Arwyn over at Raising My Boychick has (as usual) a wonderful and thought provoking post about how we de-humanize children.
She points out that;
When the parent-blaming child-shaming folk say “I treat kids like people by expecting them to act like it” what they’re really saying is “I expect kids to act like adults”, which boils down to the belief that only adults are people.
This is a common, socially-acceptable way to belittle a population (as Arwyn says “Of course I don’t have a problem with [women/gays/immigrants/people with disabilities/people of color/trans persons] — when they act just like me. As long as they [act like men/couple and get married/learn English/act able/act white/are straight and gender normative], of course they should have rights!”) and basically boils down to discrimination.
This is bad enough, however, I think parents actually do this to their own children too.I recently ate at a hibachi-style Japanese restraunt (yum) where you are sitting with other people around the communal grill. We were sitting by a family with a little girl of about 6 or 7 years old. I was astounded how everyone at the table (mom, dad, sister of about 11, and grandma) were talking about her like she wasn’t there. “Oh she won’t eat that.” “She’ll be scared of the fire, so sit on Daddy’s lap.” “You can split your meal with [Her].” When they ordered they ordered for her. Now, that isn’t necessarily horrible. I think parents should encourage kids to order for themselves and thus learn to be polite and concise but I get that some kids aren’t ready for that and ordering for them makes the waiters job easier. However, I don’t think at anytime this little girl was given any say in the matter.
You know your kid will only eat chicken and if you put the terriyaki sauce on it she won’t touch it. I get that. But, it takes away any sense of self-determination to assume that. It treats her like a kid and, of course she is a kid, but aren’t we always asking them to behave as adults? Isn’t our job to teach them how to become adults?
Imagine your grandmother is feeble and forgetful and in a child-like way needs your help with things like reading the menu or hearing the waiter. Would you just pretend she wasn’t there and order for her? Or would you ask her what she wants (or at least if what you want to get her is ok)? Why? I think we would do that because it is just respectful to treat another person in that manner. Grandma probably always gets the chicken too and sauces make her gassy (lol) but you don’t just ignore her like a child and order for her.
What if you asked your child, “what do you want to eat? There is chicken and steak. You didn’t like the steak last time, remember but you can get what you want.” This reminds her she didn’t like the steak but gives her the respect of having an option. When the waiter asks “do you want soup or salad” and you know your kid hates soup why not just ask, “which would you like dear?” When the fire situation comes tell your child “there is going to be fire but you don’t have to be afraid because it won’t hurt you it is just for show. Does this take longer? Maybe. But what is your kid getting out of it?
- You respect her opinion and thus her personhood through their right to make choices.
- By giving them a choice you can avert tantrums that are often frustration about lack of control (studies show that giving them choices can avert tantrums later about things they can’t have a choice about even – so giving a choice for dinner can smooth the way for the no-choice teeth brushing situation later).
- You have modeled proper social behavior helping your child develop those very important life skills.
- You’ve shown trust in your child and taught her to trust herself. You trust her to make a big girl decision and to be a big girl when the fire comes. Is she always going to make the right decision or act like a big girl with the fire? No. But she never will if you show that you don’t think she can.
- You’ve given her the gift of change. How often do we stymie people by assuming that they way there were is the way they will always be. Don’t you think the difficulty that people have with change might stem, in part, from the fact that change is never assumed. If you talk about your kids with “she hates meat” then why would she ever try it? She is learning the thought pattern that once she decides something change is rare and difficult. Do her the favor of learning young that it is ok for things to change.
You can provide a great teaching moment with sensitive, respectful parenting. I think that’s worth the extra few seconds at the table.