If we talked with adults the way that we talk with children many of us would feel disrespected. Most people have said phrases or heard phrases said to kids that just don’t feel right. Many common interactions adults have with children are well-meaning and innocent, but in fact are actually quite harmful. If we want children to respect us, we need to respect them.
Three Innocent Things Adults Do to Kids That Are Harmful:
1. Telling white lies to get children to comply.
“If you don’t behave, the police are going to come.”
“If you do ____, we can go to Disneyland later today.”
“I will give you a new puppy if you _______.”
Dramatic, yes, but you get the point. There are thousands of ways white lies are conveyed to kids in order to get them to comply with what we want. These lies while usually innocent, are actually harmful and aid in the belief that the adults in a child’s life are untrustworthy. Many of these lies are done to instill fear (the police example) which creates anxiety and a lack of safety for the child. While you may get the initial compliance desired in a child’s behavior with these lies, you put the child’s sense of self at risk. Fear/anxiety, lack of trust, insecurity, and trauma are just too big of trades to make for behavioral compliance.
“I know, it is hard to leave the park, I will give you 5 more minutes then it is time to go.” (then follow through).
“Once you pick up the toys we can go to the movie. If you do not pick up the toys we won’t have time to watch the movie today.” (follow through)
2. Brushing away or minimizing pain.
“Oh, it didn’t hurt. You are fine!”
“You are not sad, come on. It’s okay.”
“Stop crying, that’s enough.”
How would you feel if someone said this to you as an adult? Probably pretty minimized in your feelings and disrespected! It is the same with children, if we fail to acknowledge their true feelings we are saying “what you feel is not real or valid.” The statements we say surrounding minimizing pain contribute to emotional stuffing and repressed feelings later in life. Children literally learn, “what I feel is not right, therefore I won’t feel it.” If we want children to develop healthy ways to regulate emotions, we need to acknowledge the truth of what they feel…even if it is inconvenient or you want to minimize their pain. If a child is hurting, acknowledge they are hurting.
“Ow! That hurt! Can I give you a hug?”
“Yes, you bumped your head and that doesn’t feel good.”
“I am right here, I know you are sad and I am right here with you.”
3. Bribing them for love.
“I will give you a candy if you hug me.”
“I will buy you this toy if you cuddle with me.”
“If you don’t sit with me you can’t have your doll back.”
How does it feel to read those statements? Pretty unsettling? Maybe manipulative or yucky? Sure, they are often said in a lighthearted way, but the meaning behind them is real. Children should never be bribed to love you, your friend, their uncle, anybody. They should be free to have their own feelings and grow up in an environment where their wishes around expressing love are respected and honored. Shaming a child for making a choice you don’t like around who they express their affection to is very harmful. It teaches them that love is to be bought, its conditional, and it’s a game.
“No hug? Okay, looks like you don’t want to do that right now.”
“Sometimes you don’t want to say ‘I love you’, that is fine.”
“I will still love you even if you choose not to kiss me today.”
Children thrive in environments where they are respected and treated with regard. Let’s strive to give them the best shot in this world.
“Instead of raising children who turn out okay despite their childhood, let’s raise children who turn out extraordinary because of their childhood.” – L.R. Knost
-Written by Emily De La Torre, Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Vancouver, WA