Children are People Too
Recently we were out on one of our adventures, when we sat down to have a rest and get something to eat from the little shop. The girls wanted to take the money up and buy what they wanted themselves. Perfect, I thought! I eagerly gave them the money and they went to stand in line. Patiently they stood, inching closer and closer to the counter with the money clutched in their little hands. So proud to be so grown up and doing this all themselves. I stood back watching and waiting with a smile on my face. Finally the lady in front of them had finished and moved away. They stepped up to the counter proudly….
But all did not go to plan. The lady at the counter glanced down at them, before looking back up over their heads and calling the next adult in line forward. They stood there and watched the next customer come up and reach over the top of them to hand over her money. They looked at me with confused expressions, not knowing what was happening. I had to walk over and explain that they wanted to buy something. She looked down and reverted to an over-the-top-talking-to-little-children-voice, took their money, and gave them what they were after.
And just like that, the independence they had felt was taken away. The pride at having accomplished something ‘grown-up’ all on their own was gone. Now, I’m sure this lady did not mean for this to happen at all. I’m sure she is perfectly lovely, and she loves children. She was just not aware of how a few little actions may come across to a child.
It got me thinking about how many times similar things have happened. How pervasive the view is that children are not real people, that they’re not as important as adults. Maybe people don’t feel like they think that way, but actions can speak louder than words.
I would say 80% of the time when we’re out and about my children will say ‘hello’ to someone and they will quickly look the other way instead of answering back. I remember going through the checkout once with my 2 year old who was repeatedly saying ‘Hi! Helloooo! Hi!’ to the salesperson while they ignored her until she asked me ‘Why aren’t they answering me Mummy?’. Even if you’re not a ‘child person’ I’m quite sure you know how to reply to a simple greeting.
Oftentimes people will ask me questions instead of asking my children directly. ‘Is she hungry?’, ‘Does she like these?’. My 5 and 3 year old’s are certainly able to talk and know what they do/don’t like better than I do!
Children also seem to be held to a higher standard than adults a lot of the time. Constant obedience, no bad moods, perfect manners, impeccable self control. And look out if you can’t live up to this, you will be punished!
So many little things, but they all add up. So many things that maybe I might have done in the past too. But, my view now has changed and they stand out to me like a sore thumb. Children are people. Just little people. No less deserving of respect and acknowledgement than adults. We want them to grow up to be independent, confident adults who know their own worth. So in everything we do, we should give them that feeling.
“If I had to make a general rule for living and working with children, it might be this: be wary of saying or doing anything to a child that you would not do to another adult, whose good opinion and affection you valued.”
Children are people
…don’t ignore them
…don’t minimize their feelings
…don’t speak in a patronizing tone
…don’t shame them
…don’t manipulate them to make them ‘behave’
…don’t hit them
…don’t expect perfection
Children are people
…acknowledge them when they talk to you
…ask them questions about themselves, not their parents
…give them freedom over their own body
…give them as much freedom as you can, in everything!
…listen to them, really listen
…respect their feelings and thoughts
…love and cherish and enjoy them
It is so refreshing to read your post. I remember taking my now 13 year old when she was around 5 to a local cafe as a treat. I ordered a cappuccino and Ruby chose a baby chino. It was a special mother daughter outing and we both were enjoying the experience. Awaiting our treat you can imagine my horror as I was served my cappuccino in a beautiful white cup and Ruby’s was placed in front of her in a styrofoam take away cup!! I waited silently to see if this was just a reaction from me but almost immediately she asked ” mummy why have they given you a real cup and not me? And your cappuccino has a marshmallow!” I replied, ” I’m not sure why you haven’t got a real cup. Let’s ask if we may have one.” I was very proud of my daughter who confidently told the waitress ” if you don’t mind I would prefer a real cup..and also could i please have a marshmallow like my mummy?” Afterwards we spoke about possible reasons that the cafe may have considered a styrofoam cup appropriate for her. I will never forget her conclusion, “but after all mummy, I am a real person so I should have a real cup!” Thank you for sharing your posts with is. We love reading them! Kate (mummy) ruby 13 and Darcy 11, homeschool journeying…
How awesome that she spoke up Kate!! Shows that she definitely knows her worth 🙂
Wow! I love when adults encourage their kid’s to use their voice and have an opinion. I have babysat/ nannied for so many families who expected their children to always agree with the adults. To me it is demeaning. We are supposed to be preparing our kids for adulthood, but how will they be ready to disagree/ agree appropriately with others if they are told to be quiet all the time?
That’s exactly it isn’t it. They need to be able to practice now! Not at some ‘magic age’ when they are finally deemed worthy.
Wonderful story and the connection and conversation that came from it between you and your daughter at the time.
I think this is a really important message and you have written it in such a lovely way. I really love that John Holt quote too, I haven’t read it before!
Thank you Alison 🙂
This is so important. Long past time for children to be recognized as people. Thank you.
I like the way you are touching this subject. It is a really sweet and educational post. Thank you!
Thank you Lucy 🙂
That John Holt quote just sums it up, and so many adults simply can’t do this. It’s like they think there’s a hierarchy of worth and you have to get old enough to be seen as valued. I have a bit of a reputation for being good with kids, and honestly the only thing I can think of that I do that other people don’t always do is just treat them like people. Acknowledge their existence, talk to them, but don’t coo like they’re a particularly cute zoo animal.
Well written post, I love how gently and kindly you put it across that children should be treated as people…I have three little girls and I encourage them to live up to their own characters and independence and I recently got reminded that sometimes people, without really realizing it, treat children like lesser beings. My girls all have their preference for how they like to drink their water – be in room temperature or ice cold or just chilled, and after being offered water from a friend they each politely gave their request as per their liking. Afterwards my friend said it must be exhausting to have more than one child, each with their own taste and wants and I had to just smile as I thought how much we are willing to accommodate adults and their whims of sugar, no milk, tea or coffee – but find it exhausting to cater to children and their tastes and likes or dislikes…Children are people too and we need to let them be individual and independent as much as possible!
Love this! My daughter (now 6) has always been very social and when she was younger she would say hi to everyone she passed. I was amazed at how many people did not respond with a greeting back to her.
My kids (6 and 4) order for themselves at restaurants and when we go shopping at Costco I always make sure to go around lunchtime (my kids love eating there and I love that it only costs us $3 to feed the 3 of us). My daughter and son always want to order by themselves while I sit back at a table and watch. They’ve always been treated very well and spoken to as people, rather than children, by the people working behind the counter. But, some of the other adults in line have looked around looking for the adult in the situation and one lady even called out, “Where is this child’s parent?” They are learning to be polite and independent and how to express their wants in a safe environment. What’s wrong with that?
Oh wow, how rude! :/
Thank you for the article. When my daughter and son were around 14 and 12, they were allowed, as junior members of the golf club, to go on their own during summer vacation. They very proudly walked over by themselves for the first time (without their dad), went to the clubhouse to have some lunch first and then an older person, a member, came up to my daughter and told her she was dressed inappropriately. The rule was that women and men had to wear collared shirts, tucked in, etc. She was wearing a “mock turtleneck pullover”, which i think was fine, and i’m sure an adult woman wearing the same wouldn’t have been approached. She was completely devastated and crying when she came home and i don’t think she ever went there again without her dad accompanying her. I often wish i could have found out who approached her and let them know how they humiliated a young girl.
Oh wow, how heartbreaking 🙁
Your article was a great reminder.
One thought though … I do think that many people are very weary of communicating directly with children, which is why they will refer through parents. Children are warned about not talking to strangers, and many adults feel jumpy about speaking directly to a child or making friendly gestures etc, as they are afraid of being accused of “inappropriate” contact.
Sad, isn’t it?
It’s always kinda sad when adults ignore kids who are learning to navigate their way in the world. The only time I’ve seen a problem is after a child sweetly & very innocently tells others hello over and over and over. It’s sweet and cute for awhile but for some people it becomes annoying after the tenth time.
I agree, I think this it’s exactly what 80% of adults are doing, especially the men – ‘don’t look like a creeper, I don’t know this kid, I don’t want to look like a pedo, just ignore him/her’. I’m a woman, good with kids, and I hesitate to be too forward in my interactions with strange kids. It’s expected behavior… And enforced *hard* in society, especially for men. I know a transgender man (transitioned from woman to man) who was totally unprepared for the hostility and suspicion he suddenly received, routinely, when with his daughter, where before the same person presenting as a woman was unremarkable. He said he had no idea how pervasive this idea is that a man with a child is viewed as 50%/50% pedo vs dad. (Transgender folks teach us a lot about society and culture, because they are literally their own control set – only one thing changed, and new interactions reveal a lot.)
The other 20% of people are clueless about how to interact with people, and are flailing about with behavior they saw on tv or something.
Whichever reaction, I think this is still excellent advice, to treat kids as people. It is never inappropriate to be polite.
There’s actually a group, National Youth Rights Association, that tries to get this message across. Kids are people, and have rights, and shouldn’t be discriminated against (eg shops refusing to sell to kids under a certain age, or, in one creepy example, schools secretly activating and recording school-given laptops’ webcams).
It’s surprising how surprising that message is for many people, we kind of just get raised that kids are like Play-doh, to be molded by adults, and only when they’re done being created are they worthy of respect. Weird when you think about it!
I love this!
I agree that many people worry about whether it is appropriate to talk to children they don’t know – which is a sad indication of society and our fears I think. But if a child talks to you, surely you speak back? It’s polite!
I think so too!
Absolutely LOVE this and couldn’t agree more! It’s funny how much you learn as a parent – isn’t it? I always KNEW they were people before I had my own, just not to what extent. A beautiful post! Thanks so much for writing it! Best, Sue
Thank you Sue! 🙂
Yes! This is exactly what has been going through my head lately too.
Thanks Danya 🙂
I agree with your post, but can tell you a reason I do not talk to children. The parents get mad if I do. Even if a child initiates a greeting or conversation, the parents view any adult with suspicion who dares to interact with their child.
Oh wow, that’s terrible!! :/
I agree, I honesty don’t like strangers talking to my child!
Don’t get me wrong I love this article & totally agree children should be respected as little people.. but it weirds me out when strangers approach
Thank you for this, I love it. It is exactly how I feel. It’s hard to live outside the paradigm of children being second class citizens; you feel lonely. And it hurts to see the way people treat children and being able to do so little. So thanks for speaking out, it all makes a difference.
True Maggie, sometimes I feel like the weird one lol
Thanks for a lovely article. I especially agree that children are held to higher standards and are expected to happy and obedient all the time, and never tired or grumpy. I moved back to South Africa from London a couple of years ago and my experience in shops here has been completely different. Shop assistants always greet my kids directly, even the baby! I usually have to drag my little girl away as she is very chatty and the ladies in the shops love it. It always makes me feel very proud as a Mom. How can we expect our kids to grow up to be good citizens if we don’t treat them with respect?
True! We need to show them how to treat people. And that everyone is important.
What a fantastic read! As a child I was very shy and wouldn’t speak up to anyone, and looking back I realize that that paved a way for people to walk over me in life. I decided that with my daughter it will be different and I will give her the tools to empower her so that she will feel confident when speaking to others, even adults. It started when she was 18months old, I would go to the deli section in the supermarket and get her a ‘red sausage’. The third time we did this I didn’t order it for her, I said to the assistant “this little one would like to order something” and then said to my daughter “could you tell the lady what you would like” i’ll never forget the twinkle in her eye when she pointed at the red sausages and said “two reds please” (in that sweet less-than-perfect way that toddlers speak). Since then it is our ritual to go to the deli section and now at nearly 4 she very confidently orders her two red sausages, and very politely thanks the assistant. This has also spilled over in so many other areas in her life, and she is capable of politely interrupting and adult conversation to ask a very simple question and then thanking us for giving her ‘a chance to talk’. Other adults also sometimes look down on her, and I will then step in and say firmly say something like “your customer would like to place an order” or “could you take her order now, please” and then I step back to allow her to complete the interaction. Makes me very proud to see her swell with confidence as she speaks, and then turn back into a little girl when she bounces up and down declaring loud and proud “I did it mommy, I paid for it myself” Yes, children are people, and they will learn that from how we treat them at home, and how we empower them in public.
That’s beautiful Natalie. Thank you for sharing 🙂
Great article! Each year on Halloween our street where we live in London meet up so all the kids can do trick or treating together. So on Friday when we all met up my 2 year old, who was very excited to be dressed as a tennis player (don’t ask!), went up to one of the dads and was trying to tell him to ‘look at me I’m a tennis player’ and the dad, who I don’t know but who was looking down at my child, just ignored him! I eventually went up to the man and politely told him that my 2 year old is trying to tell him something. It made me so sad that this man just ignored a little child who was trying to tell him something. I wanted to ask the man if he would have ignored the person if that person was an adult. Like you said, our children are also people!
You wonder what these people are thinking :/
I’m happy to hear that you are teaching you’re children to interact with the world. I was fortunate to have a mother who raised me to be confident and independent from a young age. I spoke for myself, dressed myself and knew what I liked. I remember feeling humiliated when adults spoke to me in that condescending tone reserved for young children and pets. That said, my mother also made it clear that within and between generations, different communication styles are appropriate. I observed that there were grown-up conversations, and that how I interacted with my peers was very different. I recognized that their knowledge was more extensive than mine and that they liked to discuss the things they knew about. I preferred to interact in my world of impulsive curiosity and imagination, but I made an effort to meet adults halfway between my world and theirs, where our general humanity overlapped.
As an adult, and a teacher, I often meet children who don’t recognize this distinction, and I believe it’s the reason why many adults treat children with a sort of indifferent disdain. I think the ‘seen, but not heard’ culture of yesterday has lead to a sort of backlash. While some children are still told to keep quiet, others seem to have been encouraged to perform their childishness as some sort of spectacle, and will, for example, run up to me at school and scream a bunch of loud noises before running away again. In either case, I don’t think these children are learning to interact as people. Communication is a reciprocal act that is ideally enjoyable for everyone involved. Because I believe that children are real people, I know they’re capable of being articulate and intentional, and I expect them to recognize that this is more appropriate for interacting with adults. In observing my students who understand this, and recalling my own childhood, I’m certain that even young children can make these distinctions, but many have learned that adults will humor them if they act ‘cute’.
I think it’s very important for children to have space to act freely, but I also think it’s vital that they learn when this sort of personal freedom is appropriate and when it isn’t, if they are to be internally and externally well-adjusted now and later in life. In all honesty, I don’t enjoy interacting with children who can’t appropriate their behavior for adults, and I don’t make an effort to appropriate myself to theirs. I don’t blame them, I blame the adults who haven’t treated them like people. I’m sharing my experience to shed some light on adult behavior, but it’s certainly no reflection on your girls, they sound like lovely people.
I agree with this. I always treat children as people, my own kids and others’, but I therefore also consider that there are boundaries within social interactions. I think it’s awful that a customer be ignored regardless of their age – so I certainly would never ignore a child who was being independent and ordering their food, etc. but, frankly, I wouldn’t be engaging in a conversation with a two year old who bounced up to me and started chattering away any more than I would a 30 year old, if I wasn’t in the mood for it. I wouldn’t ignore completely, but I might just politely smile and then continue what I was doing, even if what I was doing was just seemingly staring in to space. I’m an introvert by nature and I’m often exhausted by my own children’s interactions, I’ve sometimes got no energy left for anyone else’s children. I’m often having a rest for 5 minutes because my own 3 year old has briefly stopped jabbering away at me non-stop! Or I might be thinking about something important ro me. I would do exactly the same to any adult who came up to me and started to chat. There is an important responsibility in teaching your children independence and ‘chattiness’ with adults (or anyone, really) and that is that you also teach them that the adult is a person too, and they may just not want to talk to you. That doesn’t necessarily make them rude. I would consider it rude for a person to assume that I want to have a conversation with them when I’ve made it clear that I don’t.
That all sounds so negative…..I actually wholeheartedly agree with everything in the article! It is certainly what I encourage my children to do. I haven’t yet had any bad experiences, but mine are still young enough that I’m always with them when they are talking to adults.
I am 65 F and always speak to children even that I don’t know but I can tell you there WAS a time not too many years ago, when many parents were obsesed with “bad strangers”. I remember not too many years ago the look of terror and with no response–when I would speak to a child even when their parents were nearby. Has anyone one but me had this experience ? Parents need to be very careful HOW the tell their children about REAL ” Bad Strangers”. If parents feel compelled to do so. Children need to be safe but they also need to see the world as a safe place with a few necessary cautions.
That’s hard isn’t it :/
Thank you! I really enjoyed your article. My 4 year old son loves to say hello to people that we meet, whether in the street or cashier ladies in shops, etc. When somebody doesn’t answer he usually says very loudly (funny how is little voice booms) ‘that person is rude, he/she didn’t say hello to me’. He’s often right, but sometimes I can tell that the person just hadn’t heard him and then it gets a wee bit embarassing 😉
lol, and they always say these things so loudly!
This is well written and very true!
This is something to reflect on.
I’ve commented before, but wanted to share this. I have been teaching my little one not to be a stuck record and say mommy mommy mommy a million times to get my attention. She only needs to twice, and then has to count to 10 before repeating, as sometimes I am thinking, concentrating or reading something, so I need a moment before responding. It is working really well. So yesterday we were in a grocery store and we happen upon this kid who was saying mommy mommy mommy over and over and over again and the mom didn’t respond. My 4yr old says out loud “that family is so rude to each other. That boy is not being kind to his mom and the mom is just ignoring him. Not nice” I hurried her away to the next aisle. I realize the more I treat my child with respect and as a person in her own right, the more she is reflecting that behaviour in the way she treats me and others
Oh lol! Those moments can be embarrassing can’t they! But how good that they are confident that children deserve better.
i glad that has not been our experience. I have seen children dismissed by adults- and it outrages me if I can do nothing about it. But I wanted to weigh in that we have overwhelmingly had the opposite experience.
My daughter has been quite confident since she was small- likely as a result of treating her respectfully- she has always spoken directly to adults and makes eye contact.
My son, however, was speech delayed and 5 years younger. This set him up to be taken care by his older sister and babied by the family, and being non-verbal made him more reliant on us. He was shy and clingy to me.
But once he started speaking, look out, it all changed. Chatting to cashiers and servers, answering questions at length to strangers who asked (while I was present). I found many people in retail and service to be quite engaged with my kids and I would prompt them to respond. When they were shy about it, I may have encouraged them a bit outside of their comfort zone but respected when they just didn’t want to engage.
I would encouraged my son to go order something himself but he would often decline- he wasn’t ready to speak to others when mom wasn’t nearby. One day we order some food and once sitting at our table, discovered they had his order wrong. I suggested go to the counter himself to have it rectified but he still wasn’t ready. I suggested he go up with his sister- she went with him but he did the talking. The cashier and manager were excellent- speaking to him respectfully and directly. It was exactly what he needed. He now has the confidence to place his own order unaccompanied while I watch from the sidelines.
There are still a number of adults who are facilitating confidence building in our kids. As adults, we should see our role as such when engaging with others’ kids in public, too.
AMEN!!! I think about this every time we are at a family gathering and one of my kids is “acting up” (i.e. doesn’t want to automatically hug a relative or refuses to eat something) and one of my relatives suggests my kids need spankings. Umm…not on your life. Not EVER happening. My kids are great 90% of the time, the other 10% they are human and deserve compassion while they are expressing their feelings! I also try to allow my kids to interact with adults at the store, library or park as often as possible. How else will they know how? Great article.
We found it frustrating for our lg when the baby came along and every one was cooing over him. She would talk to them and people just wouldn’t hear her or ignore her. I always highlight that she’s talking and I’ll always make a point of acknowledging older siblings when there’s a new baby.
Love this post. I have a 15-month-old daughter who loves to wave at everybody. I see people notice her waving at them and they don’t wave back. Why would you choose to not acknowledge when a toddler is being friendly to you?! Unfortunately it happens so often that I find myself thanking the people who are kind to my daughter. This is a good reminder to all that children are people, and even though they’re impetuous, silly and emotional, they still see when people don’t treat them right. They feel it. It does have an impact. Even adults having their own “moments” need to be cognizant of others’ feelings, particularly when it’s a tender child.
It is true that children are discounted many times but I find this true for adults as well. I get irritated when at store or event some of those working there will never speak a word to you except to tell you what you owe and maybe a scripted “Did you find everything you needed today?” Some never say hello or thank you. Just ring up your bill and tell you how much money they need to finish your transaction. I find this at work as well, I can pass someone in the hall, just me and them, say hello, and some will just walk on by as if they did hear me and some will just smile and never verbally say anything. I don’t understand this. I notice that the elderly are dealt with this way a lot of times also. I notice this especially with handicapped children. Everyone is so afraid their children are going to say something embarrassing that they avoid talking to them or talk over them to their parents, if at all. I try to talk to the child first and if the child can’t communicate the parent will step in and help out but even in those situations the parents are usually glad that someone acknowledged their child instead of just turning away like they don’t exist. My son was always very social and his daughter, my 5 year old granddaughter is as well so they talk to everyone. Children are curious and want to try to copy what adults do and most are pretty good at it without much prompting and it is nice to acknowledge their attempt at doing it themselves. So many teaching moments. My granddaughter and I have had many conversations about wheelchairs, leg braces, body movements, helping someone else when they need it, and that just because someone is different from her doesn’t mean they are less beautiful or important. Thanks for your article. A good reminder to all of us to treat children as well as all others with respect and patience.