One of the things I’ve always been proud of as a parent is my ability to relate to my children.
I’m not suggesting that I have it down to an art. And my children and I certainly have our share of clashes. But there is, and always has been, an underlying level of respect for one another that prevents outright war from ensuing.
The mutual respect we share has developed because of a fundamental belief I hold very dear: children are not less than adults in any way.
Not less intelligent or less important. No less worthy of being heard, of sharing opinions, of contributing in meaningful ways. They don’t deserve less attention, acknowledgement, or courtesy. They do not have fewer feelings, a shallower or less valid emotional life, nor do they lack the ability to understand complex situations.
They’re just smaller than us.
There are certainly differences that we need to take into consideration in order that we can protect, nurture and prepare our children for adulthood. As adults, we have a great deal more education and experience in the ways of the world, and we have faced situations, emotions and challenges that they may not as yet have faced. We can share this information, this wisdom, with our children as we would share directions and instructions with new visitors from another country.
I often see adults and parents talk down to children. They use baby language, or condescend to their children, treating their lack of knowledge as lack of intelligence, when in fact this is far from the truth.
Of course, there are levels of communication and language that are more or less suitable for children at different ages and maturities, but none of these levels include being rude, patronizing, or dismissive.
I also understand the importance of maintaining a parent/child dynamic instead of falling into the pitfall of the opposite extreme – the ‘I’m your best buddy’ mistake. The role of true friendship comes later, when children have matured enough to leave home and view their parents as real people.
But while they are young and under parental ‘control’, I’ve never let my role as rule enforcer, teacher and guide slide into dictatorship or ownership.
I have always shown my children (and those of others) the same level of respect and courtesy that I would show my best friend, my spouse, or my boss. Though I may never ask my boss to clean up his room, tell my best friend to stop pestering his sister, or impose a curfew on my wife, I try to use the same respectful language and tone with my children that I would use when communicating with any of the important adults in my life.
I would never bark orders at my wife, belittle or dismiss my best friend’s opinions or ideas, or fail to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to my boss. And yet I see adults treating children in this way all the time. Often, it’s these same adults who later complain that their children don’t show them any respect.
Children learn primarily by aping the caregivers around them. If we make the effort to demonstrate a respectful, courteous and appreciative attitude with our children from day one, we will not only enjoy more harmonious relationships with them, but we are more likely to achieve our primary aim as loving parents: to see our children grow into happy, confident and well-adjusted adults.