by Karen Fenton M.S.

I think we, as a society, are tragically unaware of the potential danger of unexpressed emotional pain. That pain does not just dissipate. A few fortunate children have the chance to express it to emotionally healthy adults who teach them how to handle it appropriately, but where does the suppressed emotional pain of the unlucky children go? For far too many kids, that pain becomes a justifiable anger that often turns into rage.

Any child that is denied the expression of his or her frustration, anger or rage about being out of control of their little life, or of being abused, or molested or simply neglected will keep it inside indefinitely. That anger will NEVER dissipate, I repeat neither anger nor rage will dissipate or go away without an expression or release of some kind. An example of the release of rage that I speak of happened at Virginia Tech.

Human frustration, when not allowed expression in healthy ways at the pain, frustration or anger stage, automatically turns to rage and often fury. Denied release, anger stays inside for years and years, building and piling upon itself, getting stronger and stronger, pushing into the subconscious where it won’t be remembered. However, it gushes out in full force at some point in life either OUTWARDLY in the form of rape, murder, domestic violence, animal killing, or INWARDLY in the form of suicide, cutting, eating disorders, addictions etc. Either way it is extremely destructive costing us billions of dollars each year in prisons, attorneys, loss of innocent life etc. The ONLY sure solution to all violence against one’s own person and/or society is the PREVENTION of the rage buildup in the first place. Prevention has to begin with the children.

The average child does not have a free public support group to go to and talk about their problems and frustrations like all of us adults do. I'm thinking of the anonymous meetings from overeating to adult children of alcoholics, alateen, aa, na, emotions anonymous and cancer survivors groups, grief support groups, women's groups, anger management groups, and on and on, plus all the groups going on at churches. There are no support groups of any kind developed for young children, so that they can share their stress and anger over problems with classmates, parents, molesters, siblings, bullies etc. except in a very few schools under specific circumstances. If we can provide these important groups for adults why can’t we provide them for the children? Children have the same angry and frustrating emotions as adults have, however they are under the complete control of their caretakers, who in far too many cases are emotionally unhealthy adults who lack the ability to allow their children healthy emotional release of frustration and anger.

Most adults are very uncomfortable with these emotions in themselves. In addition, parents or caretakers are often working, coming home exhausted with still more household chores to do. If there are several children in a family, the children and their inner life are forced to take a back seat in the whirlwind of their family life. It is practically impossible for us as a society to expect parents or caretakers to tend to the angry and frustrating emotions of their little ones in a healthy manner. It takes time to be with a child, paying attention and listening to their emotional life and creating a safe space for the child to express their feelings in a healthy way. Most Americans do not have time for themselves let alone for all their children.

Kids desperately need to feel HEARD and respected by someone they trust who will be available to them throughout their growing up years. I dare say that the majority of babies, toddlers and young children do not have trained adults in their life to listen to them and give them a feeling of being heard and respected. In order to hear what a child is really feeling, an average person needs to have patience and be trained in listening skills. I believe it is vital for such a person to be available to every child in America on a daily basis to LISTEN without judgement in order for that child to grow up without retaining frustration, anger and rage inside them. Instead of in ill-equipped homes, what better place to make this happen then in our public schools and daycare centers where children gather every day, year after year?

We hear of many instances in which that one special person in a child’s life (a teacher or a counselor) has made a dramatic difference and turned a child around for the better. This open trusting kind of relationship allows for healthy expression of feelings, eliminating the buildup of potentially destructive emotions. If you ask the child what it was that made them change for the better, they will tell you they felt LISTENED to and that made all the difference. During the listening process a child feels valued and important no matter what else they are experiencing. They get feedback that is opposite to what they are hearing elsewhere in their life. This gives their self-esteem a tremendous boost.

It takes a special adult to be able to make a child feel heard. Listeners/mentors to children do not have to fix a child’s life or even stop abuse in it; (other programs address that). Remember, if angry emotions are not released in a healthy manner, they WILL be released somehow…and in ways society does not approve of. These range from classroom disruption and bullying, to torture and killing of animals to out and out killing of many students in a high school or on a college campus.

If we provide a safe LISTENING opportunity in day care centers and school, every day, for every child, they will have a chance to grow up without harboring angry feelings. At the same time they can learn how to express their angry feelings in healthy ways. That alone will prevent individual rage from building to fury and spilling out into society in destructive ways, not to mention the unbelievable suffering the children will experience as adults with rage locked inside; in the form of physical diseases and eating disorders to addictions, cutting themselves and suicide.

Alice Miller, a famous psychologist said that even a badly abused child can turn out to be a happy, productive citizen IF they have that one person in their life who makes them feel heard and respected. If a child is experiencing sexual, physical or emotional abuse they can live through it by themselves, alone every day, as they do right now, without anyone caring or even knowing it is happening…. Or we can respect a child’s right to be heard and provide a listener person for them all “leaving no child behind”. The key to an emotionally healthy society lies in listening to our children. If we don’t connect with our children on a deep level, and continue to deny them the right to be heard and respected, we will be denying ourselves of a healthy society. I frequently hear people say “there is no simple solution to the crime problem, to the truancy problem, to the drug problem etc.” The truth is that there IS a solution. It is simple one, so simple in fact that it is not given much attention. Listen to the children. Ask any angry teen if I am right. The big challenge is putting this simple solution into practice. Are we worth a peaceful society?

Every baby and young child that IS respected, listened to without judgement, mentored and paid attention to, does NOT retain their anger. Therefore, rage and fury CANNOT develop in that individual. They have learned how to release their feelings of frustration and anger in healthy ways. These individuals do not commit murder, rape, and domestic violence or kill animals. Neither do they commit suicide, cut themselves, starve themselves, overeat or become alcoholics and drug addicts. Guaranteed! Therefore, isn’t it a worthwhile goal to raise ALL of our children in this manner? It is definitely possible and I believe the best place to make it happen is where children gather daily, in all of our schools and day care centers across this country.

I know we can provide a “mentor/listener” for every toddler and child in every day care center and grade school across America. The first step is to educate the public on (1) the truth…that babies as well as young children need to FEEL heard and therefore feel respected. Our toddlers can never learn how to appropriately express what they feel all by themselves, without healthy role models or guidance. No child should be left behind in either their educational OR emotional development. Second, we need to (a) Redesign our schools by “marrying” the educators with the social workers and psychologists together under one roof in our schools and colleges, so that teachers will be free to teach and the emotional needs of students will be tended to by those most qualified. (b) Implement a plan that will allow for every school and day care center across the United States to provide trained listeners who will listen to the children on a daily basis, in groups and individually. Have mentors/listeners that will maintain a trusting relationship with the same children year after year throughout their preschool, elementary and middle school years. This will allow each child, to have that opportunity to safely express their pain, frustrations or anger, BEFORE they turn into rage, fury and later on, inward or outward violence. It will cost billions of dollars each year, however, it will be spent on the front end of prevention and not on the back end of destructive violence.

With a program like this in place thousands of social workers can go to work and daily listen to the children instead of being overburdened with caseloads of families and yanking children out of homes away from parents who didn’t know how to listen to them. Thousands of psychologists can work in public schools and day care centers every day listening to the children instead of working with the damaged psyche of adults who were never listened to when they were children. Teachers can then focus on teaching. The prisons can be emptied because would be criminals will have been listened to and respected as children. The pain and anguish that parents and others suffer from murdered loved ones will be non-existent. The unprecedented amount of federal, state and local monies that are now being spent for a criminal justice system that simply doesn't work can be redirected toward covering the cost of an education system that also includes emotional development, with NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND.

If you wish please send me a comment

Last updated April 2007