20 Ways to Make Your Home a Respectful Environment (& Fight Childism!)

20 Ways to Make Your Home a Respectful Environment (& Fight Childism!)

We think of childhood as a magical time. Of children as happy, carefree, full of life, wonder, and energy.

But, life can also be tough for a kid! Society doesn’t value your contribution a whole lot, and you’re treated with less respect than adults.

Children are routinely dismissed, controlled, limited, laughed at, and discriminated against. They have less rights, autonomy, and freedom than adults. They are unequal.

Not only that, but people actually believe this is good for them. Childism runs deep.

But we have a choice, to continue along this path or to endeavour to do better for our children. To recognise them as humans just as deserving of respect and equality as adults are. We may not be able to change the ingrained culture of childism in one generation, but we have much power in our own homes.

Start small. Start with your own family, in your own home. There are many ways we can stop perpetuating childism in our lives.

20 Ways to Eliminate Childism in the Home…

1. Rights aren’t dependent on age

This is the core of childism, that certain rights are earned only with age, and something we need to challenge. Capability and responsibilities vary with age, but rights do not. Home is the perfect place to start to change this belief. There should not be different rules or rights dependent on age. Older siblings should not have more freedom and autonomy than younger ones as a rule. Of course, often there is a greater desire for these things as children age, but it is up to them to determine their comfort level, not adults. Everyone, of any age, should be free (and supported) to make their own choices as the need to arises.

20 Ways to Make Your Home a Respectful Environment (& Fight Childism!)

2. No power hierarchy

Eliminating childism from out homes means also ridding our family of a power hierarchy. No one is more valuable, powerful, or important than anyone else. Everyone’s needs matter equally. The added bonus is you don’t have any power struggles in your relationships with your kids! I highly recommend this book for how to move to a more unconditional parenting approach that is not based on power. And also this post.

3. Accessibility

The world is set up for adults. If you’re a child then you’re going to find even basic tasks a little bit harder. You can’t reach door handles, light switches, or taps. You need help to get your own food and water. We can help minimise this in our homes by having child sized things where possible, having their possessions within reach, having food and water where they can reach and prepare themselves if desired, having steps near doors and sinks so they can use them independently, having clothes in low drawers so they can pick their own, etc.

20 Ways to Make Your Home a Respectful Environment (& Fight Childism!)

4. Mind your language

“Most children, some time during their growing up, become aware that much of the time their parents talk to them as they do not talk and would not dare to talk to any other people in the world. Of course, we justify ourselves in doing this, as in all our exercise of power over the young, by saying that we have their best interests at heart, are only doing it because we love them – like the proverbial parent saying before the spanking, “This hurts me more than it does you” – perhaps one of the world’s oldest lies.” -John Holt, Escape from Childhood

If we want to create an environment without a power hierarchy, then we need to be conscious of the language we use with the people in our homes. The automatic way many adults talk to children is very authoritarian. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we believe that because they are younger and in our care that we have the right to order them around. We say ‘put your shoes on now’, ‘come over here’, ‘eat your food’, ‘don’t do that’, ‘be quiet!’ and much more. We would never speak this way to an adult, assuming that we could just demand things of them at any time. We would ask ‘could you please come here for a minute?’ or ‘would you mind being a bit quieter, it’s hard for me to concentrate’, and we hopefully would not comment at all about their eating habits unless they somehow infringed on our own! We need to be aware of the way we are communicating with our children and if we are showing the same amount of respect as we would to an adult. I highly recommend reading Nonviolent Communication, it’s a life changing book.

5. Respecting privacy

20 Ways to Make Your Home a Respectful Environment (& Fight Childism!)

Everyone has the right to privacy. Children are not an exception to this. They have a right to physical privacy when needed, and to hold private thoughts and beliefs. We can honour this in our homes by not intruding on their space, not demanding they share thoughts or feelings when they don’t want to, creating private spaces to be alone if needed, not violating rights by reading diaries or other personal things, and not sharing things about them with others without their consent.

6. Valuing needs over convention

The conventions of our society often value an adult’s needs over a child’s, but we can work to overcome this in our own homes. For example, traditionally (at least in western societies) parents sleep together in one room, while children have their own rooms and sleep alone. But what if children (and adults) are more comfortable sharing a sleep space? What if a family bed feels more natural? Follow everyone’s needs instead of what others believe is ‘normal’. The disconnect in modern families is not any kind of ‘normal’ I want a part of.

20 Ways to Make Your Home a Respectful Environment (& Fight Childism!)

7. Valuing everyone’s opinion

In a family where everyone is equal and respected, decisions that affect everyone are made together. Everyone’s opinion, point of view, and needs are heard and considered. There’s no ‘because I said so’ or overruling decisions based on age. Family decisions involve everyone.

8. Respecting autonomy 

Everyone has a right to autonomy. In our homes, we can protect our children’s autonomy by making sure we do not infringe on their ability to decide what happens to them and how they spend their time; when they eat, when they sleep, when they bathe, how they dress or cut their hair, what their interests are, what they learn, who they want to spend time with, etc. We should try to master a language of consent, rather than expectation. No picking children up, wiping noses, changing nappies, or getting dressed without asking. Children deserve to be in charge of their lives and we can support that. When our needs don’t align we can communicate and problem-solve together, rather than overriding autonomy.

20 Ways to Make Your Home a Respectful Environment (& Fight Childism!)

8 Ways to Tell If You’re Respecting Your Child’s Autonomy

9. Trust

“To trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves…and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.” – John Holt

This quote is so true. As children, many of us were taught that we were not trustworthy. That we needed adults to teach us right from wrong and punish us when we were ‘bad’. We heard many warnings to ‘behave!’ and ‘be good!’ and ‘be careful!’ before we’d even thought about doing anything ‘wrong’. We can stop perpetuating childism this way by seeing children as trustworthy and capable, and by always expecting the best instead of the worst.

10. Acceptance

Many people believe that parenting is about ‘creating an adult’. This is a pretty disrespectful viewpoint that dismisses the validity of children as whole people in the present moment. We are not trying to ‘create’ a person. They are not ours to mould and shape into what we want them to be. Instead of our goal being to create an adult, we can aim instead to connect with a person and figure out a way to live together peacefully and support and guide them on their journey to discovering who they are. We can show them unconditional love and acceptance every day. Acceptance means celebrating who a person is instead of trying to change them.

20 Ways to Make Your Home a Respectful Environment (& Fight Childism!)

11. Inner work

A huge part of eliminating childism is committing to doing some inner work. This means examining your own beliefs and biases about children, exploring how your childhood and past experiences have shaped you, recognising your triggers, and employing some good coping mechanisms for challenging times.

12. Respect for feelings

Children are treated as less important than adults when their feelings are dismissed as trivial. They are often told to ‘stop crying‘, or ‘don’t be silly’, or ‘you’re ok’. We would never show such little concern over an adult’s feelings. Valuing children means taking their emotions seriously, empathising, validating, and comforting when required.

20 Ways to Make Your Home a Respectful Environment (& Fight Childism!)

13. Equal expectations

“So often, children are punished for being human. Children are not allowed to have grumpy moods, bad days, disrespectful tones, or bad attitudes, yet we adults have them all the time!” – Rebecca Eanes

Children are often held to a higher standard than adults. They are supposed to be always happy, helpful, and compliant. And what’s more, people feel they are able to comment on anything they believe children have done ‘wrong’. Strangers in the shops will demand your child says ‘please’, or comment that they are ‘grumpy’ today. When would someone think this is appropriate to do to an adult? If you wouldn’t say it to an adult, it’s probably rude to say to a child as well.

Children are also often expected to accommodate adults just because they are children, e.g. vacating a seat so an (able-bodied) adult may sit, eating separate (lower quality) meals because the ‘fancy’ food is for adults, etc. It is as if children have fewer rights to take up space, or be involved in life, than adults and are only allowed to entertain their own comfort once adults have been accounted for.

In our homes, we can ensure adults and children have equal rights and expectations by avoiding such scenarios and questioning any areas where we think there may be discrepancies in treatment based on age. The thing is, children are often respectful, helpful, and courteous when given the chance and not forced anyway.

14. Taking time

Overriding children’s rights or dismissing their needs seems to happen most frequently when we’re rushed. We are more likely to try and force children to meet our needs when we are feeling pressured. We can strive to be mindful of this tendency and allow more time to prepare. More time for getting dressed, getting in the car, for mistakes and forgetfulness, eating meals, including children in tasks, independence, etc. More time also to consider before responding, to break the habit of parenting on autopilot and falling back into conditioned responses.

20 Ways to Make Your Home a Respectful Environment (& Fight Childism!)

15. Managing other’s expectations

Another situation where we might feel pressure to ‘control’ our children is in the face of criticism from others. As childism is so prevalent in society, most people think it is a parents job to be the ‘boss’ of their kids. Parenting respectfully in front of such people can be awkward and anxiety provoking. You open yourself up to criticism and unsolicited advice. It’s important to maintain our perspective of what is most important. Would we rather avoid uncomfortable situations or support our children? This post on parenting in public is helpful.

16. Understanding child development

While children deserve the same amount of respect as adults, and they are extremely capable, their brains are also still in the process of developing. They need to be allowed freedom to play, love, and support to grow. We also need to be understanding of their limitations, e.g. how strong emotions are overwhelming, their limited impulse control, developing empathy and perspective-taking, etc. Understanding means greater acceptance.

17. Inclusive conversations

20 Ways to Make Your Home a Respectful Environment (& Fight Childism!)

Children are often excluded from conversations, either they’re told to ‘go and play, the adults are talking’, or else people talk about them as if they weren’t in the room. Including children in conversations shows them that they’re important and valued. Sure, sometimes you may want to talk privately with someone, but if you were with a group of adults you would never think it appropriate to order some of them to go and do something else so you could have a conversation without them. You would instead just wait for an appropriate time when no one else was around.

18. Speaking up

It can be so awkward, but there may be times when you need to speak up for your children in the face of discrimination. We want our children to know we will always support them and that they deserve to be treated respectfully. Some tips on how to handle these situations here.

19. Recognising children’s wisdom

Many people argue for making decisions for children ‘for their own good’. They believe that as adults with more experience we know better what is best for children than they know for themselves. Nobody is more knowledgeable about a person’s needs than themselves, even children. We can support them to make healthy choices, but control totally takes away their ability to even work things out themselves and totally undermines their trust in their own instincts. Fighting childism means recognising children’s innate wisdom and instincts and allowing them time to work out the best choices for themselves.

20 Ways to Make Your Home a Respectful Environment (& Fight Childism!)

As adults, it is our job to keep them safe of course, but often we take this too far. We jump in to protect them from things like ‘screen time‘ after they spend one day playing a game, or enforce a bedtime after just a few late nights, instead of giving them time to work out what feels right for their bodies. Then we conclude that obviously they are incapable of regulating such things and our control is warranted. If we just substituted connection for control we could work things out much more respectfully in a way that everyone’s needs are met.

20. Extending respect to other children

It is often difficult when other’s visit our home who don’t share our values. Standing up for our own children is important when needed, but we can also extend respect and kindness to other children we interact with. While it’s unlikely to be well received if we intervene in another parent’s interactions with their own child, we can at least be mindful of our own. We can endeavour to treat all children with the respect they deserve.

20 Ways to Make Your Home a Respectful Environment (& Fight Childism!)

How are you trying to eliminate childism in your home?

20 Ways to Make Your Home a Respectful Environment (& Fight Childism!)

10 thoughts on “20 Ways to Make Your Home a Respectful Environment (& Fight Childism!)

  1. This post is a breath of fresh air. My husband and I are going back and forth on screen time after a year of our children having unlimited access. I was almost ready to cave and go back to setting limits, but thanks to your posts I am going to hold strong to my beliefs.

    Your words are always right in line with what I need. Thank you so much for taking time to help people like me!

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  3. I absolutely agree. One question I have and would appreciate your perspective on… when we are at somebody elses house for a party or event or even just visiting and there is separate food for the kids and adults and the host has clearly said that this is for the adults only and your child asks for something from the ‘adult’ plates. I have been thinking that when we are in someone elses home we respect their ‘rules’. What are your thoughts on this? It can be tricky i find.

    • I would find this so awkward! But what would you do if they said some food was for men only? I don’t think I’d feel like respecting their rules. I’d probably just get a piece of whatever my kid wanted myself and give it to them.

      • This is just my opinion and my southern manners but not every one is going to think the way you do and if they have separate food, its probably for a good reason and only polite to respect that. Would you allow your kid to have the “adult” popsicle with alcohol in it? I understand your thinking is equality and you mentioned “what if they said this food is only for men?” But they didnt say that. Its adult and children. Maybe there is rum cake or food that could cause an allergic reaction. What ever it may be, we want to respect our kids so we must show others respect as well and that goes for what that person chose to do at their party which was separate some of the food. We have to be the example.

  4. These are such great practical ideas!

    How do you handle your children’s freedom to leave the house/yard by themselves, without discriminating by age?

    • Yes, there are a few specific instances, such as this one (leaving the yard), that I am struggling with as I try to parent without punishment. The only way I can figure out how to handle this is to talk with my three year old about it and then say, “This is one of those times that mommy has to be like a police man. You may not go —–. If you do, we will have to go inside and play.” And I have no idea how to handle it with my one year old. Another time that I have trouble with is simply when I ask, “Will you come here?” I have so much trouble with giving them the option to come or not come when I call. I try to keep my mindset, “If I would not say this to Jim (my partner), then I won’t say it to Em and H (my kids). If I would not expect this from Jim, then I won’t expect it from Em and H.” But there are times that I need to make the final decision. I’m stumped and frustrated in these times and that is when I want to go back to my distraction and manipulative ways to get them to do what I want. Grrr. Thanks for any insight.

      • Another couple examples that came up yesterday that stump me are: 1) My partner (Jim) wants my son to eat with us or at least sit at the table with us for dinner. My son fights it every night. So, every evening we begin dinner with them fighting. I asked Jim to let him decide when to come to the table, but Jim refuses. He believes a family should eat together and that it is non-negotiable. How to I approach it differently? 2) Also, my son still needs a nap or else he will be cranky by 3 PM. He doesn’t want to nap. I can only get him to sleep if I lie with him after we read our three books together (we do this immediately after I nurse my 19 month old to sleep for her nap). He will fall asleep as we lie together, but if Em (my 19 month old) wakes up, he will not stay in the bed. My parents say to spank him every time he gets up, which I refuse to do. Jim doesn’t want to spank him for that either but thinks he should learn to go to sleep and stay in bed on his own (because he IS sleepy.) What do I do that will help him want to do this because he is only 3 and just goes berserk if I tell him to try to go to sleep by himself (Jim lies with him at night for him to go to sleep, but if Em tries to lie with us for nap when she wakes up before he falls asleep, H won’t go to sleep because they try to play over me.) Blech. Help. I want to be this kind of parent that I read about here, but am struggling with some daily disagreements. Thanks.

  5. Thank you. Yes, a breath of fresh air and issues I deal with every day as the single mother of an unschooled eight years old, and that I deal with and sometimes have to explain to other parents or people who do not see it that way. Respect is the key word I think, and you worded it beautifully. Thank you again. Kenza.

  6. Hello again,

    First of all – amazing photograph of a lady in yellow dress.
    I would like to ask – if private time is a right to everybody how would you explain to the child that you need it to – not to be asked to do something, to talk, to be somewhere?

    Thank you!

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