In case you missed it, National Child day was on November 20th and throughout the week, community organizations across the country took the opportunity to share information about the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). In 1991 Canada ratified this international human rights framework which celebrates kids’ rights to be treated with dignity and respect. As we look ahead into the New Year, why not consider what it means to better respect the rights of our youngest community members.
The UNCRC contains 54 articles that can be broken down into four key tenants – every child has a right to: be healthy and provided with their basic needs; be safe and protected from harm; have a voice and be heard; and, be themselves and provided the opportunity to reach their full potential. It asserts the rights of children to be active participants in their own lives and in their families and communities.
As parents, keeping our kids safe and healthy seems like a no-brainer, but if we truly want to respect child rights in keeping with the UNCRC, we should also be acknowledging and valuing our children’s capacity to be actively and authentically involved in the decisions that impact them. Article 12 states:
When adults are making decisions that affect children, children have the right to say what they think should happen and have their opinions taken into account.
This doesn’t mean your 5-year-old gets to rule the roost and make carte blanche decisions. It’s about inviting children into the decision-making process, in a way that is developmentally appropriate and reflective of both their best interests and the family’s needs.
For example, when we were considering the move to Bowen, we gave my oldest daughter (11 at the time) veto power over the decision. That’s a lot of responsibility for an 11-year-old but we had recently been through a lot of changes as a family including some big, international moves. We were concerned about the impact of another significant upheaval in her life and were in a position where moving to Bowen was a choice rather than a necessity. She was also emotionally mature enough to understand the pros and cons of such a move. Luckily, she was thrilled at the idea and the rest is history. Not every family can or should turn over major life decisions to a pre-teen, but allowing kids a strong and meaningful voice in those decisions where there is room for discussion and deliberation goes a long way in respecting their right to be heard.
Remember that respecting your child’s right to be heard is not about being a push-over, it’s about acknowledging that your child has a voice and it is worth listening to. That said, if it is a situation where your child’s perspective will not make an impact either way, just refrain from asking.
These conversations starting from a young age can go a long way to building healthy patterns of communication as your kids grow into adulthood. They help children develop a sense of efficacy, and are a starting point for distinguishing between needs and wants, and as children enter into their middle school years, can lay the groundwork for conversations about topics such as bullying, consent and privilege.
Some more tips on being a rights-respecting adult:
- Have conversations with your child about their rights and their responsibility to respect others’ rights. (The Society of Children and Youth of BC suggests that as soon as a child is old enough to utter the phrase “that’s not fair”, they are old enough to learn about childrens’ rights).
- Whenever possible, provide choices to your child rather than commands. However, don’t provide choice where none exists: “Would you like to go to bed now?” Instead, offer choices that balance your child’s right to be heard with your responsibility to keep them healthy and safe: “It’s bedtime. Would you like to wear your dinosaur or your fairy pajamas?”
- Discuss real-life situations where you or your child has noticed a disrespect of child rights. Help younger children place issues such as bullying into the context of child rights. With older children and youth, encourage them to understand and advocate for themselves within a rights framework when dealing with friends, romantic partners, teachers and employers.
- Include your children’s input into decisions that directly affect them. Listen to your children’s input and work to understand their point of view. Remember, the goal is for children to have their say, not necessarily get their way.
- Stand up for children when you see their rights being ignored and advocate for children and youth voices to be included in community planning and decision making.
In recognizing the importance of a parent’s job, UNCRC also charges governments with the task of providing resources and support. Parents, your job is a big one. Be sure to take the time to celebrate all of your success and hard work in the holiday season.
All the best in 2017.