Commandment 4 of Rights-Based Communication with Children: Seek to learn from them

It is a beautiful day. I am elated to be here today. I wrote this series last on June 12, 2013 just before I departed for Osun State, South West Nigeria to answer the call of UNICEF to train the newly-elected executive members of the Child Protection Network of the state and other stakeholders, including government partners. I was determined to continue the series but I was thwarted by sundry obstacles, the last being that my laptop decided to pack-up. It simply went on sabbatical to a far country for more than eight days, with technicians battling day and night to lure it back to my side. Painfully, it took all my data along with it, reiterating to me again the wisdom in regular back-up of data.

Well, I am back today to continue to give expression to my passion to speak up for the African Child. I will like to share the 4th commandment of Rights-Based Communication with Children: seek to learn from the child.

Most Africans have serious issues when it comes to learning from children. We believe that adulthood is synonymous with wisdom and childhood is synonymous with foolishness. Most of us believe that adults know all while children know nothing. The reason for this conclusion may not be too far from how most of us were raised. We were not seen, not to talk of being heard.

Unfortunately, we are so persuaded about the foregoing, yet we are so wrong. I do not believe this agree with our founding philosophy as a people. Please permit me to speak as a Yoruba man from South West Nigeria. The Yoruba philosophy says, ‘owo omode o to pepe; ta gbalagba o wo keregbe.’ It simply means, the hands of a child is not able to touch the altar, therefore he needs the help of an adults. On the other hand, the hands of an adult is not able to access the mouth of a keg, he needs the assistance of a child. The Yoruba philosophy further says, ‘omode gbon, agba gbon la fi dale fe.’ It means that the founding of a town is traceable to the wisdom of the old and the young. Summing up the essence of the Yoruba philosophy through the lenses the sayings above, it will be safe to say that children have a lot to learn from the adults, as much as the adults have a lot to learn from children. A young man called Elihu established the principle that adults have a lot to learn from young people thus: ‘I am young in years, and you are old; that is why I was fearful, not daring to tell you what I know. I thought, ‘Age should speak; advanced years should teach wisdom.’ But it is the spirit in a person, the breath of the Almighty that gives them understanding.  It is not only the oldwho are wise, not only the aged who understand what is right.’ If I get Elihu right, I guess he is saying that God has empowered even the young by His Spirit to speak words of wisdom.

We forget that children have peculiar experiences, which they are the only ones, who can narrate to a listening adult. We forget that the circumstances under which we grew up is different from the circumstances under which children are growing up today. Since their circumstances of birth and growing up of our children are different today, their socialisation is also different. It goes without saying that since their socialisation is different, their psychology will be different and so are their experiences. Therefore, we may never understand the best of their concerns, except we listen to them with a mindset to learn from them. When we learn from our children, we understand them and we are able to help them. They in fact help us to help them with the information they make available to us.

Please note that learning from children does not mean that the adult is weak or uninformed. It simply means we have come to the irresistible conclusion that you cannot shave a man’s head behind him and that he who wears the shoes knows where it pains and should be allowed to tell his story. It is like when we take our children to the doctor, depending on their age, we allow them to tell their own story of the symptoms they feel. As a matter of fact even if they are still toddlers, we depend on them through observation to expose the symptoms. I must conclude here that learning from our children by communicating with them is inevitable.

At what age do we begin to learn from our children through communication? I think we must begin to learn from our children from when they are born. We must understand that children at tender ages are not dump, neither are they deaf. They speak eloquently and expressly. It is only that what they are saying can only be decoded by skilful adults. The communication of children, particularly from age zero to eighteen months is non-verbal in nature. It requires skills to listen and learn from them at this tender age and many primary and secondary custodians do not have the skills to do so. Therefore they miss the awesome opportunity to listen and learn from the child at that tender age.

As the child grows older and begins to speak, the lack of skills of the custodians to decode non-verbal communication gives way to a deep-seated attitude that the child has nothing to teach the adult and his views must be rejected and if he shows any sign of insistence, he must be tagged a rebellious child and disciplined accordingly. What a tragic damage to the development of the child.

My charge to you today is that children have a lot to say and we have a lot to learn from them. Please let us throw away our traditional belief that children have nothing to say and we have nothing to learn from them. Let us take time to listen to them with a commitment to learn from them to help them. I bet you that you will be shocked at the level of their wisdom, which we have ignorantly neglected to tap from.

Let me conclude with the story shared by a mother at one of our Child Protection Seminars for parents, which I believe is instructive today. She said she had been ill and did not go to work. After school, her five year old daughter was with her friends. One of the friends had told another that she would not play with her again. The child, who was told she would not be played with again burst into tears and withdrew to a corner. The mother said her daughter went to meet the child, who withdrew to a corner to encourage her and told her not to worry. She said the daughter further said to the child, ‘if someone says she does not want to play with you, you do not need to cry now. Many other children will play with you. I will play with you also. Clean your face, let us go and play.’ The woman told us that the child stood up and was encouraged by the daughter. She told us at the seminar that she did not believe that her child could do that. She said if not that she heard the discussion from her room she wouldn’t have believed. You see, we underrated our children.

I urge you today, the next time you want to communicate with your child, make up your mind to learn from him to help him.

I think I should sign out here. Thank you for visiting today. Sure you learnt one or two things on how to Think the CHILD…Think TODAY and Think the FUTURE.

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