My daughter was a precocious little girl. She always wanted to participate, and being a single mom, she was afforded the opportunity. When together, she had my full attention. As such, I was in a unique position to see an amazing mind forming, as it struggled to grasp and understand the vast amount of information and input around her. Conversations became a time when I was asked to answer questions I’d long forgotten were important. Questions basic to our needs, interactions with others, about life in general. She still saw a beautiful, unmarred world where anything was possible and everyone was a potential friend. She wanted to experience everything and talk to everyone.
Whenever possible, in age appropriate settings, she did. She ordered her own meals and bought items like an ice cream cone. With me standing by her side, she’d take charge.
Often, when we were with others, it became obvious a child’s perspective was not only irrelevant, but unwanted. She was always polite and respectful, waiting quietly in line for her turn, yet without fail she was ignored. Others would be taken in front of her repeatedly. I’d start to speak up but she’d make it clear,
“Mommy, I can handle this.”
Undaunted she’d then assert herself as taught and say again,
“Excuse me, I was next.”
“Excuse me, please take my order.”
“Excuse me I’d like….”
But it was as though she didn’t exist.
Another time we were seated at a dining table with two sets of parents and each of their two kids. The other children were wrestling, playing video games in their seats, speaking loudly and whining when they had to eat something or stay put while their family finished eating. My daughter was eager to engage in conversation and be acknowledged. To her chagrin, it wasn’t to be. Throughout dinner the other kids were constantly acknowledged for their inappropriate and intrusive behavior. Time after time she was ignored and I was the only one spoken to.
Later she asked why no one cared what she thought. I had to explain that sometimes adults find it hard to speak to a child. Or sadly, just don’t think they have anything to say.
She crinkled up her eyebrows and thought for a few minutes, then looked me in the eyes and said,
“That’s silly, everyone has something to say, you just have to listen.”
From the mouth of babes.
I couldn’t help but wonder if, having been overlooked so often, kids realize early on that misbehaving, whining and acting out is what gets attention?
If we want our children to be respectful in how they express themselves then we need to be respectful in return.
We need to not only acknowledge their existence but encourage them to speak up on their own behalf in appropriate ways. How else will they learn?
The old adage:
Kids are meant to be seen, not heard.
Is long over.
Could any of us sit quietly for hours without being included? Yet we expect it of our kids all the time. I grew up in an era where I was considered insignificant until adulthood. In fact, my father ate later than his five offspring so he didn’t have to deal with his children’s antics after a long, hard day at work. Now we’re better at establishing family time, but how often is it more a power struggle over what to eat and how long they have to stay before rushing off to friends, the TV, computer, phone or video games?
If we want our youth to grow up understanding the boundaries of asserting their opinion and needs while honoring and respecting those around them, it has to begin when they’re young.
The next time a little one politely asks to be treated just like any other customer,
Wants to interact in a meaningful conversation with adults,
Be the one who says:
“Absolutely, what can I get for you?”
“I’d love to hear what you have to say.”
And mean it.
I think you’ll be surprised how this small opening brings a quieter, more thoughtful child to the foreground. You may also be surprised by the insight and perspective their innocent, less jaded minds can offer.