When people think of child participation, they often think of the word “play” and not the word “participate”. Many believe that children should be seen and not heard and this is a misconception.
It is important to remember that there are a variety of beliefs around children’s participation that are socially, culturally and contextually constructed. Parents and teachers’ own ideas on childhood and images of children influence their views. We need to understand that teaching is a collaborative endeavor and that children have their own opinions on what matters to them, which they should be given the opportunity to express, discuss and debate in a safe and supportive environment.
The saying that children should be seen and not heard originated in the 15th century in England. Originally, it was a proverb directed at women and was meant to reprimand them for talking too much in the presence of adults. It was later expanded to include all children.
Some of the most popular children’s proverbs are rooted in this notion that children should be kept quiet. It’s a well-intentioned idea, but it can be dangerous and misguided. It’s a common tool many use for disciplining young people, but it can also lead to them developing an aversion to speaking up in public and can have devastating effects on their adult lives.
In order to encourage and equip children to speak up, we need to help them to pay attention and learn how to use their feelings appropriately. It can be difficult for a “shy” child to tell someone they feel uncomfortable or that they are nervous when someone looks at them funny; it is even more challenging for a child who suffers from separation anxiety.
We need to help them to pay attention to what is going on with them, in their bodies, in their surroundings and even with their friends. Some children have an intruder filter where they are more sensitive than others and they are more easily triggered by things that do not feel right.
They are also inexperienced and immature and can often make mistakes that result in them misinterpreting what they are being told or shown. If we can help them to see how they can be more assertive, their thinking and decision-making will become stronger. This kind of approach to child participation can be beneficial to both the child and the teacher or parent in a positive way.