I love children so much and I’m literally obsessed with them, no wonder I make friends easily with children more than with adults. One of the first few friends I made in Abeokuta was my former neighbour’s 10 year old daughter who I will call Oremi in this article (not her real name). She was 9 years when I first met her and turned 10 recently. In as much as I don’t like being around people that talk too much, I love this girl and like being around her. Yes, I love the fact that she talks too much. She’s a free spirited girl and is not afraid to ask questions or share things that are going on around her with the elders in the house.
I was staying with an aunt then who is her mother’s close friend and neighbour. Oremi returns from school most times before her parents so she often comes to stay with us before they return from work and on weekends too. The aunt I stayed with is like an aunty to Oremi. So we were like one big family.
One day, my aunt wanted to buy something. I was new to the area so my aunt couldn’t send me and Oremi’s mother prohibited her from passing certain paths unaccompanied by an elder person. So since I didn’t know how to get to the shop and Oremi was not allowed to go there alone, we were sent to go together. She was to lead the way while I ensured her safety.
We passed the path where some ‘rough’ boys stayed. As we walked passed them, they called us and tried to get our attention. But Oremi held closely to me, telling me not to answer them. She was also walking fast so we could get past them quickly. She further explained that some girls in that area are pregnant and they are just in secondary school, and told me how those boys behave. I now understood why her mum never allowed her to pass that path alone.
We got to the shop and returned home. Shortly after we got home, she narrated our experience to my aunt who laughed. It was funny to hear Oremi narrate how she was telling me to ignore those boys and how to get past them safely. She asked Oremi if it isn’t supposed to be the older person guiding the younger one and told her that I was old enough to know how to handle such situations.
Yes, I did know how to handle such situations but I was indeed amazed at Oremi’s intelligence. From that little experience and our conversations on the way, it seemed like she must have been given sex education at a young age, something that is very commendable. All through the journey, she was the one leading me and directing me and I just allowed her while observing how smart she is. She knew why she shouldn’t walk through that path alone. She knew the consequences of pre-marital sex. She knew that she needed to ignore those boys because they had nothing to offer. She knew that she should run if they tried to get close to her. She was young yet mature enough to handle that situation.
The next thing I liked about her was that immediately she came back, she freely narrated her experience to our aunty. She wasn’t scared or shy to discuss ‘boy issues’. With such an open child, it will be easy to correct her and guide her. It will also be hard for anyone to abuse her sexually because she knew when to run and will always come back home to share stories of how anyone tried to make advances at her.
I went visiting her few days after her birthday. She was preparing for her continuous assessment and I was helping her with her mathematics. In between the study, she asked me a question relating to puberty in girls. I answered her and she told me that she was taught in school, came home and asked their maid but their maid told her it was not true, that’s why she asked me to confirm. I told her it was true and explained it further to her. She also began to open up and share more personal issues relating to puberty with me. She easily believed me and even shared more personal things with me without me asking because she trusted me and because there was a bond of friendship between us. It’s easier for children to believe and open up to people that they trust and are close to.
Many stories of sexual abuse in children are because the children were not exposed to sex education early and there is no comfortable environment where they can freely ask questions or share experiences with their elders. They are scared to open up and so they suffer in silence.
A parent may not be able to protect their child from being raped or abused once but they can prevent their children from being sex slaves and from all the trauma associated with it. If you do a research, you’ll find out that some cases of sexual abuse in adults and children started when they were young and lasted for a long time. Some of these cases of sexual abuse can be prevented by early sex education and by a friendly relationship between the children and their parents or guardian. Some who became victims suffered longer than they should because they couldn’t speak up and seek for help.
I’m not saying a child should become a talkative because when children talk too much it can land them in trouble as they may reveal sensitive details to the wrong person. A child should be encouraged to express themselves freely but they should also be guided on what to say, who to express themselves to and on the things to keep secret.
Some children are struggling with different addictions and emotional distress because there was a gap between them and their parents. Children will always ask questions. The issue is who are they asking? Like Oremi came home to ask their maid and later asked me for confirmation of an issue relating to puberty, children also have questions they need answers to as they are growing up. When they are misinformed, they end up in the wrong path.
Some of us are not yet parents yet, but one day we may be. It is never too early to start preparing how your home will be. There is a lot of gap between parents and children but it shouldn’t be so. Let’s try to bridge that gap, let’s strive to be better parents. The first person a child should hear and learn about sex related issues from is the parents. There’s so much going on in this world and children need a safe place they can run to, they need someone they can be open and honest with without being judged, scolded or punished. They need a shoulder they can cry on. They need someone they can pour out their heart to freely, someone that will listen to them without giving lectures and sermons.
It is not every time that a parent should punish or scold a child even when they are wrong. It is not every time that a parent should begin to lecture their children about their mistakes. Yes, they may have made mistakes. But sometimes the pain from their mistakes is enough punishment for them. Sometimes they’ve learnt enough lessons already from their mistakes and they just need someone to lean on, a shoulder to cry on, someone to listen to them and comfort them, someone to reassure them that they can get back up.
It’s just like when a child puts his hand in fire and gets burnt. Maybe you’ve warned him before but he disobeyed you and got burnt. The pain he may be going through could serve as enough punishment and lesson for him. Punishing him or scolding him may not be necessary.
Disciplining children is good. I’m not against it. But children also need their parents to be their friends and not just a disciplinarian. Sometimes they need you to first of all listen to them and understand their pain.
Children from strict parents still end up rebellious. Discipline your children, but first of all, make them your best friend.
P.S. This post was inspired from my friendship with my 10 year old Ore. She is one of the first friends I made when I moved to Abeokuta and she has made my stay here worthwhile. Through my relationship with her, I’ve learnt so much about motherhood even when I’m not yet a mother. She makes me look forward to when I will be a mother and particularly to when I will raise my own biological daughter. But in the meantime, I’ll just keep looking after the children of others, learning more about parenting and preparing for the future.