I have already had a little bit of a blow out regarding this topic, but let’s face it, it is a topic we need to talk about. As a pre-service teacher I am constantly exposed to research that points towards us being more in touch with our emotions. Looking at the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) one in nine Australians over the age of 18 experienced high or very high levels of psychological distress. Both Beyond Blue and Youth Beyond Blue have pages on the statistics of depression and other mental health issues that are very prominent in Australia. Youth Beyond Blue has one statistic that is a real concern. One in four young Australians are currently suffering with one or more mental health conditions and suicide is the biggest killer of young Australians and accounts for more deaths than car accidents.
The rate of depression and anxiety disorders are on the rise and for one simple reason, we aren’t feeling. In a world consumed by technology and pretending everything is ok, we are not giving our emotions the needed attention. When was the last time you, or anyone you know, just let themselves be sad or angry with out trying to excuse it? There is no need for this! We do not have to explain our emotions. Let’s use separation anxiety as an example. A child who has been in this world for less than five years is being separated from their only point of comfort. If at the age of 25 we moved far away from your family, nobody would be surprised that you felt sad about this distance. So why do we question the feelings of a child? The sense of object permanence doesn’t set in until 8 months of age and most children haven’t experienced separation from there parents for an extended period of time. For the first 8 months of life they do not have an understanding that just because you can’t see the person doesn’t mean they are gone forever. Even beyond this often over looked fact, why is the sadness associated with being separated from a parent so demonized? My husband and I were in a long distance relationship for two years, and I can tell you right now that it was the hardest period of my life. Being away from someone you love is hard and time doesn’t move as quickly for children. While a day does not feel like to an adult, for children it can feel like a lifetime.
As a society we are far to quick to dismiss children’s opinions and expressions of feelings. If a child tells an adult they are sad, the response should not be “oh dear, well you’re ok”. We need to get down on their level and have a face to face talk with them. Children often feel that they are not being heard. I often tell the children in my kindy class that I hear them. This is not just a way of acknowledging what they have said, but children often feel ignored. This is when behavior starts to decline. It is not a hard task to tell a child that you have heard them, even if it isn’t a good time. If I am talking to my assistant (who by the way is the most amazing person ever) and a child tries to interrupt, I will simply get down on their level and say to them, “darling, I hear you. I am currently talking to Miss Anne, can you please wait until we are finished and then we can talk.” The results I have had from this are amazing! The children not only happily wait, but they also really respond well to the fact they have confirmation that they are being heard.
Everyone wants to be heard, this includes children. So tune into any child who is trying to communicate.