By Sholain Govender-Bateman, Pretoria based journalism lecturer who worked for The Star, Pretoria & other publications. She is mum to two gorgeous girls, Isobel and Aishwari, and wife to Barry. Visit her on twitter @sholain.
With Human Rights Day being celebrated in SA, I asked myself which human right is most important in my daughter Isobel’s(3 turning four in May) life right now?
My husband and I are big believers in freedom of expression. Our journalism backgrounds make this even more important to us so it’s no surprise that we encourage Isobel(and in due course Aishwari(1) ) to express herself freely.
This doesn’t mean that we allow rudeness or that she is allowed to swear or insult people. It does mean that she can tell us what she is feeling without fear of being scolded or told to ‘hush!’. I am often in awe of the words that come out of her mouth – not because they’re nasty words, or shocking – but because of the emotion and often thought that has gone into what she decides to say.
From the innocent “I love you” to the angry “I’m not your friend!” when she doesn’t get her way to the apologetic “I’m sorry” and the adorable “Mum, I am happy” – all of her words are truly her way of expressing herslf. There’s also the feisty yet quite mature,“Mum, if you shout at me, then I will shout at you, so you must not shout at me, okay?”.
We also try not to restrict her non-verbal expression. Last week I posted a picture on Facebook of Isobel dressed in two skirts – yes, one skirt used as a top and one as a skirt! A friend asked: “Just wondering..when you make Isobel pose there for a pic does she realize she has made a fashion faux pas?”. I replied, “What fashion faux pas? She believes it’s a great fashion choice and I prefer to call it avant-garde. Lol We only persuade her to change outfits if it isn’t practical for the day.”. And why not? It’s her way of showing her creativity and I’m pretty sure that there are some designers who design skirts that can be used as tops!
The formative years of a child’s life are filled with a million new things that they learn on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis. They are then orientated into the structure of the school systems, societal norms and numerous other unwritten rules of life imposed on children. So, I believe that it’s pretty important to allow any child space to realise that they have the right to express themselves in any way they want.
Isobel, as is the case with most children, also tests the boundaries but my husband, Barry and I agree on the ground rules and make her aware of them, so it is clear that we are the parents and she is the child and this, hopefully, will help us avoid have a tantramic teen on our hands in ten years time who believes that she can say and do whatever she wants.
Each family has their own set of morals, religious values, traditions and hierachy but if your child is expected to only be “seen and not heard”, how will this impact your child’s adult life, personality and potential for future success?
If we don’t encourage our children to vocalise their fears, wants, opinions and joys – how will they learn to speak out against any injustice done against them or even others?