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When teaching kids to express opinions, what is the boundary between frankness and rudeness? A parent learns to navigate this territory.
My little girl of seven years looked at the picture of a newly married couple and said, “The bride looks older than the groom”. There was a remarkable uneasiness in the living room and her grandfather intervened saying, “You shouldn’t make such rude remarks. Be a nice girl and say nice things about people”.
She then looked at her mother, confused. Her mother knew that the look from her daughter was a call for validation of her observation. Her mother secretly had the same opinion about the bride as her daughter, but kept quiet due to the courtesy owed to the relationship. She asked her daughter, “You think she looks older than the groom? That’s your opinion, you spoke your mind and there is nothing wrong with it. You are a nice girl. Sometimes adults have to say nice things so that others don’t feel bad.”
There was confusion in my little girl’s eyes, a confusion that was created by the adults around her. She was so clear about her opinion and now suddenly she didn’t know if she could be a child and be frank or behave like an adult and hide facts.
The second freedom in our fundamental rights- Right to freedom which includes expression and speech is killed right at childhood.
The second freedom in our fundamental rights – the Right to freedom which includes expression and speech is killed right at childhood. Honest opinions come out of small mouths and quite often about things that adults are quiet about. At times, like these parents, quite often many parents silence children because parents care more about what society would think than sustaining the frankness of the children. A common mistake most parents fall prey to, is that they think more of outsiders’ feelings neglecting the feelings of their children.
Parents have to help develop children’s critical thinking so that they will be able to evaluate all sides of an issue, formulate their own opinion and articulate that opinion clearly. The food and shelter we provide are the basics but the social and environmental awareness we give them are what they will be most grateful for. Diplomacy of opinion is supreme in this awareness.
It’s no surprise to me that most homes are highly opinionated households; children growing up in these homes, children pick up these scattered opinions. Chances are that in most households parents have hushed themselves in public but spilled the beans before the children. Then the children spin it out into a bean bag that could explode any moment. I am sure my girl has done this too.
Adults are diplomatic (read hypocritical) enough not to disclose such opinions in public. So how do we teach a 7 year old to have an opinion of her own yet not spill it out in public? The balancing act of diplomacy comes with the experience of living in this world.
So I had to help my daughter to realize she also needs to know how to express her opinion in a respectful way, and further, how to listen to opinions that differ from hers.
So I had to help my daughter to realize that what she thinks about a particular issue and why she thinks that way is wonderful to critical thinking; she also needs to know how to express her opinion in a respectful way, and further, how to listen to opinions that differ from hers. Irreverence and its first cousins sarcasm and mockery might be welcome when kicking issues around at home, but she can cause serious injury – both to the listener’s feelings as well as the speaker’s reputation – when substituted for reason and manners outside one’s own home.
If she were to exclaim out in public, her opinion then, would also come across as obnoxiously opinionated and either unwilling or unable to articulate a rational basis for her opinion. We do not have a society that is acceptable of frankness. In all seriousness, I want my daughter’s opinions to be her own and I truly respect that, and I want her to be able to support them with information and facts. More importantly, I want her to know that discourse is a two way street. At seven years of age, she is way too young to be branded with the label of being brutally frank.
Would this be too much for a seven year old to decipher? I had to find out!
Mother and Daughter image via Shutterstock
Jaseena Backer is a Psychologist. The world knows her as a Parenting Strategist and Gender
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