A common theme among the kids I work with during workshops and 1:1 is not being willing to share what they think. Many easily recognize how they don’t want to be wrong. Some just don’t want to take the risk of using their voice: “Why do it when I can stay quiet?” “My teacher only picks the talkative kids to share anyway.” Others see themselves as simply kids who aren’t noticed and they think life is easier that way. A few get involved in friend drama, goof off to hide the pain, some fidget and appear to lack focus. A few have even said their parents prefer it quiet, so why bother speaking up.
I am both saddened and fueled by how this gets perceived as not a big deal. As a former teacher, I certainly worked with many kids like this and heard teachers talk about them as well. The quiet kids who don’t cause trouble. Sometimes they play alone, other times they blend in. Parents appreciate they don’t get in trouble, while maybe wishing they’d speak up, play with others, have more friends or hang out more often, but don’t see anything overly concerning.
The root cause of the “holding back” on talking, sharing or reaching out can differ. It can be labeled by parents or teachers as lack of confidence, lack of experience, lack of self-love, fear, anxiety, perfectionism, lack of motivation. I spend time getting a clear picture of what happens for these kids and listen to their stories. For me, these situations are a big deal! I don’t want kids growing up thinking it’s ok to not be who they are, to hold back, stuff feelings or thoughts, hide, blend in, stay quiet, seek perfection, isolate themselves or get lost in books and tune out the world.
What many parents don’t recognize are the very serious possible ramifications down the road for kids who hold back on sharing their thoughts or feelings. These kids can grow up to have stomachaches, headaches, feel like they can’t breathe, have anxiety or depression, have nightmares, can’t sleep, only want to sleep, cry easily, have trouble eating or eat too much. Down the road there could be more serious things like eating disorders, contemplating suicide, addictions, or other chronic illnesses.
No, not every child who holds back sharing their thoughts goes down the extreme paths. But even if ONE CHILD does, isn’t that too many? My heart breaks when I hear about kids having some of these early signs and parents decide to wait, for either financial reasons or until things get worse. I am not judging parents – I do believe and trust that each one of us is doing the absolute best we can and I don’t doubt parents’ love for their children. To me, these early signs are kids holding up the red flag saying, “Help!” I don’t want kids to hold up the white flag of “I give up” before they get help and learn new tools. I don’t think kids have to display “serious” behaviors before I can help. NOW is the time to turn things around.
Parents perception and unfortunately society’s perception is often that life coaches fix “problem kids” ~ the ones hitting, yelling, out of control. Yes, I certainly can and do help these kids. But I believe I can help kids before they go down that path. I can help quiet kids before they are faced with making decisions to further hide themselves or to begin standing out for the wrong reasons. I was one of those quiet kids. Did I act out in class: never! Could I tell you a laundry list of physical, mental and emotional effects this has had on me throughout school, college and adulthood: yes! So I get these scenarios all too well.
I teach kids about the dialogue they have inside their heads, the dialogue we ALL have! I help them understand how this works and initially give a simple assignment:
Pay attention to what you are telling yourself.
What have I heard kids telling themselves? “People will laugh, so just stay quiet.” “I’ll sound stupid.” “What if I’m wrong?” “Nobody really cares what I have to say.” “Will my friends just laugh at me and then think I’m dumb?” “Last time I was wrong, so just shut up now.” “Why try…my teacher likes the other kids more?” “Mom won’t love me if I say that.” “Dad hates when I ask that.” These are actual things I have heard kids say.
I know it might sound like no big deal. I think many men especially, but women too, say things like “just suck it up” or “try harder”. “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps” or “try something else”. “Toughen up.” “It’s not worth investing $ in because after all, I turned out fine and never had a life coach.” “All kids have these silly thoughts, right?” What I’ve learned is the huge impact our thoughts have on creating our reality and on our bodies. If kids are saying things like this day in and day out, starting as young as 1st and 2nd grade, sitting in school for 180 days repeating this dialogue ~ there are HUGE ramifications. What does it create? Look at our world and the number of adults and kids on medication. Look at the number of days of missed school, missed work and missed opportunities.
I am passionate about helping kids and my message today is simple: it doesn’t have to be worse than just holding back on talking or sharing ideas for me to help kids have a whole new outlook on life. I believe every child deserves to grow up being heard! Every child deserves to share their thoughts, ideas and gifts! Every child deserves to feel they belong! Every child deserves to have their opinions be a part of the discussion! Who might your child become if they are empowered and confident before they even reach middle school? If their high school years are spent following their passions and trying all sorts of different activities? If they allow themselves to fail and know that doesn’t change how absolutely amazing they are?
Oh my heart races with excitement when I picture kids’ lives feeling free and relaxed and filled with hope, love, joy, possibility! And it can start with a simple, yet powerful question: What am I telling myself right now? I love working with kids and helping them face their fears and open to new possibilities and the love that surrounds us all. I believe every child is worth it!
Have a beautiful day!
~Embrace each moment and live fully~