuable instead of a nuisance? What if mothers could incorporate their children into the shopping trip instead of dragging them along? What if we included children, in an age appropriate way of course, into our conversations instead of hushing them? What if children were engaged in the family’s life instead of being treated like an inconvenience?

Would children be better behaved if they felt heard and included? And if yes, wouldn’t parents find it easier to discipline?

I’m not sure but I do know that children know when they are liked. My children know when I am engaged and listening and when I am faking interest. If I’m involved in our conversation they share things, important things, with me. If I’m not they don’t.

It’s the same with us. Do you know what it’s like to be in a group that accepts you and welcomes your input? You’re freer to share, free to be yourself and you feel safe. Conversely have you ever been in a group or situation where you feel your contribution is annoying or you feel patronized?

Kids get that too. They know if they are welcomed or not. They may not be able to articulate it, but they can certainly discern whether their presence is agreeable to you. They know if you’re interested in their day, their friends or that big game. Children who feel accepted will have a greater sense of self confidence and they will be free to be their most genuine self. In addition, they will feel more compelled to be agreeable towards a parent, teacher or grownup who cherishes them as opposed to tolerates them. 

So this could be in our favor adults. If we would commit to allowing children to express themselves in a manner that seems right to them, provided it isn’t truly hurting anyone else, we might find that the old adage is untrue. Children should be seen and heard.

Would it be such a bad thing if we heard more laughter? Really? Imagine a society that invites children to dialogue and wonder and imagine; parents who played games when waiting in line instead of bribing silence with candy and grandparents who turned off the T.V. and entertained us with stories about the good days. What if our teachers let kids process answers even if that means they are wrong at first? What if we looked our kids in the eye when they spoke to us? What if we treated children like we want to be treated? What would we hear? And would it really be so terrible? I think it would be wonderful. Why? Because I’m the mom and I said so! That’s why!

This article appears in the Monmouth Daily Review Atlas as a part of a weekly Practical Parenting series. Stephanie is a mother to 5 children and is a Parent Educator for the Monmouth-Roseville School District. She blogs at and can be reached at It should be noted that she tries to take her own advice.

1 comment:

  1. I really liked your article, and especially your closing paragraph. Back in the days when I was a waitress, I'd watch parents negotiate silence from their kids, or ignore them as they had hour-long conversations and then seemed baffled when their kids had a meltdown. Its easy to get caught up in the rush-rush-gotta-check-off-my-to-do-list, and kids definitely slow down the process. But you're right, they deserve respect and patience. Things would be much smoother and more fun if we engaged them instead of silencing them. Thanks for reminding me to slow down and enjoy those moments of potential fun with my kid.


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