Stop holding children to adult standards!
It seems the modern adult brain has a problem letting kids be kids. One African tribe, sadly I have forgotten which, rarely reacts negatively to a child’s ‘bad’ behavior, but rather believes children have no conscious thoughts yet and thus cannot control their impulses. I like this way of thinking, for young children certainly cannot and should not control their impulses – testing things out much as a scientist does by trial and error is the key to acquiring knowledge and experience. It is growing up. It would be impossible for young children to think, “I’d better not throw this food on the floor, although I’d really like to see if it splats the same way as the food did yesterday, because, as Mummy always reminds me, it is inconvenient to have to clean the floor so often.”
Children are getting comfortable in their world, learning the laws of nature, learning social skills (closely watching our reactions and interactions) and forever trusting our opinion of things. If we believe they are annoying, up to no good or mischievous then trust me, they’ll comply and be so.
Holding children to adult standards means to expect them to calculate consequences, as in the example above. It means to expect them to calm down as soon as you’ve explained there is nothing to be afraid of. It means to negate the irrational fear instead of comfort the child. When we stop expecting children to behave like adults there is space to see them for the people they are with their motivation, impulses and characteristics. We acknowledge what they know and see what they wish to experience. Our role as parents becomes clear – where we were policing and reinforcing before, now we are suggesting, connecting and protecting. (Read “from policing to parenting: Re-humanization” here)
When you expect your two year old to share her current favorite toy, you are holding her to an adult standard.
When you expect your three year old to communicate an unmet need or their will using words rather than actions, you are holding him to an adult standard.
When you expect your four year old to be quiet and comply, you are holding her to an adult standard.
When you expect children to overlook their needs for the greater good, you are holding them to adult standards.
When a child cries, panic stricken, when you mean to leave him or her with a babysitter (yes even if it’s the aunt) and someone tells you “don’t indulge this behavior!” they are assuming the child has calculated the impact his or her screams will have and has concocted a plan to make you stay with him/her. These people assume children think like adults do and should act like them, too. They should do as they are told. They should control the impulse to cry and remember they are in no harm, everything will be fine.
Go ahead reply “don’t hold my kid to adult standards. He is panicked. He doesn’t understand what is happening. He needs a minute to get used to you and trust you again. He has a poor concept of linear time, what with being four years old. His screams are every bit as urgent as they sound. He is not an object; he is a thinking, feeling and emotional human being and wishes to be addressed as such.”
Adults don’t only hold children to adult standards, but even hold them to higher standards than they themselves meet.
Children are expected to wait their turn, not to interrupt, never be disrespectful when they are in a bad mood, never shout, be grateful, be articulate about what is upsetting them, be focused on you when you speak, share their things, be forgiving, etc… but how do we do? Don’t you ever interrupt? Are you always grateful? Don’t you shout? Are you always focused on what your child is telling you? Why should children be held to a higher standard than adults and –perhaps more importantly– be corrected or even punished when they fail? Shouldn’t we rather look to our own shortcomings and work on becoming the people we wish to be? Well I sure think so. And that is another reason why standard methods of child-raising are overrated and redundant.
It is socially acceptable to have a bad day, be in a bad mood or suffer the impact of stress, so why on earth should our children not be equally exempt from any wrath, spite or punishment? Children are expected to do as their parents’ say, not what they do…the flaw here is that this isn’t how children learn. They imitate. They must imitate their social surroundings, how else could they develop to be fully grown human beings? Why should they assume or believe the behavior of their elders is flawed?
It is our place as parents to set a good example. Our role is one of a beloved companion, our focus on the trustful, respectful relationships we tend. We are the role model, whether we like it or not. So instead of shaming and manipulating our children into becoming what we are not, we should strive to be so ourselves.
I invite you to take your liberty and join the revolution!