Monday, June 13, 2011

Living Respectfully With Children

So much mainstream parenting is disrespectful to children, but our society, in its attempt not to offend people we don't even know, for reasons we don't often understand, points no light at this. It's not okay to offend the guy three houses down by walking outside topless (if you're a woman or an overweight man), but it's okay to tell a child that their idea is irrelevant, take their property (and yes, once it's given to them, regardless of where it came from, it's theirs--after all, your gifts are yours, are they not? Not 'on loan' from the gift giver?) without permission and give it away, sell it, throw it away, etc., control them through fear and pain, interrupt what they're doing or saying and utterly dismiss them as people.

I don't agree that that's okay (but you saw that coming).

Children are people. Yes, sometimes they're annoying people. Yes, they have very simple ideas and they come up with things that we learned (as children) just don't work. Because everything is new to them!

above: flashlights and giant dandelions: things that were once top dollar entertainment

We lay expectations down on our children that are impossible for the average adult to live up to. Children are often discouraged from joining adult conversations, expected to sit still while their little legs are aching for exercise, overridden in their food choices (I'm not talking about wanting ice cream for a main course, I'm talking about the tremendous disrespect of forcing them to order from the children's menu, even if there is nothing there that they want, just because it's cheaper--which it isn't always!)... and that's just a typical restaurant experience for a child. Is it any wonder that kids are often crying at the table with frustrated parents? How would you act if those were the expectations set forth for you?

Next, how about the bathroom? This isn't parental, but a way that society disrespects children. Bathrooms in most places, even 'family friendly' places rarely have toilets that are close to the ground, nor sinks, so young, potty learning/training children have their independence taken from them (and while most kids are used to this--some of us with two year olds know how important that tiny independence is to them!).

Now, this is also a disservice to most adults, though we don't know it--toilets lower to the ground are actually easier on our bodies for going number two. So it would benefit both children and adults to have a couple short potties in each bathroom. And a short sink would save mom/dad's back from having to hold the kid up! (I just stick mine on the counter and let them do it themselves, then I have to clean the counter after.)

Now, the phrase that really got me going on this very long tangent (there are so very many things that could be listed in how the world is unfair to its shortest, newest citizens): Pick your battles. Now, this is good advice on one hand, but the terminology... as though children are on one side and parents on another! Children don't want to fight battles.

They want to have control over their own lives, just like you and me. Unfortunately, they don't have the life experience or education to make the best decisions in all things, so we do occasionally have to redirect and take over. Maybe it's to keep them safe or maybe it's to keep life running smoothly for everyone in the family.

Because a family is a working unit. For it to work properly and exist happily, everyone must have their basic needs met and have equal respect for each other. Just as we can't just run over a child's autonomy or choices, they need to respect ours and a balance has to be found to keep the family in working order. That varies for every family.

Personally, I think a good rule of thumb is to ask yourself: "How would I respond if this was my sister's child? My neighbor's? A stranger's?" Then, compare it to, "How would I respond if this was my roommate? My best friend? My spouse? My mother?" Look at the differences in your answers for each situation. Then ask, "How would I want someone to respond if this were me?"

Be honest. No one in their right mind is honestly going to answer, "Gee, I would want them to hit me," or "I'd want them to take away my television/Netflix/computer/whatever." Sure, we might joke, "Slap/shoot me if I ever..." but we don't intend for it to be taken seriously. We mean: confront us with what we've done and remind us why that's a bad idea. If someone took our property, we'd be pissed off--after all, it would make no sense and we'd see it as a lack of respect and a violation. Kids are no different there.

Now, after you have your answer, add in your child's personality and what you know about them. Try to think why they are doing whatever it is that's annoyed you enough to react (hint: the answer is not actually 'just to annoy' you--if they want to annoy you, then something else has already come up and not been addressed). Why are you reacting? What is your concern with their action? If your answer involves, "What will other people think?" then you need to rethink. That is a bad reason in general.

From there, you will have a lot more compassionate, reasonable and respectful approach to the situation and be on a better road to living respectfully with your child/ren. This is important because children learn from what they see much more than they learn from what they hear. If they see you consistently demonstrating respect, then they are much more likely to return it and know how to react respectfully in the future.

And if you fail now and then? Then you're human, just like the rest of us. But it's a good place to start and a good goal to have.

One last tip: Let them stop and smell the roses if you don't have an appointment. Yes, it's five more minutes until you could be on the internet or prepping dinner or whatever. However, if our kids can 'wait a minute' for us, then we should return the courtesy now and then.


  1. Michael and I try very hard to respect Patrick. Some days he does not want his diaper changed at all. Well I have to change it. Can't let him sit in a dirty diaper so I usually ask do you want to be naked for a little while? Usually then he will come and let me take off the old one and clean him up then he runs around having fun. After a while I let him know we'll have to put his diaper back on so we can go bye bye or if he wants to nurse ( Just not going to have pee on me! LOL) He is not really into potty learning yet. Just loves going naked! LOL So we bargain I guess you could say. He gets a choice in what he eats but not a huge choice in what gets put on his plate. Though by no means does he have to eat what is there! I just like to add veggies which he typically avoids or feeds to me (which I eat of course). So yes I agree with you. Thank you for posting though. It's good to have a reminder so that I make a point of it.

  2. Thanks for the link on FB. I look foward to reading more!


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