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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
How are you trying to eliminate childism in your home?