How do we help children learn to feel safe speaking their truth, even in front of others who may feel differently? Developing a strong voice is especially important for girls. Studies show that by middle school, they will speak out less in class than boys and are at greater risk for self-harm and other aspects of emotional dysregulation. Girl Scouts of the USA has created a major initiative to support girls’ mental health. However, encouraging children to find and believe what they have to say matters is important for every child.
This week one courageous four-year-old girl raised her hand when the subject of transitioning to kindergarten in the new school year came up in the Room 1 circle. In response to others expressing excitement moving to the next level, she said, “I’m nervous about going to kindergarten because I remember I was nervous about coming to Room 1.”
It’s often hard for children at any age to admit feelings of vulnerability in front of a group, and I was amazed at the little girl’s confidence to give voice to difficult emotions in front of her peers. There must be adults in her life, including teachers, who have listened to her without dismissing her perceptions by saying things like “There’s nothing to be nervous about, kindergarten is fun.”
When children are brave enough to admit their anxieties about making the transition from preschool, it always makes it possible for others to do so and to have misperceptions corrected. “I will have to be able to read.” “I won’t have any friends.”
Recently, in a like manner, a quiet elementary school girl was brave enough to tell adults when she felt intimidated by the roughness of a classmate. It was hard for her, but people took her words seriously. Teachers at our school encourage children to learn ways to communicate boundaries and call for help when they need it.
Here are some ways to give children a voice:
Stop and look at them when they talk about sensitive issues.
Give them positive recognition for speaking up. At our school, teachers pay attention to the need for quiet children to find safe ways to have a voice in class discussions.
Create a regular talking time to discuss sensitive issues.
Listen without problem solving.
Talk about times when you speak up even though it is hard for you.
This article on the Parents website suggests “8 Little Ways to Get Children to Speak Their Minds.”
This article from CNBC lists seven phrases “never used” by “parents who raise mentally strong kids” (including some that might surprise you).