Although there is obviously a degree of hierarchy in families, I’ve been thinking recently about just how little control chidren have over their lives and the extent to which we can help them manage what must feel like an unfair situation where their lives are dictated by us, the parents. Every parent has a store of anecdotes about children who are fussy about food, difficult to potty train or particularly defiant at bedtime. The common factor here is children trying to be in control of at least one aspect of their life. At the end of the day, you can’t force a child to eat, to sleep or to wee when we want them to.
It’s a difficult situation in some respects. It goes without saying that children need boundaries, that parents often know better/best and that unfortunately, children cannot choose what they do and when they do. It would be a completely unsustainable, unsafe, and chaotic way of life. But how can we allow our kids to have a little bit of control over their own lives? How can we can make them feel like they are listened to and respected?
Respect goes both ways and I do think that it is worth trying to treat our children like we would treat our adult friends and families. They say your child is your mirror and if we talk to them in a more equal manner, hopefully, in time, they will return the gesture and start talking to us instead of shouting or crying when life isn’t going their way. If we saw a friend sobbing in a corner, would we snap at them to stop crying or would we ask them what was wrong and try to help? If we wanted to leave the house at a certain time would we bark at our other half to put on his shoes and wait in the garden with no warning or would we have a conversation earlier in the day about our expectations for the morning?
There are some elements of life that are non-negotiable. Roads must be crossed safely, school or other extra curricula activities start at a set time, a reasonable bedtime is necessary for adequate sleep. But, there are many ways in which we can give our children a little bit of choice and allow them to exercise some control over their own lives. Letting them choose what they wear in the morning, allowing older kids to pack their own lunches, negotiating a bedtime that allows that extra chapter to be read without being too late… They may seem like small gestures but in the grand scheme of things, they can help a child feel like they have more control over their lives and hopefully will be less grumpy, more content and happier to help and be part of the family.
Maybe some of you think I’m being a bit soft but children are just small humans and autonomous beings. And whilst I agree that they lack the maturity and benefit of age and experience to make some decisions sensibly, I don’t think that means that we should treat them any less respectfully than we’d treat our adult peers. So next time I’m hollering at them from the bottom of the stairs to get to the table for dinner, I’m going to try and remember that I chastise them for shouting at me from another room and realise the double standard. If I want a harmonious family, I’ve got to be a key part of achieving that through the way I talk to and treat the kids.