Why should we listen to children's voices?
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) was ratified (became law) in Australia in 1990. Article 12 of the convention states:
'States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child' (UNICEF, 2015).
That means that parents, educators and family workers need to listen to children's opinions about matters that affect them and take them into account when making decisions. This does not mean that the child's wishes will be granted; it just means that the child's opinions will be both heard and valued. When we hear children's voices, they develop confidence and agency. Very young children may not be able to express their wishes verbally, so we can use other methods to gather their voices, for example, through the arts.
Sims' Statement of Rights
Sims (2011) reframed Maslow's (1942) Hierarchy of Needs to a Statement of Rights for children. In Level 4 of the diagram, children have a right to feel valued, worthy, and status. This means they should be heard. It doesn't mean they are the boss or have all of their wishes granted. It simply means their experiences and opinions on matters that affect them should be taken into account.
Sims (2011) Statement of Rights (used with permission)
It is important to remember Arundhati Roy's words “There's really no such thing as the 'voiceless'. There are only the deliberately silenced or the preferably unheard.”
What about children from service families?
Research has found that Australian Defence children were empowered when they could talk about their experiences of living in a military family. They enjoyed talking about their family relocations, what happened in their family when their parents worked away, how they felt when their parents went away, and what they understood about deployment. The children really enjoyed seeing other children from military families featured in storybooks and were keen to read the stories over and over again at the early childhood service and home.
Both parents and educators found that these activities helped children put into words what was happening and what was upsetting them, and they were able to attribute their emotional feelings to missing their parents.
Asking children from Defence, Veteran, First Responder and Remote Working families is important for those who work with them.
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