When my daughter was around 3 my husband took her on a daddy/daughter date to the park. They almost always went to the park for these special dates and would return with huge smiles and lots of silly stories. However, on this particular occasion my husband told me that he witnessed an exchange between a mother and her child that was “just heartbreaking”. For him to tell me this I knew it must have struck a particular chord with him. He told me that the child was learning to swing on her own and appeared to be
practicing as hard as she could. Her mother all the while was sitting on a park bench staring intently at her phone. The child repeatedly requested that her mother watch her as she was finding success in her hard work. The child’s request was never fulfilled as the mother continued to look intently at her phone without looking up. What struck my husband was the message that was communicated to the child. The girl’s mother could have very likely done a million wonderful things for her child before that day, but right then, in that moment that child felt unheard, alone, ignored, and most importantly disrespected.
How many times have you asked your child to “hurry up”, or answered them while looking at your phone or the television, or told them to be quiet when you were on the phone? As a parent you are probably not being honest with yourself if you did not answer yes to at least one of these questions. I would also challenge you to consider if you do any of those things to a friend or even a stranger. My guess is probably not. But, why not? For some reason we as adults do not always treat our children with the same respect that we would show a complete stranger. Just because they are tiny does not mean that they are not deserving of big things from us as their protectors and teachers.
I believe the first step in improving this is to recognize that you ,dear parent, are a human being and probably stressed, and burning the candle at both ends. You would greatly benefit from taking care of yourself to better help you take care of your precious ones. This includes all of the obvious go to activities: exercise, spending time with friends, consistent sleep routines, and even the occasional bubble bath. I am writing this blog as a fellow parent and cheerleader for my peers in hopes that we will begin to consider our own emotional needs as well as learn to show our children the respect they so deserve.
The following are five ways to show your child respect:
- Make eye contact. Put down your phone and look away from the television. Get down on their level. This will help them feel heard and spoken to not spoken at.
- Slow down. Give your child a reasonable amount of time to get ready to leave or clean up after themselves. Rushing them may make them feel as though their time is not important. They are on your schedule not their own. Children often take longer to process information and their physical abilities do not often match up with rushed actions.
- Provide choices. Children live their lives according to our schedules, school schedules, sports, music, etc. This can be very frustrating for them and make them feel out of control. We all seek control in our lives and this begins at a very young age. Allow your child to choose juice or milk, grilled cheese or pb&J, peas or carrots, this pair of shoes or that. As your child gets older the possibility for choices expands as you can include them in on more decisions that impact them.
- Quality time. Schedule a special play time or game night with your child. Allow him or her to choose what you will play and the rules that will apply. This will not only be fun for them, but will let them be in charge for a moment. If possible make it a consistent date and put it on the calendar. Everyone will know when to look forward to the next one.
- Let them own their own body. Allow them to decide if they want to “hug Uncle So & So”. You may even offer an alternative ie: “Would you like to say hello or give a high five?”. If the child is old enough, let him or her choose to brush their hair out of their eyes. Many of these behaviors that we do every day as parents can unintentionally communicate to the child that they do not get to choose what happens to their own bodies. Even allowing them to choose their clothes (again only if age appropriate) can help the child feel a sense of control and communicate their individuality.
Just remember, they are learning everyday how to become adults. They watch us and inevitably emulate us. So, let us all begin to teach them by our example and offer them the respect that we want them to have and seek out from others when they themselves are adults.
– Written by Bailey McAdams, M.ED., LPC