On April 20, the National Child Month Committee launched its theme and program for May, Child’s month. The theme this year is: “Listen Up ! Children’s Voice Matter. Given a common maxim in Jamaica, “children must be seen and not heard,” that some parents, teachers and other adults use to measure a child’s behaviour, this theme is relevant and timely.
Some adults still do not understand the potential danger of silencing a child. All too often a silent child is deemed to be well-behaved. However, this is a very dangerous precedent as it implies that a child has nothing to say, certainly nothing worth hearing. If a child is not allowed to speak and express herself or himself, the emotional and psychological implications are far and wide. It could result in the child being afraid or reluctant to tell their parents if they are abused or harassed or bullied. While a few children are just naturally quiet, most children are expressive as that is how they learn and engage with their environment.
Hence the theme, Listen Up ! Children’s Voice Matter is a warning to all of us, parents and non-parent or guardians alike, to listen to the children and know what their hopes, fear, and aspirations are. Adults need to take a backseat sometimes and just listen. To our children and learn what their views are about development and what Jamaica should look like in the next 20 or 50 years, after all they will be the ones to live in it. The theme is also a warning for us to re-examine the implicit and explicit message we send our children that “adults are always right and children are liars.” This prevalent belief further shuts down children and makes them even more vulnerable to negative and predatory adults. While parents are expected to know what is best for their child, it is still important that the child’s feelings and sensibilities are taken into account. I invite all parents to grant their children the opportunity to share their feelings and ideas, and one way that educators and psychologists will agree is to use the creative arts as expression, poetry, drama, drawing, and any other medium.
We are better informed and are better able to help our children cope with whatever situations they encounter if they know they are being listened to and you the parent is interested in hearing what they have to say. It is vitally important that Children are Seen and Heard, which is why, when COVID and the lock-in began I immediately send around a call, asking parents to encourage their children to write and draw about how they were feeling and share. Even though most schools have resumed face-to-face, the threat of COIVD still lingers, and just like us adults children are trying to make sense of the major interruption of their lives in the last two years.
Parents and caregivers should not believe that if they take care of a child’s basic needs, then the child will not be stressed or need a space to communicate their feelings. Wrong. No matter how effective we try to hide and shelter our children, they know and are impacted when we are stressed and with whatever else is going on in the world. They hear and are often impacted more than we think.
Heaven, Age 8
In 2004 and 2015, a study done by Hyson and Kostelnik revealed that “Children’s social and emotional health affects their overall development and learning. Children who are mentally healthy tend to be happier, show greater motivation to learn, have a more positive attitude toward school, more eagerly participate in-class activities, and demonstrate higher academic performance…(Hyson 2004; Kostelnik et al. 2015).” If this is not your child, then you need to pause and learn what your child is thinking and feeling.
The more opportunities we give our children to express themselves, and tune into what they are saying without telling them to be quiet or shut up, the more informed we are and better able to help them cope with these times and process what is happening around them
For younger children under 10 years old, Justina Goh, a parenting writer, recommends 5 Ways parents can “Help Children Identify and Express their Emotions:”
1.Name the feeling 2. Talk about how feelings can be expressed 3. Offer a deep nurturing connection 4. Resist the urge to punish 5. Praise and practice – often!
While Listening and communicating with young children can be challenging given the numerous questions and whys why is the moon round? why is covid a pandemic? why am I a girl? Why is it a constant, and a vital part of their learning process? But we must be mindful too that communicating with our teens and providing non-judgemental space for them to talk about their Feelings really begin with us and requires practice and patience.
Covid 19 Pandemic provided parents and children with the unprecedented opportunity to be under the same roof 24/7 for almost 2 years. For some, it resulted in more spent quality time, especially if space and resources were not a factor, but for others, this shut-in period has been very challenging in numerous ways as both parent and child have been forced into an excessive situation of being home together and no outlet for many parents were working from home and no outlet for many children were going to school online and parents having to juggle being teachers while also maintaining their working life.
What has this unprecedented time meant for our children? What sense are they making of covid-19? How is it altering how they will relate to others in the future? What fears and anxieties has it awakened? What is their sense of a future? We really won’t know the full impact until another five or ten years, but what we do know is that it has changed relationships and what we consider normal. As we move back into a new normal way of being, it is still imperative that we listen to our children. Having worked with children at every level of their educational process and taught poetry, creative dramatic and story-telling as vehicles of expression, I know from first-hand experience, as well as from research, that these mediums allow for the greatest creative expression and honest sharing so that parents/guardians can discern what’s going on with their children.
As parents, caregivers, and mindful adults we need not fear if we allow our children too many opportunities to express their feelings that it will come back to bite us, so to speak. Evidence suggests the converse; when adults treat children with respect and dignity and demonstrate that their feelings and ideas matter, children reciprocate with mutual respect and love. Allow our Children to be Seen and Heard and Reap the Rewards by helping to create a safe and healthy environment for all our children. These images and drawings below are expressions of our children and offer a glimpse of the impact of the pandemic on our children. Listen Up ! Children’s Voice Matter
by Courtney Greaves, Age 11
Education inna crisis!
Children a bawl,
a who fah fault?
Teacha’s a bawl,
a who fah fault?
Money gone missin’,
What a cocka-fault! Who really at fault?
Everything in a crisis.
School a lockdung
A nuh Covid fault.
Police inna crisis!
Hospital inna crisis!
The worl’ inna crisis!
WHO AT FAULT?!
A NUH COVID FAULT?
What a cocka-fault~
My Life in the COVID Crisis
Oren, 14 years old
Life is meant to be enjoyed wisely
And as humans we take care of each
COVID has impacted our lives
in the bad and good times
But we as a people put our effort
into making a change for a nation
We have suffered our own types
of pain during this challenge
God has had a plan for us to seek for answers
and when we work together as a nation
we can fix the problem.
How I feel about COVID19
Zaira, Age 10
I feel bad because we can’t go out or see family members often
and I can’t socialize with friends a lot. Corona makes me feel
terrible. Even worst – it’s hard to breathe in a face mask.
Corona is also a stress to me because going online is hard to do.
Corona affects me in many ways like I can’t go to face-to-face school.
We have to do many things like wear a mask, and social distance to 6 feet apart.
Avoid sharing, wash hands regularly. It is hard to not share when you are kind. Corona makes me feel scared especially when my Family has to go
to Face to Face work.
This is how I feel about COVID-19
Zamoya, Age 8
Unhappy and scared. It’s hard for me to breathe in the mask.
COVID-19 is a very bad virus. It is so bad I cannot play with my friends.
I am sad because I cannot go to face-face class.
We have to wear face mask, social distance, avoid sharing.
We must follow the protocols. I am scared because my mother
has to work at the office. I wish COVID would go away.
Covid-19 is a Bad Thing
Mehki, Age 8
Covid-19 is a bad thing!
If you get sick and can pay the expenses
you can live for a longer time.
I don’t feel like Covid-19 is a good thing to get
because you will get sick and maybe even die.
That’s why I put on my mask and wash my hands
I use the hand sanitiser when I am going out.
When I got Covid-19 I didn’t feel anything.
I thought I had a cold
One night I got too hot and then I had to take a shower
but it couldn’t be hot water because
that will make me more hotter and
I may could have died.
I use cold water instead to cool me down.
I feel fine now!
Shawn Paul, 18
Covid is a virus
that is dangerous for you.
You might catch a flu
and you might get a tummy ache
but the severity of this virus
could put you in a hole.
So always wear your mask
and keep sanitized
because the safety of your health
is the safety of all.
pictures by Zahra, Safayah, Mora, Skye, all Age 9
I encourage all parents to provide space and time for their children to express their feelings and ideas through the use of a creative medium, and look out for the launch of Breadfruit & Ackee and journal for Caribbean Children.
*A partial version of this article was published in The Daily Observer, Monday, May 30, 2020