This is the philosophy that early childhood educators hold onto in their practice – the belief that children of all ages are active participants in all matters affecting their lives.Children are regarded as equal members of society whose feelings, thoughts and actions are respected and valued.It seems fitting for early childhood educators to hold onto this value, but what about everyone else?
How do you view children and teenagers in society? And how is this discussion relevant to counselling and the human services?
Well, as a worker who bridges early education and counselling, this philosophy has been fundamental in guiding my teaching, my counselling practice, and my worldview. It’s also what led me to SKATTLE.In the work of supporting kids and teenagers through life-changing events, the role of counsellors is to listen with the intent to learn and understand in times when young people are often overlooked or misunderstood.Too often, children and teenagers are assumed too young or ignorant to recognise or understand big, life-changing events such as loss and grief, divorce and separation, substance abuse and violence. But are they?
Consider the perspective of a young child in the scenes of a relationship breakdown. Two parents who the child is used to seeing as loving, caring and available slowly become two adults who raise their voices, weep, and fight – a lot. As time goes by, one parent starts to disappear more and more and, when both parents are together, it is noisy and everyone is angry and upset.These parents don’t interact with the child together anymore; when they do, it’s only for a split second before the child is whisked away into a new home environment, with a new bed, toys and furniture.
Can this child attach the term ‘relationship breakdown’ to what’s going on? Perhaps not.
But children notice change. Changes in behaviour, environment, interactions, relationships…Amongst the confusion that may have come to overwhelm the child, he/she may try, as much as possible, to make sense of the changes. And whatever this interpretation and understanding comes to be can shape the attitudes and experience of the child, the teenager, then the adult.So, in the world of counselling and human services, how do you view children and teenagers? What sort of opportunities is it inviting or hindering?It’s safe to say that it is the responsibility of all human service workers to maintain a safe and respectful space for clients to express themselves. The setup of this space rests in the hands of the worker – in the philosophy, the questioning, and the responses.Including children and teenagers in the counselling conversation invites different perspectives to the same situation. Given the opportunity, the voice of a young person can reveal their unique experience of the big family problems and their needs within the situation.Advocating for their voices to be heard by the people in their lives can be instrumental in moving children positively forward through change.Children are competent, capable and valued members of families, the greater community and the future. It’s time we respectfully listen and acknowledge their voices and contributions, no matter how young they are. Only with their voices can future generations be heard.
Written by Rachel Khor – teacher, counsellor and life-long learner.