No don’t worry – I’m not about to advocate letting your little ones watch an ‘18’ film or drink a shot of vodka (!), but there are lots of ways that we should be treating our children like adults.
A dictatorship culture
It’s sad to say it, but we have developed a culture where children are seen as second-rate citizens. We treat children in ways that we would never dream of treating adults, and apparently it’s okay because they’re under 18?? We have this idea that because they aren’t as experienced or knowledgeable as us, we have the right to boss them around.
If you’re not convinced that this is happening, let me give you a few examples:
- Mealtimes. Your child says they’re full but they’ve left some food on their plate. You get angry and force them to finish.
- Shouting. At the park, your child wanders a little further away than you’re happy with and you yell “Oi! Get over here!” in a snarly, threatening voice.
- Touching property. Your child has come down for dinner and plonked her favourite toy in the middle of the table. You take it away without asking permission and get frustrated when she cries.
Now, I agree there are good motives in each of these examples:
- A child needs food to grow;
- We need to know where our children are to keep them safe;
- And toys at the table are a distraction and may get covered in food.
BUT if you believed it was important to treat your children like adults and give children the same level of respect, how would handle the situation differently?
Adults are treated respectfully
What would you do, for example, if it was your Mother-in-Law who was too full to finish her meal? Or how would you react if your work colleague was walking a bit too quickly for the rest of the group? How about if your best friend had plonked her handbag in the middle of the table?
I think your approach would be very different.
Perhaps you would let your Mother in Law leave her meal but give her a smaller portion next time. You would probably call after your work colleague and ask him politely to slow down a little. And you would either suggest your friend to move her bag or ask if it’s okay for you to pop it on the chair instead.
This is what I mean when I say that can do more to treat our children like adults – we can be respectful, treat them with dignity, and use empathy to understand why they might have behaved in a certain way. We don’t always have to assume that they’re purposefully trying to be difficult.
7 ways to think about treating children as adults
We know instinctively that being polite and cooperating with our fellow adults is the way to go, but sometimes that gets lost a bit when we’re talking to our kids. So here are a few ideas on how we can start treating children like adults too.
Tone of voice
Your tone of voice is so important (and also very difficult to explain in writing because I can’t demonstrate, but you can imagine!). Try to keep your voice calm and use a polite manner. You can be firm without being threatening.
Shouting should be a last resort, just like it would be in the work place.
Giving options is a great way to treat children like adults. These can be limited options – “Would you like to do A or B?” – or they can be open options – “What would you like to do?”.
When we give options, we are telling our children that their opinions are important. We are affirming that they have good ideas and giving them the responsibility to weigh up the pros and cons – this gives a sense of ownership and self-autonomy.
Try to build your kids up rather than teasing them. It might be funny to tell everyone about the time your child collected an award in assembly and accidentally wet themselves, but is it kind? Is it fair to purposefully embarrass your child? Would you choose to tell a humiliating story about a fellow school mum within earshot?
You also have to think about the kind of example this is setting for your child – you could be teaching them that it’s okay to publicly mock and shame others.
Our children absolutely should be spoken to with the same manners that we would speak to our fellow adults. Be polite. Say sorry when you’ve messed up. Say thank you when they help you out. Say please when you’d like them to do something.
It goes without saying that we would never root through our colleague’s desk without asking first, yet we sometimes act like we have free reign over our kids’ belongings.
If you need to touch or move their stuff, make sure you communicate that. Say something like, “I’m just going to put this on the cupboard so it’s out of the way.” Now your child knows what’s happening with their belongings and doesn’t need to panic that you’re taking something off them.
It’s a little step that can save a big headache.
We’ve all had to confront a fellow adult with some uncomfortable truths. Most of us try to be firm, but in the kindest way possible – we don’t want to upset them, especially if it’s someone close to us.
But we don’t always have that same attitude when it comes to our kids – we’re blunt, forceful, maybe even rude. We just accept that they will get upset.
Now of course, there will be times when we have to make decisions that will upset our kids (e.g. giving them horrible medicine from the doctor), but let’s try and explain things as gently as we can to avoid those tears wherever possible.
Finally, when we treat our children like adults, we are honest with them. We don’t make up stories to manipulate them (e.g. “Eat your tea or the policeman will arrest you”) and we don’t threaten them with over-the-top punishments to scare them into submission. Instead, we prove ourselves to be trustworthy and reliable.
So there are a few of my ideas about how we can treat our children like adults. Is this an attitude that you’ve come across before? Which suggestion do you think is most difficult to practise in everyday life? Can you think of any other ways that we can treat our children like adults?
I love to know what my readers think so please leave a comment below.
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