‘Aww, give me a kiss or I’ll cry’
‘Be a good girl for Mummy’
‘Be nice and share your toys’
‘Say please or you can’t have it’
‘Shhh stop crying, I don’t want to hear it’
When you start thinking about how children are treated in our society, and the discrimination they face, you see it everywhere. You can’t turn it off anymore. It becomes quite frustrating and discouraging at times. So how does a respectful parent get along in a world full of childism?
On one hand, sometimes you just want to keep the peace, right? On the other hand, we want things to change. We want to show people with our actions how children deserve to be treated. We want to stand up for our children!
I hear you! People tell me often of the times when they just didn’t know what to say, or when they tried to say something and it all went pear shaped. Maybe the secret is being prepared? When we’re caught off guard we end up not knowing what to say and then things happen that we’re really not comfortable with. Or else we blurt out something we really shouldn’t have said! eek! Coming up to holiday time, when every second person you meet in the shops asks your child if they’ve been good or bad, is the perfect time to prepare I think!
Here are some of my tips…
Whatever you do, do it with confidence! Be assertive, not confrontational or passive. You want people to know you’re serious, but not looking for a fight or asking to be convinced of the opposite viewpoint.
Remain calm! If you can. I mean if someone actually smacks your kid then you’re not going to be calm, but hopefully that’s not going to happen! Assuming it’s a less dramatic situation than that, be calm. You might be quite frustrated but anger can silence your message. Calmly state your boundaries.
Decide on your boundaries
Speaking of boundaries, decide what they are now! What are things you will ‘let go’ to keep the peace, and what things are unacceptable and you will need to speak up about. Does they change depending on the setting/circumstances/people involved?
For example, forced affection is nonnegotiable for me (and I hope everyone). I will not accept anyone touching my children without permission or guilting them into showing affection. But things like people saying ‘good girl’, while I don’t agree with praise used to manipulate behaviour, I will let slide in most circumstances. I’ve talked about the issue with my children and they don’t hear it at home so the negative impact is pretty low in my mind. It’s more likely to cause an argument with well meaning people who are just trying to be kind, and I’d rather avoid that in this case.
Practice saying no
‘No’ is a hard word for some people to say. Especially without then also going into apologising and justifying it. Is it because we were always taught to do what our parents said? That it’s rude to say no? I’m not sure, but I definitely find it hard, especially if the person I’m saying it to is older than me! The fact is, we all have the right to say no to something we’re uncomfortable with. We just need more practice! It will feel awkward at first but the more you do it, the easier it is. Think back to some situations where you wished you had said no and imagine what it would have been like if you had. Next time you encounter the same, you’ll be ready!
Prepare ahead of time
I recently had a big chat with my 7 and 5 year old’s about how people view and treat children. This time it was prompted by someone asking them if they had been good or bad this year ahead of Christmas, but it happens quite regularly. They see the discrepancy between how they and their friends are treated by their parents, to how other people in public often treat their children. We have unfortunately witnessed quite a few time-out’s and smacks and they are always left confused and worried. So we talk about it! This time we also had a discussion about what to do or say in certain situations and they had some great ideas. A couple of phrases they came up with that they can use are ‘stop pressuring me’, and ‘my body, my choice’. They feel empowered and have some words ready if they need them!
Speak up for your kids if they can’t
Even if you’ve prepared your kids, don’t expect them to always be able to speak up for themselves. It can be scary and awkward for them too! If they can’t do it, then it’s our job to step in when necessary. We want to show them that we will protect them, and that their rights are more important than our feelings of awkwardness. We also want to model assertiveness and healthy boundaries.
But, what do you say? Again, I think preparing ahead of time is essential! Then you’re not left speechless. Here’s some suggestions to say either to the person, or your child, in different situations…
When you hear/see…
You could say…
|‘That sounds interesting’|
|You’re spoiling them||‘We don’t believe in spoiling’
‘You can never have too much love’
|Invading your child’s personal space||‘Please give him/her some space’
‘Please be sure to ask before touching/picking up/tickling them’
|Safety concerns/ controlling their play||‘We trust them’
‘They are very capable’
|Forced sharing||‘He/she will let you know when they’re finished with it’
|Forced manners||‘We don’t force manners’
|Unwanted help||‘They love to learn new things, they will ask if they need help’
|Controlling eating||‘Listen to your body, eat as much as you want’
|‘Have you been good?’||‘All children are good’
|Guilt and coercion||‘You are free to make your own choices’
‘Do what feels right/comfortable for you’
|Dismissing feelings||‘It’s ok to cry/be sad/feel angry’
|Forced affection||‘It’s their body, their choice’
|Laughing at children||‘They would like to be taken seriously. Please don’t laugh’.|
Unfortunately, there’s still going to be things you miss or can’t be there for, and children will witness a lot of people treating other children disrespectfully. So it’s always good to debrief afterwards if the children are up for it. Don’t blame or shame anybody, but just ask them what they think and how they felt about things. You can talk about what you believe, why other people believe differently (and how their experiences may have led to their beliefs), without labelling the other person as ‘bad’. We can’t change other people, we can only change how we respond to them.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has” -Margaret Mead
Do you have any other tips to add? What are your go-to phrases? I’d love to hear!