Childhood is loud. Most children, my own included, are still discovering the world around them on a daily basis. They brim with excitement and enthusiasm when they make such discoveries. When good things happen to adults, we cheer, we high five, we get excited. So why does it always seem so socially unacceptable for kids to exhibit the same behaviors?
Recently, I was at a bookstore with my five-year-old daughter. We were in the children's section of the store and my kid was reading and discussing her book with anyone in the vicinity who would listen - and even those who wouldn't. Yes, she was reading rather boisterously. The volume of her voice continued to grow louder with her enthusiasm for the book she was reading. After a few minutes of this, I noticed a woman - presumably another mother, as she was sitting with two small children in the same section - giving my child less than friendly glances as her volume increased. After her stink eyes failed to phase my child (who honestly didn't even notice), she began to direct her stare at me. Initially, I considered reminding my own kid to lower her voice but then I didn't. Why should she be expected to be any more quiet or any less boisterous than the other children running around the children's section of this store? The whole area was loud. Why was this woman singling out my kid?
After several minutes of my pointed ignorance of the situation, the woman actually approached me and said something along the lines of, "You really need to teach her to be more quiet in public." Um...what? I am rarely at a loss for words, but I have no trouble admitting here that I was struck silent by this admonition. Seriously...what?
Shortly after this, the woman collected her children and exited the store. My own kid, blissfully unaware of what had just taken place, continued to comment excitedly on the book she was reading. I sat down with her and joined in the discussion, never once considering asking her to lower her voice.
This incident, along with much of the reading I've been doing lately, has me considering the larger implications of what people think of as "developmentally appropriate" for young kids. Sure, there are social conventions that kids will certainly adopt as they navigate their growing understandings of the world. But the last time I read an awesome book, I excitedly squealed over it with a friend who had also recently finished it. And guess what? We were in public when the exchange took place. In my own excitement, maybe I simply missed the hairy eyeballs turned my way, if they were there at all. So why shouldn't kids be afforded the same courtesy? No one challenged the "developmental appropriateness" of my volume or actions.
I think this really circles back to child agency. If adults can't control the actions of the children around them, the world devolves into chaos...right? Look, I get it. There are times and places where kids do need to understand that loud voices aren't the best choice. But when reading a book, in a children's bookshop? I just don't get it.
Child agency is something I think about a lot, and it's something that I wrestle with in my own practice. But I can't help but worry that instances such as this get internalized, particularly by girls. The messages girls receive, both implicit and explicit, often convey that their voices aren't as important, that their opinions are somehow less, that their thoughts don't carry as much value. So what lesson is my kid taking from a situation in which someone attempts to silence her? Thankfully, in this case, my kid was absorbed in an activity that brings her immense joy - losing herself in a book - and she didn't catch it. This time. But what about next time?
I pride myself on being pretty straightforward with my own kid, and the children I teach. I take every opportunity to reiterate the importance of critical thinking when opportunities present themselves. But still, I have to wonder: when did reading a book loudly become socially unacceptable? When did enthusiasm become something undesirable? What does the attitude of this woman toward my child imply for society at large? These are questions I can't really answer, only wrestle with and consider to inform my parenting and my teaching practice. I'm certainly inspired to continue advocating for children - all children - to own their voices and not be afraid to speak up.