As a psychologist and an educator I’ve spent many years helping children be better understood and to better understand themselves. One thing I emphasize is that children learn over many years not only how to express themselves but what they are allowed to express.
Recently, I learned all of this anew by finding in my attic my old diaries from the 4th, 5th and sixth grades. Page by page I detailed my life from what I ate for breakfast, to the weather, to playing with a friend, studying for a test, going to visit my relatives, moving to a new town, etc. But what I didn’t include in these diaries were my feelings, secrets worries or questions about life.
I wouldn’t have dared to put into print any of the above. Not because I was afraid someone would read my diary, I really wasn’t afraid and anyway it had a lock on it. I just couldn’t even imagine saying certain things out loud. Merely verbalizing my fear of dying, or my run-in with a neighbor who was inappropriate to me, was beyond the scope of permission I would give myself to speak aloud in any form. Writing the diary was good as it gave me practice in writing, but sharing my feelings would take more than writing practice.
Now as I read the pages of going iceskating and receiving a dollar from my cousin Eleanor, I realize so clearly what was missing. And it is okay that some things are not expressed aloud by kids. But what is not okay, is not giving kids help in expressing themselves.
How do we do this as parents? By talking to them and listening to them. We need to share enough of our memories of growing up, including the feelings and anxieties as to open the door for permission for them to share back. We need to listen for the obvious cues of the crying behind a closed door, but also to the silent cues, when a kid is just not sharing enough.
I’m glad my diaries are with me. The child in me is still able to remind me, and so I remind you. Never forget that children need our permission and help to learn what is okay to talk about and share.
The Truth (I’m a girl, I’m smart and I know everything) can be a great place to start. As the girl in the diary does share her feelings and fears as well as her hopes and dreams. I wrote the book that way so you can use it as a spring board to talk to your daughter or granddaughter. The girl gets us started on a wonderful road to sharing.