As parents, we tell our children what to do. It is our job to set limits and boundaries, and teach them how to behave and be respectful. I would imagine I bark orders at my kids at least twenty times a day. “Be nice to your sister,” “get dressed,” “sit up,” “chew with your mouth closed,” “clean up your toys” are just a few of the everyday utterances that leave my mouth. As a child being on the receiving end, I could imagine this may get frustrating. Nobody likes someone telling them what to do and just like us, children have opinions, desires, and needs. And so the power struggle begins…
My children’s demands constantly tempt me. I often contemplate how much say they are allowed to have. Do they get to choose what they want to wear in the morning, or do I? Do they get to pick what they want to eat for dinner, causing me to cook two, often three different meals? If they don’t want to do a planned activity, such as going to a soccer practice or friend’s house for a play date, do I give in to their request?
So how do we earn our children’s respect? It’s simple: by respecting them. It is important that we truly listen to what our children say. Listen to them the same way we listen to our partners and friends. Then after we listen, we need to let our children know that we’ve heard what they said. That might mean that we just repeat what they said, such as “I hear that you want to play longer, but it’s time to go.”
Answering a child “because I said so and I am your parent” when they ask why can come in handy, and certainly has a time and place. But if we don’t allow a child to question the world they live in, we may be teaching them not to be curious. When we disregard our children’s feelings, or tell them we don’t care what they think, we may be sending a message to be silent. In the moment it can be effective, but the long-term impact of this may mean that we are raising our children not to speak up when they are bullied, assaulted, or mistreated. We may be raising young adults that do not have the resources to speak out for what they believe in, because we never gave them the chance. We may be raising adults who cannot resolve a conflict because they are too frightened to speak their mind.
As parents, we must teach children to trust themselves, and in order to do this, we have to validate their voice. That doesn’t necessarily mean giving into their every wish and demand. We all want what’s best for our children. We all try to do the best job we can. Ultimately, we will never be perfect. And that’s ok.