Thursday, April 22, 2010

Children Should Be Heard . . .

I was pondering childhood this morning. Just kind of wandering down memory lane (which is a little like finding your way through the scary woods in the Wizard of Oz). I thought about how my parents parented me, and about the adults in my life in general, the attitude their generation had toward children.

One of the big sayings then was, "children should be seen and not heard." Like, ever?

You mean when my big brother is "playing" with me, say, throwing darts at me, you want me to just stay meek and well-mannered? Or, say kids at school are calling me really nasty names, spitting at me, putting gum on my seat - then? Should I be "seen and not heard" then, too?

I know I'm not the only casualty of this "method" of parenting. In fact, I know that both my parents thought that was the appropriate way to raise children. Isn't that how their mother and father raised them? I'm not saying they weren't loving. And, I think my generation has swung WAY the other way in compensating. We tend to treat our children like little kings and queens, and have a real problem with young adults that have no boundaries, no discipline, and no respect for anyone. There's a difference between respecting a child and giving him or her everything they want. That's a whole 'nother discussion.

I just think that we need to treat our children - all of them - as people. To respect their individuality, try to help them discover who they were made to be - do they love art? Do they love words, music, football? All of the above?

Again, I don't mean let's haul them all over creation in clubs and all sorts of after-school junk. There's a balance here. And really, while it's important to help them uncover their talents, it's even more important to give them that sense of belonging here. To give them that sense of mattering that all of us need so desperately.

That's something anyone can give a child, by the way. That favorite teacher you remember? What is it that makes him or her so memorable? I'll tell you why I still remember Mrs. Israel, my third grade teacher (and I will NOT tell you how long ago that was). She paid attention to me. When she talked to me, it was to me, not to one of her students. She wasn't especially "nice" or "sweet", in fact, she was kind of abrupt and direct, but she so obviously thought of us little third graders as small people. As individuals with opinions and dreams and lives of our own. And we mattered to her. It was so unusual that she stands out sharply in the sea of adults that surrounded my childhood.

I've had little kids who've met me one time (like on a field trip) come up to me the following year, remember my name, and say hi. One little girl who rode my son's bus last year actually wrote me a little note:

Hey folks, all I did was say good morning to her at the bus every day and I get this awesome note! Whose little life can you impact today? It doesn't take much...

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