My newsfeed is awash with ideas for using Christmas as a way to control children. It seems every year things are getting worse.
New ingenious ways to coerce people are dreamt up and we all have a good old laugh about how cool it is to be a ‘mean mum’.
If the same ‘hilarious’ memes about how we can scare people into doing what we say were posted and the subject was instead women, or people of another race, more people would be outraged.
But it’s children, so it’s funny.
Except I’m not laughing.
Newsflash: children are people.
It is really no wonder that so many people feel this type of treatment is acceptable for children. In our own childhood, we received the same message that that’s what we deserved.
“Not only did I experience being dominated as a child through the social institutions in our culture, I learned equally well how to wield the tools of domination, including manipulation, with the children in my life.” -Teresa Graham Brett
It’s time to make a change.
Instead of continuing this cycle of oppression, instead of Christmas bringing out the worst in us, let it bring out the best.
Because that is what children deserve.
How to Respect Children’s Rights This Christmas
No Threats or Manipulation
Christmas seems to be prime time for threatening children. Gifts are seen as an opportunity to bribe them into doing what adults want. There’s elf on the shelf, Santa cams, phone numbers you can ring to report bad behaviour, and more. Apparently, people are now wrapping up fake gifts and throwing them in the fire whenever a child doesn’t please them, in an effort to scare them into submission. This isn’t funny, it’s disturbing.
The fact that people have to ramp up the threats every year until they’re at the point where they think throwing fake gifts in the fire is funny should surely be an indication that these things don’t even ‘work’ the way they want them to in the first place. Evidently not. So let me be clear… not only does threatening and manipulating children NOT work to influence behaviour, it’s also cruel, damaging, and a gross violation of children’s rights.
This kind of behaviour in the context of an adult relationship would be considered abusive. That doesn’t change just because the victim is a child. In fact, a child who is likely much smaller and less physically able than an adult, and has no ability to remove themselves from a toxic environment is even more vulnerable.
Threatening, manipulating, scaring, and bullying children, or anyone else, is not acceptable.
Christmas day can be an overwhelming time! There are enough surprises happening, so it’s considerate to prepare children for what you know will be happening on the day. Where will you be spending Christmas? Who will be there? What types of things will you be doing? Where will you sleep? When will you be home?
Sometimes we take for granted that as adults this information is easily available to us and forget to share it with children. But they are a part of this day too and letting them know what they can expect can help them feel more comfortable, prepared, and less overwhelmed.
Does anything make you feel more excluded than being a teenager relegated to the kid’s table at Christmas? Been there.
We can avoid arbitrarily deciding on an age when someone is worthy of a seat at the big table, by not having this division at all! Ditch the kid’s table and eat together. I mean if children want to sit at their own table together then fine! That’s fun! But it’s not fun to dictate to them that they can’t sit with the adults.
In fact, include kids in all of the Christmas celebrations! I see so much division at events, with children often told to ‘go and play’ or ‘the adults are talking, go outside’. Again, often they want to play with other kids of course, but let’s not purposely exclude them.
Make Decisions Together
Include them in the decisions before the day too! Why not decide together what everyone wants to do for Christmas? If everyone is equal, then shouldn’t we all have a say?
No Forced Affection
Unwanted touching or affection is never ok. We want our kids to know their body is theirs! Learning about consent is so important. So no kisses for Grandma if they don’t want to, no hugs or tickles or picking children up without consent, no forcing photos with Santa. This post about bodily autonomy is really great and well worth a read.
See Their Perspective
Christmas is exciting. There are usually lots of new things to play with! Remember to see things from your child’s perspective.
Maybe they don’t want to stop playing and get dressed to make it to Christmas lunch on time, they’re having fun. Maybe they don’t want to eat lunch because they’re busy playing with relatives they haven’t seen for a while. Maybe they’re feeling overwhelmed and don’t want to to talk to anyone.
Whatever the case, see their perspective. Instead of getting frustrated or angry, connect with them.
Be an Advocate
Be prepared to be your child’s advocate and ally this Christmas season. Whether it’s responding to the ‘have you been good?’ questions, or stepping in when someone tries to silence their emotions. We know that children experience many instances where their rights are not respected every day. Childism is everywhere. Be an advocate. Be on the frontlines of change.
Give Real Gifts
Gifts are given freely, and with love. They don’t need to be earned, they can’t be taken away dependent on behaviour, and they don’t come with expectations or strings attached. Are you giving gifts or expectations? Read this post to be sure!
Have a wonderful Christmas with your kids.
Connect with them! Be authentic, understanding, empathetic, and supportive.
I promise it’s much more enjoyable being a connected mum than a mean mum. For both of you.