“Teacher Carol!!! Can I please sing for you a song and you tell me if I have talent or not? Please please please… Teacher Carol!!!” This was Matilda, a standard seven pupil at St. George’s primary school. We had just finished our third session of the Leadership Club we run once a week at the school under the iSpeak programme. The other students had already filed out of class heading home. “Sure Matilda, go ahead” I said, opting not to be counted among dream killers. She proceeded to sing a lovely rendition of award winning gospel artist Sinach’s “nothing is impossible”. Then looked at me with such expectant eyes… Her three friends Angela, Maryanne and Olive who were part of the audience, were waiting anxiously to hear what I had to say about Matilda’s performance.
Your passionate dream that’s burning fiercely in your heart
I gave Matilda feedback – in sandwich format that the Toastmaster that I am is fond of — that I loved her voice and her enthusiasm, that she was swallowing her words a little in some places and needed to improve on that, and that she most definitely had the makings of being an excellent vocal artist who was set to conquer the world; she cried.
The poor girl cried so much…She heaved and sobbed and broke down and rivers of tears flowed down her face. Strange reaction to a compliment right? A little extreme don’t you think? You see, she had been in the presence of such negative feedback about her attempts to sing that it was killing her inside. Literally. Imagine that? At only 12? To have your passionate dream that’s burning fiercely in your heart and looking for expression killed mercilessly? Isn’t that tragic?
They were watching her with hawk eyes to ensure that their decree was followed to the letter
She explained to me that her parents didn’t want to ever hear her sing. That they considered it a complete waste of time. And that she would be in very big trouble if they found her practicing. She therefore had to practise in secret and to ensure that any time a song bubbled up to her lips, that she would stifle it for fear of being in big trouble. She wondered how she was going to put in place the advice I’d given her to keep practicing. To also use every opportunity to sing out loud, because practice makes perfect and she needed to keep at it.
Her parents she said, wanted her to focus only on her studies. This was to ensure she passed her KCPE exams. That they were watching her with hawk eyes to ensure that their decree was followed to the letter. They were essentially dream killers of anything non-academic!
Confidence is everything to a child
My colleagues and I were rather at a crossroads. For a child whilst still under their parent’s care, is completely subject to their rules that reign. Whether these rules are contrary for example, to Naomi Kivuvani’s fantastic opinion piece about how extra curricula activities can transform your child, or not. We wondered what we were to tell Matilda without necessarily casting her parents as villains. And at the same time not have her continue squishing the life out of her dream.
Matilda’s confidence in the first place to go ahead and request that I listen to her song, was already such a testament to the courage that self-confidence gives. You see, the leadership programme we’d started was barely in its third session and we’d seen marvelous transformation. From children who couldn’t look us in the eye and who either looked away or looked at the floor when spoken to, to children shooting their hands in the air anxious to speak up and answer questions. Confidence is everything to a child. It is what makes them successful in life and empowers them to be assertive and boldly self-expressed.
Her parent’s biggest worry
Our advice to Matilda was to ensure that she did her best to excel at classwork for indeed that seemed to be her parent’s biggest worry. And that although they seemed to be vilifying her efforts to develop her talent, in actual fact their underlying concern was that they wanted her to do well in school and pass her exams.
We tried to get Matilda to ‘walk in her parent’s shoes’ and to try to see the angle they were coming from. That whether she agreed with it or otherwise was immaterial, what mattered is that she understood their point of view. The advice helped to ensure her heartache reduced. Additionally, she didn’t carry along with her the notion that her parents were against her. This got Matilda and her friends who had all cast Matilda’s parents as ‘little ogres’ to understand that it was every parent’s worry in this country that their child passed exams; because most unfortunately that was just how the system worked. And until it changed, their best bet was to give it their best shot and excel.
We asked Miatilda what subjects she was currently struggling with, and science and Kiswahili were her pain points. We encouraged her to really give those extra attention, and to improve her grades as best possible. We then painted a picture for Matilda of her arriving home with her results to very pleased parents who could see the efforts she’d made to work on her grades. “Would they be sooo unhappy if they found you singing after you’ve presented them with the improved marks?” we dared ask her to envision… She thought not. She actually imagined that they wouldn’t mind too much.
The need for open communication between parents and children
Parent to child communication indeed is the root cause of 99% of family problems. Be it miscommunication, withheld communication, misplaced communication, inappropriate communication, untimely communication, over-communication, you name it… The need for open communication between parents and children to really understand each other is important. Children need to be raised in an environment where self-expression is nurtured. Also where the child irrespective parental disagreement, can indicate how they feel. I’m not too sure that Matilda’s parents were aware of just how deep rooted the hurt their child was carrying was. To the extent that would have her approach ‘near strangers’ who’d shown her the generosity of listening, and completely break down in their presence?
We as parents can become the dream killers
We also need to teach our children to think win-win. This will have them think of solutions rather than cower under decrees and lose themselves. We must not, as parents, be the dream killers. What if for example, Matilda had grown up in an environment of open communication, and had told her parents when they banned her singing “Mum and Dad – I really really want to sing. What if I improve my science and my Kiswahili by 20 marks each next exam, will you let me sing a little?” That would then be a win-win situation for all. Improved marks for her that would comfort her parents, and some freedom to practice her singing. Aren’t these the type of assertive and self-confident children that we want to raise to conquer the world and chase after their dreams?
Well… it works both ways. We as parents must listen to our children, and our children must indeed listen to us. Listening is indeed the core pillar for successful communication. I am indeed looking forward to next term when we resume the Leadership Club at the school, to hear Matilda’s news. Waiting with bated breath to hear about our little songstress’ victory and of course to listen to her lovely voice once again.