The writer says it's important we listen to our children so that they feel they can talk to us instead of internalising their feelings, resulting in pain and fear. File picture: Sizwe Ndingane African News Agency (ANA)
The saying “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 13-year-old adolescent came in with her mother to see me. The girl wore a pleasant smile so I assumed the purpose of the visit was to discuss a minor problem. I was taken aback when she mentioned to me that she came to see me because she had issues that were 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 no one will listen to them; not knowing how to express themselves; fearing their parents might scold them or beat them; and, lastly, because they don’t trust adults.

Children bottle up issues that bother them and if issues are too big to handle. If the issues linger for too long 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. 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 aged about 3.

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 explained, 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 with 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 7 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 front of her older brother and mother, he dragged her quite roughly by the scruff of the neck to her room while she was screaming.

The child was most upset that neither the brother nor the mother intervened. 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 young girl understand that mothers, 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.

I am pleased that in just two sessions, I could clear seven years of pain in the young child and strengthen the bond between the mother and her daughter, who incorrectly felt that her mother did not love her.

It is not easy to get through to your children but 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.