Fresh Ideas: Respecting children is essential
January 2, 2018
In the Nov. 22 Reno Gazette-Journal I read a column with the jaw-dropping headline: "Children Do Not Need, Nor Have They Earned, Respect."
John Rosemond's thesis is parents who kneel to gain eye level with their youngsters are trying to show respect for their children while "avoiding any implication that the child must pay attention and obey because the adult is bigger."
He objects to the idea of the "democratic family," where parents allow children to join decision-making processes, alleging any compromise must go with the child's desire. Now, following your children's choices will probably enliven the party for all, since they're happy. If Chuck E. Cheese's doesn't suit you, get a baby-sitter; Rosemond believes such inclusiveness leads to the child becoming a tyrant.
The tyranny is undoubtedly real. We may see or hear a screaming child at the supermarket, or have one of your own. As Rosemond correctly concludes, families in this predicament are "confused, anxious, stressed and guilt-ridden."
The idea of having children includes the presumption you'll do your best to bring them to a productive, beneficial and satisfying adulthood. The trail to this goal is bumpy, rutted, and vague at best, impassible at worst, but respecting your child will smooth that path. Respect can't grow where it's not expressed.
When parents lose control is the first time they say, "No, you can't (whatever)," then when the child pleads, decide there's no real reason to deny them, and say, "Oh, well, why not?" You intend kindness; the child perceives capitulation. Small and helpless, but vitally conscious and thrillingly involved in life, the child is also a feral animal with survival as a central concern who immediately realizes you're pliable, and can be won over by begging. This useful tool often becomes a default position.
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For example, while baby-sitting my 2-year-old great-granddaughter, I was lying on the floor doing yoga stretches and she tugged on my arm and said, "Sit up." I said, "In a minute, I want to finish this." She begged but when I ignored her, this usually delightful child began to wail. Surprised into laughter, I said, "Really? You think that's going to work?" She stopped with a gulp and waited until I was ready to play.
Again, visiting a young family, enjoying their two children playing, the boy, about 5, went outside, returning with a hammer under his arm, a scrap of wall board in tow. Loving dad, amused, laughingly protested, "Oh no, no, no, don't bring that in here." The boy ignored him, banged on the board a few moments, then dropped the hammer and left the room, dad still protesting. His "no" meant nothing.
However, respect is a whole different thing. Respecting children is essential, a birthright. The young, learning how to live in the world, make theories about what the behaviors of others mean for themselves. Our actions receive intense scrutiny and when we disrespect them, they know it.
As well, they mirror our thinking (or non-thinking) processes, our beliefs, and our behavior. If they don't receive our honest respect, they'll never be able to return it. They want to believe us in everything, because honesty makes their world safe.
Treating your children disrespectfully will only create resentment, anger, and misbehavior. Love, encourage, and support them, and always attempt to say yes. Don't just give a knee-jerk "no" — consider it carefully. If you say no, and they deliberately misbehave, they're testing your response. Wishy-washy parents don't live by their words, and a child will always try to exploit this lapse.
Susan Stornetta is a retired archaeologist and a long-time Comstock resident.