Lauren Partington is a certified CalmFamily leader and Parent Coach. Through her work, she aims to help parents find their way back to a calm, fun and happy family life. She believes that raising children should be simple and enjoyable. Lauren’s an advocate for respectful, positive parenting in the real world and practises what she preaches with her own two children every single day. Here, Lauren shines a light on childism and how to empower your child.
Over to Lauren.
We need to talk about something insidious and dangerous happening in our society. Something so ingrained and so (seemingly) innocuous that we probably don’t even notice it. It’s something that undermines our very future and damages the hard work we’re doing in our families every day.
Picture this: your child is waiting in line to order a piece of cake at a café. You’ve given him the money and encouraged him to go up on his own to build his confidence. You’re watching with pride as he patiently waits, practising his order in his head. He’s up next. He steps forward. He opens his mouth to put in his request…. And without so much as a blink, the cashier looks over his head at the couple behind him and takes their order.
His little face drops. He looks over at you, confused. His eyes well up. He feels awkward and unsure of what to do now. But that’s not the worst thing. The worst thing is that NOBODY noticed. It didn’t even register in the adults’ worlds. And why did nobody notice? I think this happened because he’s a child and our society doesn’t always see children as being on an equal footing to adults.
It’s called Childism. The online dictionary defines it as, ‘a prejudice and/or discrimination against the young’.
It may not seem like a big deal but it has a big impact. Replace ‘child’ for ‘woman’ for a moment. And then think about some of the situations that our children are faced with every day…
A woman is not given a voice and decisions that affect her are made for her.
A woman isn’t given the option to consent to something that will happen to her body.
A woman is laughed at and ridiculed when she cries.
A woman is spoken about as if she isn’t in the room.
It’s outrageous, right? As women, we expect to be treated as real people. Equal people. Of course! We expect other people to give us respect, compassion and understanding.
But this isn’t always the message our children get. They are often given the message that they’re less important. Out in the world, it can feel like they no voice. And, the thing is, when they’re older that feeling of subordination and not being enough doesn’t just go away
It isn’t all bad news though. I see so many wonderful examples of adults treating children with the respect they deserve. The doctor who asked my son about how he’s feeling and what he can do to get better. The lady on the bus who let us on first so that my children could choose their seats. The waitress who directly gave my daughter the drinks options so she could decide what she’d like. The ladies standing in front us in a queue who spoke kindly to my 3 year old and offered her a sweet when she was having a meltdown. The mum who offered to help me pack my shopping when I had a screaming 4 year old and a newborn to handle. I see many examples of kindness, empathy and understanding too.
But society can undermine us as parents. Our instincts are to nurture and protect our children. And then, the wider world tells us that we need to be hard on our children to ‘prepare them for the world.’ That we need to punish them so that they ‘learn’ how to behave properly. That we have the right to control our children. That they’re not grown up enough to make any decisions. That they don’t deserve the same respect as an adult because they’re only children. And suddenly, this poor treatment of children becomes the norm.
These societal expectations play on our insecurities. We worry that we’re doing something wrong. That we’re creating monsters or rods for our own backs. We feel that, if we don’t follow these rules we’ve been given, that our children won’t have the best chance in life. So, we start ignoring our gut instinct and start listening to these higher powers. And that’s where it all falls apart. It’s where things become confusing and frustrating and difficult. The relationship that we so carefully nurtured is pushed aside as we bow to the society that tells us how to raise our children. And when the relationship is put to the side, problems creep in.
The thing is, dependent does not equal subordinate. Respect does not mean permissiveness. I’m not talking about allowing our children to do whatever they please. I’m not talking about allowing them to run riot or to be rude or destructive. I’m not talking about abandoning rules and routines. I’m not talking about leaving our children to raise themselves. It’s not always what we do, it’s how we do it.
It’s about having fair expectations of their behaviour instead of putting them in situations where they’re sure to fail.
It’s about speaking to them kindly instead of yelling and shaming.
It’s about giving them choices instead of controlling every aspect of their lives.
It’s about gently guiding them towards socially acceptable behaviour instead of punishing them when they get it wrong.
It’s about letting them know that they have a voice and teaching them how to stand up for themselves.
It’s about giving them bodily autonomy instead of teaching them that if someone is bigger or more powerful they can do what they want to them.
It’s about offering empathy and compassion when they’re overcome by emotion instead of telling them to ‘man up’ or ‘stop being a baby.’
I make sure that when someone asks me a question that is really for my child, I turn to him and ask the question again. When a relative insists on a kiss, I tell my little ones they can offer a wave if they’d prefer to.
I try to see life through their eyes and empathise with their upsets (even when they seem silly to me!) When they feel like they’ve been treated unfairly, I teach them how to stand up for themselves respectfully. And, next time my son is overlooked in a queue, I can teach him how to politely speak up and say ‘Excuse me, I think I was next in line!”
When children are treated with respect and kindness and when they’re given some control over their own lives and bodies, it’s amazing how positively this affects their behaviour too… and suddenly, life is so much lovelier for everyone!
Why not read this guest post by Katherine Halligan on why parenting is like gardening, next!