Kids are people, too
May 9, 2011
Kids are humans, too. That sounds so obvious that it’s stupid. But it never fails to amaze me how we sometimes forget this, how children are treated with disrespect and even sometimes as belongings.
Some people treat their pets with more kindness than they treat their children. If you have any doubts, look at the children around you who are always acting out, or who lack self confidence. And then look at how they are treated by those closest to them.
One of the best words of wisdom that my ex-husband ever shared with me was about our son, when he was first born. Jon said to me, “Matthew is on loan to us from God for 18 years to love and nurture into an adult.” So Matthew is first a “child of God,” our son second. God trusted us enough to loan him to us.
The “on loan to us” phrase is what grabs me every time I think about it. Our son is not ours, he is God’s. God lent him to us. What a twist this presents in terms of how we have parented him. Even if one does not have faith in a personal God, still this message should resonate. We do not own other human beings. We do not own our children.
So if our kids are people, too, then what is the foundation of our relationship with them? Our relationship must be based on love and respect. Respect is not the same as obedience, though very many people believe this to be the case. Children may obey for all sorts of reasons – fear, for example. However, if they respect you, they will obey because they know that you know what is best for them.
The best way to teach respect is to show respect. When a child is respected, they know what it feels like and how important it is. Respect is always earned. So what does that look like in our interactions with our children as we go through the day?
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• Be honest. If you do something wrong, apologize.
• Be polite. Use those “pleases” and “thank yous,” just as you ask them to do.
• Knock before entering a child’s room. Respect their space.
• Keep promises. Be reliable.
• Model respectful behavior. Follow the rules. Show concern for people and the environment. Treat your spouse with respect. Talk about other people respectfully.
• When you set rules at home, make sure you explain them and follow them yourself.
• Teach your child to respect himself. Again, this is modeled. If you respect yourself and behave in an upright manner, your child will learn to do likewise. Self-respect is one of the most important forms of respect. When we indulge in self-destructive behaviors, self-respect is not what we are modeling.
Perhaps one of the behaviors that amazes me the most looking back at my son’s early years was how this mutual respect played out when I needed to get my workouts in. I would go to the YMCA and swim laps for 40 minutes. My son did not like the babysitting area, and so our deal was that he sat in his stroller while I swam laps. I started this with him when he was about six months old, and he continued to cooperate until he was 3, when we moved to Colorado.
As he got older, I would belt his stroller to the bleachers so that he didn’t walk himself into the pool! He would sit there reading, munching on Cheerios and basically hanging out. He understood that this was Mom’s time. He respected my need to exercise, and he knew that afterwards, he would have Matthew time.
If we give respect, we get respect back. Each of us is equal, no matter our age, sex, race, and because we do not own one another, we do not interact through power or control, but rather through respect and, if we’re lucky, often with love.
Elizabeth Myers is the executive director of the Samaritan Counseling Center. She can be reached at 970-926-8558 or through firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit the center’s website at http://www.samaritan-vail.org for more information.