by Lexx Brown-James
In many communities of color there is a belief that “children should be seen and not heard.” I recently met with a 7 year old girl who turned this idea around with me. When I asked her about those who loved her she replied “Grandpa.” She proceeded to tell me how sick he was and that she was mad at her family members for not obeying his rules. She then told me how much she enjoyed pushing his wheel chair.
Then something unexpected happened. She looked up from her picture of a princess with eyes glazed with tears and said “I really miss him, it’s like I want to cry, but Ms. Lexx, the tears won’t come.” And with the quickness of a healthy 7 year old she was back to coloring, and I’m left impressed, astonished and saddened by the weight this vibrant child is holding that no one is paying attention to.
Yes, it could be that her family is grieving, but it is important to realize the impact on our little ones. They hear, see, and learn far more everyday then we as adults do and it gets covered up in Spongebob, Barbie, not wanting to eat vegetables or go to bed. But underneath their Spiderman or Disney princess pajamas these babes have feelings that need to be validated, explored, and most importantly expressed. The silent children, who are taught to be seen and not heard, learn to be adults who are seen and not heard. They learn the value of visualization versus communication and then end up not able to comprehend or express their own emotions.
Another great quote, “it takes village to raise a child” is true. But I have learned that someone in that village needs to be just for hearing the child. A person who is just there to listen, maybe it’s that grandparent or older adult, because they have learned the patience and appreciation over a lifetime. But nevertheless the person is there.
It saddens me to think about all the adults who never had a person take interest in their thoughts and feelings growing up and makes me even more determined when I think of those children of today who are invalidated and branded with diagnostic labels like ADHD or Oppositional Defiant Disorder. So many times we as people are told to just stop and listen. We all have heard that you learn more with your ears open and your mouths shut, but how often to do we apply that to our children?
As an aunt of 11, I am making it a personal mission to reach out more than on just on birthdays and holidays to the little ones in my life – to see how/what they are feeling, and most importantly to show them how much I love them just by listening.