Written by Aisha, United Nations Volunteer
We all want to get close to and know what children are thinking. Sometimes, it’s easy. Other times? It’s rocket science! Some children are natural talkers, they could go on and on endlessly while others are more closed-off. That, my friends, is where the real work lies. Getting them to that sweet spot where they aren’t afraid to open up to us about anything. It’s simply magical.
As adults, we tend to feel like we’re carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders. So much so that we often forget children are atlases as well. The world has changed; things are not as safe, simple, or easy as they used to be. Just as we feel the effects of the world evolving around us - kids feel it too. Children don’t feel safe in school anymore because of mass school shootings. Preteens and teens are growing up quicker in a world they’re not ready for and they often feel confused. Mental health has deteriorated. Drug companies are finding that they are prescribing medication for kids younger and younger in age as the years go by. How do we get this often-misunderstood demographic to open up to us?
Show Them How
Just like the saying goes, if we want to see into their minds, we’ll have to let them in first. We can show them that we don’t always have things figured out. It’s okay to not be okay. Unlike us, children don’t have the mental capacity to process or understand the thoughts in their heads with the complexity that adults can. However, we can teach them how to process their emotions in healthy ways whether it be through avenues such as art therapy or through simply talking it out in a judgment-free zone at dinner time.
Enable Honest Conversations
We can get them to be their raw selves around us by enabling honest conversations in the home, school, and community. These spaces should be free from judgment and immersed in thoughtful questions that would probe them to open up. Kids are listeners and, especially, observers. They learn by watching. Practicing a culture of honesty and openness regardless of the situation can encourage get them to let their guard down.
Let Kids be Kids
This is something I feel very strongly about and I never fail to mention this sentiment to anyone that’s in constant contact with kids. I saw a tweet recently about how children are an oppressed class and we often treat them as one. I felt that. We try to project our unfilled dreams and expectations on them while forgetting they’re also trying to figure this ‘life thing’ out as well - but at a much slower pace. It is tantamount we are kind to them, in words, actions and expectations.
Be Their Safe Space
As adults, we need to be their safe space in this changing world. When we show children, they can always run to us with whatever worries they have and make it a no-judgment zone, only then would they be able to be really and truly honest with us. Let them ask as many uncomfortable questions as they want. Do not shut them or their imaginations down. They’re at the curious stage where they just have to have answers to everything. If we don’t provide them with the answers, they might search for these answers in unfulfilling - even harmful - places.
Patience is key when it comes to children. We can get overwhelmed by the seemingly endless barrage of questions but we were once like them. Reminiscing on our childhood, what did we want the adults to do differently? How could they have established effective communication with us? All we can do now is continue to learn from the past and try to incorporate fresh and effective lessons and tools in the here and now.