Of course we all know that children are people too, not some unknown species. As a parent, we may do very well with this concept. However, surprisingly a lot of the things some parents do in the handling of their children goes against this simple concept: Children are men and women, just like you and me.
“Children are not dogs. They can’t be trained like dogs are trained. They are not controllable items. They are, and let’s not overlook the point, men and women. A child is not a special species of animal distinct from man. A child is a man or woman who has not attained full growth.”
He then goes on to say,
“Any law which applies to the behavior of men and women applies to children.”
Some of you may have read this quote before, many have not. You may read it and say, “of course. I never considered my child a dog.” Others may go out of their way to apply this.
I know many parents who have applied this, and yet if you simply sat around their house, you would see many little things that they do on a regular basis that seem to tell the child that he or she is not equal to his “betters,” the adults.
When you are raised in a society, such as ours, where children are treated differently, it is very easy to continue to do these things absentmindedly. In fact, for many parents it is really hard to change the way they treat a child even though they realize that something is wrong because the child is unresponsive or difficult to handle.
The first step is observation.
Observe and listen to how you communicate to your child.
Example: Mother just finished scrubbing the kitchen floor. Back door opens, in walks little Johnny with muddy boots. “Johnny! Take your shoes off!! (Deep breath, voice calmer). I’ve told you many times not to track mud in here.”
Now what would happen if it was the neighbor or best friend who walked in with muddy shoes? “Sue, could you please take your shoes off at the door?”
Another example: Mother has a headache; she is sitting down for a bit in the living room. Her teenage daughter comes in singing at the top of her lungs because her iPod’s volume is cranked. She says with exasperation: “Janice! Can you turn that down and be quiet? You are giving me a headache!”
Maybe if had been an adult, she would say more calmly (despite irritation), “I’m sorry. I have this awful headache and noise makes it worse. Could you please not sing out loud right now?”
Why does one talk to a child differently than an adult? Is that the correct way?
Negative Orders Versus Positive Direction
Another common way of handling a child differently than an adult is the stream of negative orders coming from parents. “Don’t touch that.” “Don’t get too close to the fire.” “Stop making noise.” “Stop playing so close to the fire, you’ll get burned.” In this way the child is constantly reminded that he cannot determine on his own what he can or cannot do, that he does not know enough about the world and he can’t make decisions for himself.
Children are actually quite smart. Their inhibitions, fears, self-consciousness are not usually there from birth, but developed depending on how they are raised. You may think you need to terrify the child to death in order to keep him from harm’s way, but think again. Are you now treating your child differently than you would an adult?
If an adult were not aware of some piece of information that would keep him safe, would you threaten him, or would you provide the missing information?
In the case where little Johnny is playing too close to the fire and is probably terrifying mother to death, she could yell that he is likely to burn and be disfigured for the rest of his life, keeping him far from fires in the future. Or she can sit down with him; explain what it is about the fire that frightens her so. She could go over how it is hot and what it does when it burns. She could have him put his hand out to the fire. Can he feel that heat? Tell him that adults have learned not to play next to fire because it is safer for them and keeps any possibility of being burned to a minimum. Then ask. Ask him if he thinks he should stay farther away from the fire when playing. Rarely will a child, after good and patient explanations, make a wrong decision.
This last part is important. As you would expect an adult to make decisions for himself, let the child do the same. However, make sure first that the child has all the necessary information at a level that he can think with before asking for his decision.
1. Notice and correct yourself when you speak to your child differently than you do an adult. Learn to show them the respect they deserve. You may be surprised that after a while, you’ll get that respect right back.
2. Watch how you order your child around. Try to communicate to them as you would an adult (using, of course, words, terms and examples that they can understand at their age). Explain a problem and ask for a solution. You’ll be amazed at how smart your child actually is. Children learn a lot from adults. If you have been making good decisions in front of your child, he will likely use that example in making good decisions too, given the chance.
3. If you find it hard to make these changes, the best thing to do is to drill with someone. You can drill with your child, which some parents like to do and the children like it too. Or you can drill with another person who acts as your child. Drill communicating to them the wrong way and then the right way, making it as real as possible. This drills out any “automatic pilot” behavior that may be making it hard for you to change old habits. I’ve had many parents do this successfully to great results.
This is relatively easy to implement. It only takes willingness on your part. As always, I am interested in knowing how it is working for you, so feel free to contact me and let me know how it goes.
Executive Director, Mojave Academy