Haley wrote a fantastic post last week in which she brought to light the issue of people being prejudiced against children. And, as usual, she puts it so well:
I don’t know how we’ve forgotten this. Never in human history have children been viewed as inconveniences instead of gifts, blessings for a whole community. People who spill paint, drop their sippy cups, and smear toothpaste on the bathroom wall are still people worthy of love and respect. No one has the right to an inconvenience-free life, but children do have the right to be treated with the respect due any human being–and that means you just might have to sit next to a child someday when you’re out and about. Who knows. You might realize that one quarter of humanity is cooler than you thought.
It’s really easy for us as adults to look at kids and say, “You’ve got it sooooo easy!” Sure, four year olds don’t have to worry about income taxes or other adult-y type things. But I think if we look at it through the lens of the workplace, we can see our relationships with kids differently.
My kids certainly don’t have to worry about paying their car insurance, but they do deal with a difficult boss. There are plenty of times, more than I’d like to admit, that I am the world’s worse boss. I’m demanding, impatient, and I make promises that I don’t keep. If my boss treated me like that, I’d quit. Unfortunately, my kids don’t have that option.
So, do you see what I’m getting at? It’s hard to be a child. Hard.
You have little to no control of your environment. You don’t choose your clothes, your food, your playmates, your schedule. You are forced to live within limits that you may not understand and many times, your superiors don’t have the time or can’t take the time to explain them to you. You are physically, mentally, and emotionally developing at a pace that makes it difficult for you to process things like risk and boundaries. You haven’t learned the social skills that everyone magically expects you to know and follow. You have a hard time controlling your temper, yet it seems like people get mad at you for just being…you. Also, you’re short, so you literally stare at people’s butts all day.
I’ve been fortunate enough to work for companies who value children. At Disney, it is a company policy to treat children like they’re actual human beings. The library I work at now states that children are patrons just like anybody else, therefore their requests are treated just like any adults. A lot of adults have a problem with this. They hate it that they have to wait in line behind a child who has asked for the latest Captain Underpants book, while they need something that’s actually “important.”
Here’s the deal. Captain Underpants is that kid’s Tolstoy. Respect it. Respect them. It’s an unfortunate part of human nature that as we age, we wed ourselves to “the way things are.” If we allow ourselves to interact with children, we’ll gain some of that wonder back. We’ll see that maybe “the way things are” isn’t actually the way things have to be. We’ll look at the world with a fresh set of eyes and that’s always a good thing. Like it or not, kids are a misunderstood and undervalued portion of society. It’s high time we made some changes.
So. What can you do to improve your interactions with children? Try a few of these tips and be sure to add your own ideas in the comments!
How to Treat Children Like Actual Human Beings:
- Listen to them: Sure. It’s no revelation to you that there’s water in that puddle. You are not excited by the fact that there’s a cat over there. But you know what? You may just learn or notice something that you didn’t know before. And if you want your kids to feel like they can talk to you when they’re teenagers, they need to know that you value what they have to say now.
- Ask them questions: How often, upon meeting a new child, do adults take the time to ask that kid questions beyond “How old are you?” and “What grade are you in?” Do you remember how lame that was as a kid? I do. I hated those obligatory questions. When introduced to a new child ask them what their favorite animal is or how they feel about dinosaurs. And maybe ask some more creative questions the next time you’re introduced to a new adult. I know I will.
- Get on their level: This is a Disney thing. When speaking to a child, always bend or kneel down so that you can have a conversation face to face, eye to eye. It’s respectful.
- Give them time: If every time you brought a request to your boss or had a question to ask her, she told you, “Not right now!” “Maybe later.” “I’m busy.” etc, you’d hate her. Yes. It takes Maggie ninety-seven years to articulate what she’s trying to tell me, but I’ve got patrons at work who do the exact same thing and I don’t cut them off. It’s common courtesy.
- Don’t jump to conclusions: This one is hard for me, but when I put it in the context of the boss analogy, it makes things clearer for me. I can imagine a scenario in which my boss walks into the office and discovers that something has gone wrong. The printer is jammed, a patron was misinformed and is now angry, a program didn’t get put into the computer correctly, in short there’s a mess. He discovers the problem and immediately concludes that it is all my fault and I need to be corrected immediately and harshly. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like that scenario. Sometimes I do screw things up at work, but it’s not usually on purpose and I’d like to think that my boss would give me some grace or at least listen to my explanation. Now, I know that as parents there are situations in which our children obviously do something and it was obviously them and they obviously know better. And I’m not saying that we shouldn’t freak out a little when hair gets cut or poop gets smeared in the carpet by the four year old (not naming any names here). I am saying that maybe it’s a good idea to settle down before you lambaste them with accusations and punishments. And by “you” I mean “me.”
- Give them choices. There’s not a lot a kid can control, but if you let them choose their shoes or how their hair is done or even if you walk around the left side or the right side of the vehicle to get into the car, they’ll appreciate it.
- Respect their choices. Our children are not us. If I give Maggie the option of choosing which shoes she will wear, then I have to follow through, even if that means she’s wearing mismatched shoes to the grocery store. Sure, it’s not socially accepted to wear mismatched shoes, but I’m much happier honoring her choice. . And if she’s in the car and has shoes on, that’s really the ultimate goal anyway.
- Don’t set them up to fail. Part of the reason folks have a problem with children is that kids are viewed as a real nuisance in public places. Now, obviously we can’t always predict when our children are going to meltdown. However, if we pay attention and follow their cues, we can get pretty close. Here, again, is the boss analogy: If my boss piles so many expectations, deadlines, and programs on me and pushes me to my breaking point, he’s set me up to fail. As the bosses in the relationship, we need to set our “staff” up to succeed, not fail. I want a boss who will work within the realm of what I am capable of. My boss knows that I can’t work certain hours of the day. It’d be unreasonable for him to schedule me during those hours. The same goes for nap time or quiet time. And nobody works well on an empty stomach, so if my boss didn’t allow me to keep snacks in my desk, I’d be pretty cranky and likely to melt down, too.
- Ask their opinion. You don’t have to agree with it, but giving them a platform on which to express themselves is invaluable. It’s the same courtesy you’d give a coworker or employee in a staff meeting.
To sum up, I think it’s also important here to say that I’m not advocating a “children should be treated exactly like adults” mentality. That’s just not doable and it really isn’t healthy. Sure we’re equal as human beings, but we are different, too. Just as I have to respect the boundaries and policies set in place by the administration at my workplace, so do my children have to respect the expectations we have for them at home. But we should recognize that children are humans. They have thoughts and dreams and opinions and souls just like adults. Let’s treat them like people, because that’s what they are.