Many of us have grown up in an environment where children should be seen and not heard. There’s an expectation that children should just obey their parents without question. I understand the desire for parents to have their children blindly obey them. After all, we know better! We have their best interest in mind. So just do what I say “because I said so.”
But what if that’s not always the case? What if we try our hardest to give our children a voice? What does that look like? We don’t want to raise spoiled brats, but we do want to raise tiny humans who feel empowered and valued.
Lindsy Wallace, mother of five (through birth and adoption), works with at-risk families and youth in inner-city Miami, Fla. She advocates for children to be heard and it all begins in the home.
Be willing to listen to their feelings and affirm that their feelings matter, Lindsy says. “Giving your child a voice means respecting who they are as a person. If you think of your child’s behavior like a tree, giving them a voice allows us to see the root system of the tree. If all we do is address the behavior, we can chop off some branches by sending them to time out or threatening to take away their iPad, but those branches will continue to grow back until the root—the feelings—are tended to.”
Many times parents expect their kids to listen because “we said so,” but in reality that drives our kids farther from us.
One of my kids is a highly emotional child. He’s stubborn and wants to know the reason behind everything. It can be frustrating for me to always have to stop and explain my reasonings and listen to his viewpoint on things. There are definitely times when I have to stop him in his tracks and let him know he needs to obey me because I’m his mom. But more often than not I want to hear him out. There have been times when he has brought up valid points and I feel I should consider his thoughts and opinions. Just because he’s 4 years old doesn’t mean his opinion doesn’t matter.
Lindsy goes on to explain, “Giving our kids a voice also means giving them a choice. When our family doubled from two to four kids overnight via foster care, I was keenly aware of the fact that I needed to say ‘Yes’ as much as possible to make up for the many years of ‘No’ my foster sons heard and felt. I realized most of the No’s I was dishing out could actually be Yes’s. Some people think this makes for push-over parenting but I would argue my kids know I say yes as often as I can, so when I do have to say no, they know I really mean it and there is much less arguing. They also know I value and respect them as people, which hopefully leads to them feeling cared for and loved. When we as humans know we are cared for and loved, we are much more likely to accept a decision or command we are not happy with.”
I would agree with this point. I’ve noticed that when I give my kids a choice in what cup they get their juice in or what to eat for lunch or what shoes to wear that day, they are much more willing to obey when I give them a hard no. They understand that mommy wants to say yes and is willing to let them make their own decisions, but when mommy says no, it means no, and they need to respect that.
For young children, parents also need to model language to help their children have a voice. If your toddler throws a toy in frustration, instead of immediately punishing them it could be more helpful to say, “I think you are feeling mad. Did you throw the toy because you are mad?” When we give our children the words to properly express their feelings we are helping to give them a voice.
“For kids of all ages, it’s also important to explain our decisions to them. Many times parents expect their kids to listen because “we said so,” but in reality that drives our kids farther from us relationally. (That's) not what we want,” says Lindsy. This may sting a little and maybe it takes up more time than we would prefer, but that’s what parenting is all about. Good parenting takes time and effort.
At the end of the day, our children need to feel valued and respected. Just as we, as parents, need to feel valued and respected. When we model these behaviors and show our children respect, they will end up reciprocating. It’s a lifelong journey that starts when they are young and continues through the teen years and into adulthood.