Did you remember to thank your server for your coffee refill last time you were out? Did someone force you to say it?
Did you say please to the butcher when you asked for a pound of ground beef? Did he stare at you blankly until you said the magic word to get what you needed?
Did you tell your wife that she can’t actually be full yet and she should eat three more bites of her dinner before she gets up from the table?
When you bumped into your friend and her husband, did you ask her questions about him while he was standing right there?
“Is he a good husband?”
Did you share your laptop with the student next to you because your professor told you it was their turn?
Chances are that the answer to all of these questions is no. Because it feels ABSURD to talk about other adults like they are not even there. Or to try and force them to eat more of their food. Or make them say please, thank you and I’m sorry in any and all circumstances.
So why is it not absurd to do these things to our children? What do we really think we are teaching them by forcing them to eat more food or when we talk about them as though they cannot here us?
It might come as a surprise but our children are fully formed PEOPLE. Whole, entire beings with thoughts, feeling and perspective. No, they are not adults. They are still growing and learning and changing. (So are many of the adults I know.)
Why are they treated as less important, less than adults? What is the magic age (or gender or colour) where you become recognized as a full person?
They are not less.
We often say that ‘our children are our future’. While this is true it also takes away from the truth that they are also our present: they are as important now as they will be when they are adults.
Our children are born completely honest beings. It just doesn’t matter if our kids say please, thank you or I’m sorry with any regularity. If the adults around them say these things they will eventually learn that the cultural norm is to be gracious. When we force them to say empty words, we strong-arm sincerity out of their lives.
Our children are born listening to their bodies. They know when they are full. They know when they are cold. They know when they are tired. When we force them to keep eating or go to bed or wear sweaters we get in the way, we ruin the natural rhythm of their lives.
Our children are born listening to us. When they are young more than anything in the world they want to make us happy. When we talk about our children as though they are not even there we show complete disregard for their feelings and intelligence. We stomp on their spirit.
If we could all just collectively give kids a break and be a little more understanding of what it means to be a child, then maybe parents could breathe a little easier and go a little easier.
So let’s try something different:
Let’s not expect them to behave like adults from the time they are 18 months old.
Let’s stop thinking we must teach them how to behave.
Let’s show them the way by being the adults.
Let’s respect who they are at this point in their lives.
Let’s be ok with the messy, the loud, the un-graciousness that comes along with all the great stuff of being kids.
Let’s let them be children.