A few weeks ago I posted a blog, 15 Ways We Shame Our Children. The first in the list—We don’t give them a voice. I realize that you might not know what it means to “give a child a voice”. It’s important for any child to discover their voice. This usually happens in healthy families. But for kids that come to us from a hard place, it’s a struggle.
The rest of this blog is a chapter from my upcoming book. I am still working on the title, but it’s a book for foster and adoptive parents wanting to apply parenting with connection principles and need encouragement and real life examples of failure and success.
What Is ‘Giving Voice’?
Most of our kids that come to us through foster care or adoption, no matter what age, haven’t been given a voice.
Babies that get no response to their cries learn to not cry anymore. A toddler learns to meet their own needs as best they can which is why we often say they are “street smart”. Teenagers revert to manipulation as they try to get their needs met.
All are examples of a child with no voice.
One of the powerful ways we as parents can empower and help our children feel safe and heal from trauma is to give them a voice.
Our son was, as you know by now, eight-months-old when CPS placed him with us. Like any baby, he cried, screamed, and yelled when he was hungry, wet, alone, or afraid. We immediately responded. Even if it was over and over.
He definitely used his voice. That tells me that at least someone responded to him before he came to us.
If you adopted a child that spent time in an orphanage, you might have noticed he or she doesn’t cry much, maybe not at all. You can find many stories of people shocked by how quiet a room full of babies are in many orphanages. We expect to hear crying, even wailing, when we enter a room full of babies.
But what happens when no one responds to a babies cry? It doesn’t take very long for that baby to stop crying.
We want to hear our babies cry!
Our son now talks from the moment he wakes up until he goes to bed. I am an introvert. And Danielle and I didn’t have to share airspace with anyone in our home for over 20 years. So, my first reaction many times is to ask him to be quiet. I know!
Not only I tend to get offended when I don’t have any room for my own voice, I don’t do a good job of fully listening to my son. Often he does this, “Hey dad look at this”, then he looks at me to see if I am looking at it. If I am not, he says, “Dad, dad, dad…look at this!” So I look at him, and while he is telling me what he wants me to hear, he keeps glancing at me to see if I am still fully listening.
I have made note of this, because it communicates to me that he doesn’t feel that I hear him.
Why Having A Voice Is Important
I know for some cultures it is taught that children should be seen and not heard. That sounds nice to my selfish ears. But it doesn’t promote healthy, connected children. Nor does total chaotic kid anarchy either!
When I give my son a voice he learns that:
- He Is Safe. One common theme of my son, and for a lot of trauma kids, is “fighting bad guys”. We talk about this a lot. Every time I listen, maybe even play it out with him, and I always reassure that mine and Danielle’s job is to protect him. I tell him he doesn’t need to worry about bad guys. I encourage him to enjoy all the fun things that five-year-old boys are meant to enjoy.
- It’s Okay To Have Needs and Wants. Needs and wants don’t go away after we are a baby. We have them for the rest of our lives. Trouble is that many of us don’t ever learn how to express these in healthy ways. When I let my son voice his needs and wants, he learns that it’s okay to have them. He also learns that I am willing to listen to them. And, when I can and it’s appropriate, I want to help meet them.
- He Doesn’t Have To Demand. The more voice I give him, and the better I listen, the less my son tries to control, manipulate, or triangulate in order to be heard. He also gets angry much less resulting in fewer tantrums and meltdowns.
How Can I Give Voice To My Child?
First, I have to understand the importance of giving my son a voice, and how that helps us connect. Honestly, I need reminding of that truth often.
Second, I need to remember that I am an adult with years of experience, and my son is experiencing many things for the first time. He needs to express! And I need to learn to listen.
I probably even need to learn how to hear my son’s distinct voice. What does that tone; that cry; that laugh mean?
Physically and emotionally I can give my son voice by stopping what I am doing, when I can, looking him in his eyes, even lightly touching him on his arm or cheek, and listening to him. This takes me being fully present with him.
When I am able to give my son his voice, he feels valued, loved, and connected. That is empowering. And when I need to correct, he is more likely to receive the correction.
Empowering our child by giving him or her a voice can intimidate any parent. What if they have questions I don’t want or know how to answer? What about thoughts that I am uncomfortable discussing? And what in the world do I do with emotions?
I struggle with my own questions, thoughts, and emotions, much those of a little person who comes from a hard place. But one huge way I can give my son voice is by helping him express his feelings. And chances are any child from a hard place will have HUGE feelings.
If you want to get all the pre-launch information about my upcoming book, go here. But hurry! The launch date is in mid-October.