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Opinion

What price do we pay to avoid children being noisy?


Gillian Riley


1/10/2019 11:21:15 AM

Preventing childhood trauma starts with letting children know they can be heard – even if that means being noisy, Dr Gillian Riley writes.

Sad child
Dr Gillian Riley believes it is a mistake to raise children who ‘have been taught that they cannot talk, that their voices are not permitted’.

My son is delighted with the sound of his voice. He’s sitting in his pram, chortling to himself, bouncing up and down and emitting noises that sound like the shrieks of a pterodactyl.
 
This is, I am informed between high-pitched squeals, because he is no longer my son, he has in fact become a pterodactyl. He’s smiling.  
 
The woman who serves us at the counter of the hardware store, however, is not.
 
‘Uh,’ she sighs as my son emits another squeal. ‘He sounds just like my grandchildren. Children these days are so much noisier than they should be.’
 
The notion that children should be seen and not heard has its origins in a 15th century critique of the behavior of young women. (A mayde schuld be seen, but not herd
 
It implies a certain set of behavioral standards, particularly in public and in the company of adults.
 
So who should keep children from being heard?
 
Well, the onus falls onto their parents and, in particular, their mother.
 
Children, by definition, are learning all the time. They learn by playing and interacting with their environment. Sometimes this is noisy. Sometimes it is boisterous. Sometimes it is destructive. And sometimes it is certainly going to plague the ears of the adults that surround them.
 
Let’s not forget that in the not too distant past, children also worked in extreme and dangerous conditions. Down coal mines, in factories and down chimneys.
 
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was founded in 1824, 67 years before the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
 
So reaching back to the past for social norms is not exactly inspirational.
 
The question I always have when confronted with these situations is, what price are we willing to pay, on a societal level, just to avoid a bit of noise?
 
The rates of childhood abuse and neglect in Australia are horrifying. Sixty thousand substantiated cases in 2015–16 – and these are the reported, investigated and substantiated cases. The actual rates will of course be far higher. Child protection officials state ‘we don’t have a system to meet demand’.
 
We know who picks up that slack when child protection cannot. We do. General practice does.    
 
The legacy of childhood trauma is significantly linked with a multitude of physical health problems, with mental illness, suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, aggression, violence and criminal behavior, relationship difficulties, and homelessness.
 
Preventing childhood trauma is important not only because harming innocent children is horrifying, but because it also makes sense economically and societally.
 
It seems sad to need to say this, but this approach starts with letting children know that they can be heard.
 
It starts in realising that voices raised in joy are not damaging. That mothers and parents with loud and boisterous children are not failing in their parenting.
 
I would argue that there are few failures in parenting.
 
But one definite failure would be rearing children who have been taught that they cannot talk, that their voices are not permitted. It is not a failure to have children who are interacting happily with their parents.
 
It starts, as well, in our consultation rooms. We are family doctors. Tolerating the noise of children should come with the territory.
 
That should go without saying, but it’s not always the case.
 
The real lessons we teach our children often occur outside classrooms and are far more than just their ABCs.
 
If we teach our children to be seen and not heard, we teach our children that they cannot tell us when bad things happen to them. And we all know what lies down that path.
 
So what did I do? I smiled at the woman at the checkout and told her that I worked a lot in mental health. And I was really glad that children were being noisier these days.
 
I then smiled down at the radiant face of my pterodactyl and I took him home.



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Dr James Andrew Best   2/10/2019 6:57:59 AM

Good on you Gillian, and good on you pterodactyl. It comes back to the phenomenon that peaked in the mid 20th century of authoritarian parenting ('do as I say'). We need to build children, not control and corral them, in order to provide a safe and secure learning environment in which they can thrive.


Dr Olga Elizabeth Scaramuzzi   2/10/2019 8:56:28 AM

Dear Dr Gillian,
Your article left me with at the need to respond and profound confusion not only with te title but with te content of your work. It does not make a sense.
You give a picture of a child that produces annoying behaviour and you advise not to act on, because it is an abuse?
If I correctly understood the meaning of your article, you , correct me if I am wrong, express your opinion that responding to a childs antisocial behaviour is an abuse?

A child is, as you said in your writing, constantly learning and I would add, also constantly asking. It displays sometimes behaviour which he does not know how it will be received, child is testing you and the big world. And child should receive an honest answer in a kind manner. How to do this you should know.
Misguiding a child and not doing parental job is in fact an abuse, as it does not create a civil human, but a selfish bully. Worse, it may create an abusive character with personality disorders that lead to a jail.


Dr Malcolm Charles Rutledge   2/10/2019 9:04:57 AM

Children need to learn appropriate behaviour in many different situations. This is an essential part of growing up. Gillian presents a totally black and white view of childhood behaviour that is far too simplistic. In a medical consulting room that behaviour does not include the freedom to investigate every drawer and shelf, to use medical tools as playthings, or to demand 100% of my or the parent's attention. This is not 'being heard', this is being a nuisance. It detracts from quality care. In reception there are other unwell patients to consider. An unmanaged child that causes distress to these patients is anathema. At the end of the day, I am there to provide a quality service to all patients including those in waiting,, and every minute that I am forced to act as as child minder for an unruly child detracts from that.


Dr Malcolm Charles Rutledge   2/10/2019 9:55:58 AM

Hi James, We do not need to build children that will carry childish behaviours into adulthood. As I understand it, a major role of a parent is to raise a responsible adult, For the good parent this does not involve a "control and corral", but of loving guidance and training and an promoting an understanding that there are boundaries to acceptable behaviour which changes with changed situations. I believe that our responsibility as parents is to produce a adult who incorporates this, not an overgrown petulant child.


Dr Hemant Garg   2/10/2019 2:46:42 PM

Dear Olga and Malcolm,

I agree with your thoughts. Thanks for your comments.
I support the idea that children should be allowed to explore their voices and not admonished for simply playing with words and sounds. That would be abhorrent.

However, children do need direction and teaching about social graces and norms. They do need to be shown how to display the behaviours that would allow them to participate in society with respect for others. Of course this takes a lifetime, and a village.
A child not allowing a parent to speak to a shopkeeper, or the example of the consultation room and waiting room above, are great examples where a child needs to told that they need to allow the intended activity/discussion to occur.

There is great material written by those much wiser than I, on this topic.
“Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them“ JBP
Anyway I’m not the best by far at articulating that as well as has been done above or as well as JBP.


Dr Hemant Garg   2/10/2019 3:07:05 PM

Dear Olga and Malcolm,

I agree with your thoughts. Thanks for your comments.
I support the idea that children should be allowed to explore their voices and not admonished for simply playing with words and sounds. That would be abhorrent.

However, children do need direction and teaching about social graces and norms. They do need to be shown how to display the behaviours that would allow them to participate in society with respect for others. Of course this takes a lifetime, and a village.
A child not allowing a parent to speak to a shopkeeper, or the example of the consultation room and waiting room above, are great examples where a child needs to told that they need to allow the intended activity/discussion to occur.

There is great material written by those much wiser than I, on this topic.
“Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them“ JBP
Anyway I’m not the best by far at articulating that as well as has been done above or as well as JBP.


A.Prof Christopher David Hogan   2/10/2019 10:06:43 PM

The Italians have a beautiful expression for the noise that our young citizens make. It translates as "the music of children".
I am reminded of it when all my grandchildren gather together.


Dr Allan Michael Fasher   4/10/2019 11:38:48 AM

The Italians' love of life ... ah!
When my eldest was a baby being a baby in an English tea shop decades ago a lady at a neighbouring table opined, "we prefer foals".
Nice riff off a moment at the check out Gillian ... thanks