Children Ask Dr G
Written by Doctor G

We should listen to children! But not obey them.


Are you a fan of Sesame Street? If you are then you might know the character Mr. Snuffleupagus – a woolly-mammoth-looking muppet who debuted in 1971 and, in my childhood, could only be seen by kids and Big Bird. That quirk led to some giggles but also, in the early 1980’s caused the educational workshop that creates the show to realize they’d accidentally been modeling a dangerous pattern. The adults on the show didn’t believe Big Bird (at the time one of the most childlike characters) or the kids who said he was real and this could lead children to expect not to be believed by their adults when they had something big and hairy (and hard to believe) to tell them. In a conscious effort to support children who’d been molested, they consulted experts and made a two year story arc to introduce Snuffy as real to everyone in the show and the audience.

This was part of a big, important movement away from the 1950’s model of “children should be seen and not heard” to a much more loving and nurturing focus on teaching kids self-advocacy and communication skills.

We should listen to children!


Obeying children – letting them call the shots – causes them real harm.

I spent the last week with over a hundred amazing moms and we wrestled a lot with the question of our kid’s push for autonomy and what our roles are supposed to be.

Listening to children means hearing their perspective, validating their feelings and teaching them that we believe they are usually making a good faith effort to tell us their truth. That loving them means listening to them, and they should expect that from the people they choose in their lives. Obeying them means putting them in charge, and that often makes children and teens afraid. They often know that they don’t have as much experience and wisdom as adults, and they do know kids aren’t supposed to have the power, even when they want it.

When we put kids in charge of big decisions, when we let them run the show, we add to their feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. We may get a short term gain – avoid an argument or tantrum – but we can do long term damage. 

When is a time that you’ve listened to a child and wondered how to make them feel heard without giving them all the decision-making power? Comment and tell me. This is an issue from age 18 months to 18 years, and as a society we need to be talking about it!

All my best,

Dr. G

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