In everything we do, we teach our children lessons

Crying toddler boy wearing overallsWe all have experienced babies letting us know just exactly how they feel, about just about everything.

Empty tummy? How about I scream until you figure it out.

Food not to my liking? Of course, I’m going to spit it out!

Wet diaper? Yes, it may be 2am but I’d like a dry diaper…and I’d like it NOW.

Give me the wrong pacifier, toy, song, juice, blankie, book, spoon, teddy bear, cup…?

You bet I’m going to let you know.

But at some point kids stop speaking up. Have we taught them to be more tolerant, to wait for their needs to be filled, to have a more go-with-the-flow outlook? Or, and I fear this is more likely the correct answer, have we taught them adults aren’t listening?

I wrote about this yesterday. I told of a young child repeatedly asking his mother for something. She was busy and ignored his requests, until his requests became demands and her response became one of anger.

What I didn’t mention was that this 3 year old had an older sibling, a sister around 5 or 6 years old. She silently stood with her distracted mother and agitated brother even though, what he wanted was her toy. She could have added to the din, speaking up for what she wanted—to not have to give her dolly stroller to her little brother. But she didn’t. And I could sure see, that she wanted to.

She was listening to his request. She was doing all the things I was wishing the mom would do. She tried giving him something else. She tried explaining why he couldn’t have it. She looked appealingly up at her mom many times. But when, try as she might, she couldn’t establish eye contact with mom, the little girl didn’t say anything. Instead, she gave her brother her stroller. I hate to think she’d learned that she wouldn’t be listened to, that she’d come to realize that adults pretend not to hear children if, in that moment, they just can’t be bothered?

I was really struck by this. The little girl was resigned to the fact that mom wasn’t going to attend to their needs. But a deeper lesson is also here. She’d learned to not speak up for her own needs and wants. Somewhere between the age of 3 and 6, she’d made a shift. She’d entered this world, like all babies, without fear of letting everyone know exactly what she wanted. Six years later, she no longer spoke up.

Yikes. That’s not good. I want my kids to assert themselves. I don’t want them assuming they won’t be listened to. Even more, I don’t want them giving in, just because giving in will smooth things over. I want my kid,  when faced with a situation where giving in will please someone else but goes against their own desires or convictions, to stick up for what they want! I’m thinking here along the lines of:

You want to get me into your backseat with you and do what? No way!
Steal money from my mom’s wallet? Are you out of your mind?!
Share in the beer that’s being passed around the party? Not gonna happen.

Don’t get me wrong I totally get that this mom had just gotten off a 12 hour flight, traveling alone with two small children. I know nothing of her story and the challenges she’d faced on this day or in all the days of her life. My point is not to pass judgment on the mom, specifically, but on the practice in general. We’ve all seen a not so stressed out mom, busily texting or chatting with an adult, while her kids are falling apart around her. As a culture, we overindulge kids on one hand, but also treat them like 2nd class citizens. When was the last time you acted as if you simply didn’t hear another adult even though they were speaking plainly and standing right next to you?

Sure we all hate to listen to screaming, but if we listen more, I’m sure they’ll scream less.

Smile. Be happy. And listen to your kids. Everyone will be happier!
Ruth Kaiser, The Smiley Lady of Spontaneous Smiley.

Ruth Kaiser

Ruth Kaiser is a preschool teacher, TED Talk speaker, children's author, AND the creator of the popular online art project where thousands of people find, photograph and share Smiley Faces they find in everyday objects.

Note: This Perspectives Blog post is written by a guest blogger of The opinions expressed on this post do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Dr. Greene or, and as such we are not responsible for the accuracy of the information supplied. View the license for this post.

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