‘Stop crying! RIGHT NOW!!’
‘Is that how you eat? Where are your manners?!’
‘Don’t you DARE talk back to ME!!’
‘Say one more word and I’ll slap you!!’
‘Go to your room and don’t come unless you are ready to apologize!’
Reading these dialogues, we are bound to assume they are from parents, intended for their children. If we try to imagine one adult talking to another like this, we immediately realize that something is seriously wrong with the person saying them, not only because of the words, but the way they are delivered too. It’s downright insulting. But why is it that one time or another, we find ourselves talking to our children just like that? Probably because we can get away with it?
It is necessary to know that apart from the obvious indicators such as yelling, scolding and spanking, there are other things disguised under the name of love and care which, in their true sense, conflict with the idea of respect. The way we deal with the feelings and opinions of children goes unnoticed in the name of traditional upbringing. Something as simple as getting hurt through falling or bumping into something invokes the kind of responses from parents that don’t allow or accept the expression of the child’s feelings:
Be brave! That’s how you grow!
Boys don’t cry!
Let’s hit that thing that hurt you!
Oh it doesn’t hurt that bad!
Why do you always have to cry over the littlest of things!!
Parents can cope comparatively better with the feelings part than children’s opinions. Especially if a child says he doesn’t like some vegetable or a person or some trait such as sharing or any other good thing we think our child ‘should’ do; we believe we MUST correct him right then and there.
‘This is not a good washroom! I don’t like it’. My 4 year old is saying at his grandfather’s house and I am tempted to change his opinion, to inculcate the value of not being materialistic and all such things, but instead, amused by his statement, I ask if there’s any part that he thinks is good and so we have an interesting conversation. What’s funny is that he had said the same thing about a spotless washroom in a hotel room. And I didn’t correct him because I totally understand how no other washroom can take the place of that tiny little one in our home!
Why are we not comfortable with children expressing their opinions and feelings?
We try to hush them and shush them, but what about the turmoil that goes on inside of them? Does it stop when they become quiet? Of course, as parents, our utmost concern other than the child’s wellbeing is to teach them and guide them. But you cannot take respect out of it or keep it aside for a while, until you’ve taught them and guided them and straightened them out. There are parents who actually believe that children ‘need’ spanking/ slapping once in a while. Probably consider it necessary. There’s no questioning their intention and love but it still doesn’t change the reality. Today, the parents and the teachers alike, are complaining constantly about how children are disrespectful and inconsiderate, and how their spoiled behaviours need to be rectified. The question always remains this: Who is raising them? Reverse the roles in your interactions and think, what if the child treated you the way you are treating him right now?? Are we really out of options? Or is it so that the real problem lies with our own lack of skills to deal with issues that are bound to occur in a parent-child relationship?
Every child, by birth, is entitled to respect; a principle that is a universally accepted truth today. Long before a child is able to express and assert himself verbally, he experiences and understands life through the treatment he receives from the people around him. As he grows, he learns to value himself, his self-esteem boosts, his creativity spurts and a pleasant personality begins to emerge. Above all, he learns how to give respect. On the other hand, a child who is raised with direct verbal (seemingly innocent) insults and whose feelings and opinions are discounted, begins to develop low opinion of himself, feeling unimportant and hesitates to express his views. The deficiencies appear in different forms, usually lasting a lifetime. As parents, it is our responsibility to always keep in mind the long-term effects of our upbringing. We can either deceive ourselves saying that all parents have been doing this for generations; we turned out fine, so everything is fine and will be fine! Or we can evaluate the effectiveness of the ‘usual common’ type of parenting through the results. Look around at the society we live in and you might have the answer. The purpose is not to criticize any person or the parents in general. They always raise their children with the best of intentions but unless we reevaluate what we are doing and ask some harsh questions, we cannot achieve our dream of a peaceful, mature and tolerant society. IF we dream of it!
In the end, it is important to remember that allowing children to express their own feelings and opinions does not mean that parents must agree with them. What matters is that we understand and respect their individuality. As far as teaching and guidance are concerned, no preaching can work. Rather, living by example and leading the way is the key. Thoughts and feelings can change, but what remains is the relationship that’s built on respect. And every good thing grows from it
Take respect out of love? Don’t call it love!