The saying that “children should be seen and not heard” is a damaging relic, from past centuries of ignorance, about how to raise children. This archaic thinking should be completely banished from our minds if we wish to see our children flourish to their full potential.
A young 13 year old adolescent came in with her mother to see me. She wore a pleasant smile so I assumed that the purpose of the visit for a minor problem. I was taken aback when she mentioned to me that she came to see me because she had some issues that are bothering her. I was surprised because I rarely hear this from children. It is a line that I hear from adults.
Children and adolescents generally never speak about their feelings or what’s bothering them for a variety of reasons. These would include: fearing that no one will listen to them; not knowing how to express themselves; fearing that their parents might scold them or beat them and lastly because they don’t trust adults.
Children bottle issues that bother them and if the issues are too big to handle, they would repeatedly complain of all type of symptoms like headaches and stomach aches. If the issues linger on for too long then it affects their school work or their behaviour. These children might behave very oddly or display temper tantrums out of frustration and anger.
This young child mentioned that she had a headache, which aroused my suspicion that there was more to the reason for the visit. When I asked her whether there was anything troubling her, she very coyly mentioned, looking down, away from me and her mother, that she had some issues. She felt her mother did not give her enough attention as she did with her two little nieces and that her mother didn’t love her.
The mother, a single divorced parent had the huge responsibility of taking care of her late sister’s two children, who were about three years old. I explained to the young child that she might be misinterpreting her mother’s actions, if she devoted too much time to her little cousins.
I know from experience the dilemma of mothers who have to divide time and love according the needs of their children. Dividing time is not easy when there are children with special needs like children with medical defects, mentally challenged children and of late, children on drugs. I explained to the young child, as best as I could, about her mother’s moral obligation to raise her late aunt’s children and that little children need more time than older children.
I stressed to her that, because her mother spends more time on the children, she should not feel that her mother loves her any less. The young child understood and felt better after I explained to her about the challenges that her mother faced being a single parent.
On a follow up visit, she looked more at ease. Towards the end of that visit, she mentioned an incident when she was seven years old. Her dad, who was staying with the family at the time, was very drunk one night and he insisted that she should stop watching TV and go to bed. She told him that she would do so after the episode was over but the dad would not hear her pleas. In from of her older brother and mother, he dragged her quite roughly by the scruff of the neck and dragged her to her room whilst she was screaming.
The child was most upset that neither the brother nor did the mother intervene. The mother intervened when her dad pulled out a gun. The only explanation for the mother’s delay in intervening is probably because she feared if she intervened, her drunk husband would have hurt all of them in his rage.
I explained to the child that her mother risked her life when she confronted her drunk and armed husband. I made the the young lady understand that mother’s, out of love, will risk their own lives to save their children from danger and harm. The child felt reassured with my explanation because she could understand the dynamics at play at the time, that is: he could have killed all of them.
I called the mother in to explain what bugged her child for so long. The mother had tears in her eyes as she recalled that horrid moment and admitted that she was terribly afraid of her husband because she knew how dangerous he could be under the influence of alcohol. I am pleased that in just two sessions, I could clear seven years of pain in the young child and strengthen the bonds between the mother and her daughter, who incorrectly felt that her mother did not love her.
Children, through their immaturity, say some of the most hurtful things to parents, who love them dearly. It is not easy to get through your children if they have made up their little immature minds that you don’t love them. I wish to commend the mom in this case for seeking help. An independent and objective session with a counsellor can save years of pain, heartache and sorrow.
Failure to address issues that affect children often leads to them becoming depressed, dropping out of school and even turning to drugs. Finally, children must be heard and given an opportunity to be heard to save them from the devastating consequences of pent up emotions in their adult life.
Dr Ellapen Rapiti is a family physician, specialising in child and mental health and addiction counselling.