ParenTalk–The Case For Equal & Respectful Parenting
Oh! Leave me alone, it is for the adults to decide; you know nothing. Are these common words that you use or hear in everyday situations? Do you think children are better at playing and running and shouldn’t have a say in how the household runs?
When my friend wanted to pull her 3-year-old out of preschool because he didn’t want to go, she faced criticism. Her husband said that he is just a child and will adjust. The in-laws said she was making him weak and her parents said that these decisions were not for the kids to make.
I empathize with everyone involved in the situation and agree that you cannot let your 4-year-old decide which stock to buy. However, how about treating them as equals? How about listening to them and discussing their stance? How about assessing a tantrum with an open mind to know if the child is asking for attention, whether there is an unaddressed need? How about asking them what color they’d like the walls to be or just greeting children as frequently as you treat adults when you come across them in the apartment play area or your child’s school. It takes just casual scrutiny of simple everyday situations to realize how we treat kids differently. Our interactions with them show how we think it is ok to discriminate. Now call it a game of power or just mistrust. The result is how we treat children.
Most Adultism has cultural roots
Adultism is the air of superiority that makes adults treat kids as inferior. Cultures around the world have established that the child needs to be disciplined or corrected. Have we ever wondered if we are perfect as adults? Do we go around disciplining adults or correcting them as frequently as we do with kids? Do we order, direct, and preach to adults as often?
Another aspect is the idea that kids are moldable clay and parents have to shape them. While children are highly impressionable and parenting plays a significant role in their overall development, it doesn’t mean that they owe us anything. They are people in their own right and deserve equal respect and care.
Let us leave the abstract examples aside. Do we heed their cries when they are howling during a painful massage session? I have heard all sorts of explanations for this, right from making their limbs and lungs strong to helping them get a good sleep after crying and getting tired. Put yourself in the child’s shoes. Do you think it’d be respectful if someone does that to you? Would you like to be tickled after you have explicitly stated that it is uncomfortable?
And that, my friend, is the case of respect. Treating children as equals doesn’t require you to give them the password to your bank account, but respect their wishes and treat them as you’d treat another adult. That doesn’t mean not hugging them as often or letting them figure out their life. It means respecting them as much as you’d respect adults.
Treating them as equals must begin from birth:
Treating your child as a whole person with their own mind must begin as soon as they are born. Janet Lansbury says, ‘when we perceive our infants as capable, intelligent, responsive people ready to participate in life, initiate activity, receive and return our efforts to communicate with them, then we find that they are all of those things.’ She recommends looking at children with the same needs as us.
Respecting their denial of your physical advances is the first step. So, no pinching cheeks or tickling if they are uncomfortable and no massages that don’t soothe them.
Ways to reduce Adultism and treat children as equals:
Make eye contact with them:
It is disrespectful to talk to kids while your eyes are glued to your phone or the wok on the flame. Recognize their presence, make eye contact, and be attentive to what they say. Yes, it isn’t possible to do that 24*7, but accomplishing it sometimes in a day isn’t impossible either. When you notice that they wish to contribute to a conversation, value their inputs, make them feel included.
Choose your words wisely:
Before you say anything, ask yourself if you’d speak in the same way if you were talking to an adult. And if you did, would it count as respectful? Make sure that you discuss or negotiate with them rather than giving orders. Watch your tone as well to ensure that you are not treating them as inferior or patronizing them.
Do not take it upon yourself to correct everything:
While it can get stressful to let go of socially unacceptable behavior like banging the door, but it could be the only time they did it. It is important to control the urge to lecture them about everything. Only yesterday, I was getting ready for bed while my 5-year-old was having a fun banter with my mum. I heard just a part of the conversation and lectured him. He heard and kept quiet. Only later, my mum told me the entire conversation and it turned out that the lecture was unrequired.
Talk to them privately:
You may feel that correcting them right at the moment will have maximum impact and will ensure discipline, but lecturing or correcting them in front of others will only embarrass them. If you cannot argue with your partner in public, don’t do that with your child either. It could bring upon you the social judgment of not being in control of your children but is better than making your child feel worse.
Do not force them to do things they don’t wish to:
Blowing a kiss to an unknown person or saying hello could seem simple to you but not to the child. If they are not comfortable doing something, do not force them. Imagine how you’d feel if you are forced to speak to a relative you don’t like? It isn’t very different. Respecting their choice will help them develop far more social skills than forcing them.
Ask yourself if obedience is what you are looking for:
The primary mistake that most of us make with parenting is to expect obedience. If you ask them to bring you a glass of water while they are busy making a lego aircraft and they deny it, they are not being disrespectful. Do you leave your work call to attend to them if they ask? Why is it that a work call is important but building legos is not? Expecting them to leave everything and obey is again adultism.
Let them handle age-appropriate tasks under your supervision:
Kids love to accomplish tasks that they see adults handling. They’d like to use knives and scissors and serve their own plate. It may be scary to you, but not allowing them to do anything on their own is also a form of disrespect. You convey a message that you don’t trust them. You can let them perform these tasks under supervision. This may cause a gravy-spill on the table, but the child will slowly learn independence.
Include them in your plans:
If you are planning to surprise your spouse for their birthday, ask the child what they’d like to do to make their parent feel special. Take their opinion on little things like the choice of cake flavor or color of the outfit you’d gift. If the plan is about the child, including them would be even better. Giving them options to choose from and considering their opinion is a great way to treat your children as equals.
How do you feel if someone labels you headstrong or an egoist? Labeling the child as arrogant, naughty, adamant, or feisty would make them feel similarly.
Let them answer if someone asks them a question:
If you jump to answer all the questions that come their way, they feel sidelined. Wait for them to respond, help them with words or clues if they are struggling, and answer only if they cannot.
Remember, respectfully treating your children as equals will not only make them better decision-makers and emotionally healthy adults, it will also make them more respectful towards you and others. It is more about modeling respectful behavior than demanding respect.
Smriti is a freelance content writer and an avid reader. She quit her 6 year-long IT career to embrace her love for writing. She writes content across genres and takes pride in her ability to research and carve magic with words. She passionately writes about parenting and is currently working on her book. When not writing or reading, she can be seen running behind any of her 2 kids or learning Deutsch.