IN many Guyanese families, conversations between parents and children are usually ‘one sided’ where the parent ‘speaks their mind’ and the child is not allowed to say anything in response. This is one of the outcomes of the ‘children should be seen and not heard’ parenting approach. When children believe their parents will not listen or will not understand what they are trying to say, they are more likely to keep secrets from their parents. Children who feel compelled to keep secrets out of fear of their parent’s reaction to a disclosure are more at risk of abuse and exploitation. Parent-to-child conversations are an essential safeguard to protecting children from abuse.
Having a conversation with your child is more than just talking; it is a lovely experience to hear your child express him or herself and using words and expressions they have been learning to tell their stories confidently. Parents, your conversations with your children include listening to your child’s concerns, opinions, fears and risks they are facing in their everyday activities outside of your watchful eyes. Your child must always be able to approach you if he or she is bothered or may have a concern or sometimes just want to talk. Talking and listening to children help you as parents in safeguarding your children and it also fosters a relationship of trust and understanding between you and your child. Talking to your children and listening to them with noticeable interest encourages them to listen to you and helps them to form healthy relationships with you, their parents.
ChildLinK, through its Recovery Safeguarding Reintegration (RSR) initiative, facilitates parenting skills education (PSE) sessions with parents who have difficult relationships with their children. According to the PSE Officer, “A majority of the cases have a component where communication is lacking. Due to a lack of communication between the parents and children, parents may find it difficult to understand what their children are going through and children may experience feelings of being unloved and not being listened to.”
Listen with your ears and eyes. During a PSE session the PSE Officer discussed the importance of teaching children good and bad touches and identifying their private parts by its correct name. One parent related to the PSE officer that her four-year-old daughter would mention every day that someone is touching her “flower,” to which her response would be, “it’s okay to share and there’s nothing wrong if he touches your flower” and then ignore her after which she would brush the child off. She related that the child complained for one week. The PSE officer advised that she sit and have a conversation with her child to really understand what was happening at school. It was later revealed at the next session that when the child said “flower” she meant “vagina,” and a classmate was touching her vagina every day. When she would try to complain her mother would brush her off.
The case was reported to the Childcare and Protection Agency (CPA) and the child and her mother received counselling and were sensitised and educated on appropriate and inappropriate touches, the correct names for private parts and the importance of listening and having parent-to-child conversations. The other child and his parents were engaged in safety and protection sessions by the CPA. After the intervention the parent expressed remorse about not listening to her daughter. She noted, “I feel bad because my daughter was trying to talk to me but I didn’t listen.” She later apologised to her daughter and started to make time each day to listen and talk to her after school. One encouragement she gave is, “make time to listen to the things that your children have to say.”
As a parent, it is important to set aside time each day to talk to your children about school. Find out about their day at school; both the good and not-so-good things. It is also important to pay attention to when your children may not like a particular person and going to a particular place. Look, listen and try to understand their likes, dislikes, fears and the things that make them uncomfortable. This helps to safeguard children and protect them by identifying potential dangers.
ChildLinK is a not-for-profit organisation that is working to create a Guyanese society where every child grows up in a loving, safe and secure family and community. This article raises many questions for the family and also recognises the importance of listening and having open communication with your child/children. Please write us with your comments, questions and how you would like to get involved in protecting children in your community at firstname.lastname@example.org. Report child abuse by calling the CPA on 227-0979, the closest police station or ChildLinK on 233-3500 or email: email@example.com.