There is nothing quite like the magic and innocence of childhood.
As an advocate for childhood, I always urge parents to embrace this time like a snuggly teddy bear.
Relish the years your child is indeed a child. Don’t hurry them from one stage to the next.
4 Reasons To Treat Your Child Like An Adult
Yet, I also believe it is important we treat children like adults. Because as a general rule of thumb, we speak to other adults with respect.
We ask their consent, we listen to their ideas, we engage in conversation using positive language. Why shouldn’t we do this with children?
Children have the right to say what they think should happen when adults are making decisions which affect them and to have their opinions taken into account. This is enshrined in the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 12).
The Parrot Effect
Have you ever heard your child say something to a friend or sibling and went mad on them, only to think later, “I say that all the time?”
- “Get down NOW!”
- “If you don’t stop crying, I’m going to take that toy away.”
- “You don’t get to choose, you can just have this one.”
When we hear our children parrot our words, it is like holding a mirror up to ourselves and being horrified by the reflection (and not just because we haven’t brushed our hair in days and are rocking the mum-bun.)
Sometimes hearing our child speak to a sibling, friend or another adult in this way can be a shock. The child we thought was so kind and loving and friendly sounds rude and disrespectful.
But, is it any great surprise? Children learn language during their interactions with us. They learn social skills in much the same way. If children are going to parrot us, we need to speak to them in a way we would like them to speak to others.
Here are 4 reasons why we need to treat our children like adults:
#1: Mutual Respect
Respect is a tricky thing. It can’t be demanded; it is something that is earned. We don’t automatically respect people, how they treat us and interact with us influences whether we respect them or not.
Think about your favourite teacher in high school. Why did you respect them?
- Were they rude to you?
- Did they demand your attention without giving attention?
- Did they ask you to do things without explaining why?
Chances are the answer to each question above is NO!
The teachers who made a lasting impression on me were the ones that respected my opinion or ability to make decisions that affected me. In turn, I gained a great deal of respect for those teachers.
It’s one of those things we tend to hear a lot: “Children these days have no respect”.
Yet I wonder how that would change if we spoke to children in the same way we spoke to adults.
Here are two situations where you can note the difference:
Situation 1: They are upset or angry
- To a child we might say: “Stop crying, you are being silly.”
- To an adult we might say: “I understand you are upset. How can I help?”
- The difference – Love. Our approach with the adult is loving and supportive. Our approach with the child is dismissive
Situation 2: You have put a hot plate on the table
- To a child we might say: “Don’t touch that!”
- To an adult we might say: “Just be careful, I’ve put that plate there and it’s a little hot.”
- The difference – Explanation. Our approach with the adult is to explain what the concern is. Our approach with the child is commanding.
These two simple examples show the clear difference in the way we speak to children and the way we speak with adults. One approach demonstrates and garners respect, while the other doesn’t even go close!
#2: Modelling Social Skills
Social skills are not innate. They are skills that need to be learnt, and parents are the best teachers for children. From day one of a child’s life, we can model social skills such as:
- Turn taking in conversation
- Eye contact
- Positive body language
- Conflict resolution
- Tone of voice.
The way in which we speak to our children sets the standard for how they will speak to us in return, and to others.
As noted earlier, the parrot effect kicks in early. Is it any surprise that many parents report that their toddler is an expert at the word no? Most toddlers hear a lot of no!
There are times where a big NO is needed (perhaps when they are about to touch a hot stove and you need a quick attention getter) or when you are absolutely at the end of your parenting rope and have very few words left to give.
In general we should be aiming to say more than a simple no. We should be providing an explanation for our no, or an alternative such as “not right now, how about after lunch,” even if they stare at us like an alien life form trying to make sense of our earthly ways!
#3: Teaching Them About Consent
In May of this year I was at a conference where one of the presenters demonstrated the importance of consent. She walked over to one of the adults in the room, grabbed her by the arm and (gently) dragged her to the front of the room saying, “You need to come this way.” Although the woman had been asked if she was happy to participate in the experiment, she still looked rattled.
The presenter told the woman she could sit back down. She returned to the woman a moment later, bent down in front of her and said, “We really need to go over there now, as I have something important I need to show you. Can I take your hand and lead you over there?”
The woman smiled and said yes and her whole demeanor changed.
The way we speak and interact with children teaches them about consent. We want children who are confident to say no to a stranger or even someone familiar who might put them in an unsafe situation. We want children to know that their bodies are their own.
We can do this by:
- Asking for consent –“Can I change your nappy now or after you watch this show?”
- Explaining – “I need to change your nappy soon so it doesn’t hurt your bottom.”
- Respecting – “Okay. I can see you want to finish watching your show. How about we change your nappy when it’s finished?”
- Kindness – There are going to be times when you have exhausted these options or when you simply can’t wait (every day when I am trying to get my toddler into her car seat so that my eldest doesn’t miss the bus for school!) While these may be times where you need to “put your foot down,” there is no reason this can’t be done with kindness!
#4: Children Are Amazing
Children have these incredible brains which are making new connections every single day. They have unbridled, creative ideas and even at a very young age, are capable of forming and expressing opinions.
How often do we take the time to listen, and I mean really listen to children? Life’s busy – believe me, I get it! I often find myself saying “mmm” or “yeah?” while thinking about what we are going to have for dinner or wondering if I locked the front door.
But when I stop, and I mean really stop, and put down my phone, turn off the music and remove the distractions, I hear that my children are amazing.
They are funny and insightful, they ask questions about the world that I definitely don’t know the answer to; they wonder about philosophical things and question fairness.
When we take time to have conversations with children, in much the same way as we converse with adults, we can see just how amazing children are and how much they have to offer.
It Isn’t Always Easy, But It Is Always Worth It
The way we speak to children is fairly heavily ingrained in our psyche; it is the way we have always known it to be. Speaking to children in the way we speak to adults (respectfully!) is something we need to practice.
Some days, it might all go out the window and we find ourselves slipping back into old habits. But all is not lost, an apology goes a long way and tomorrow is a new day!
And remember, the aim isn’t to skip childhood and raise a tribe of mini-adults, grown up before their time. Rather, to build the same respectful relationships with our children that we have with the adults in our lives.