Words by Heather Vickery
It’s only been in the last few decades that parenting has moved away from treating children like “tiny adults” towards the concept of “let them be little as long as possible.” As a parent myself, I completely admire and desire the idea that children have their whole lives to be “adults” so why not allow them to be kids as long as possible?
Unfortunately, as the years have passed, we have discovered that in the process of allowing our kids to “stay little” we have forgotten how capable they are and we have taken away their voice and control over their lives and decision-making.
Today, as a nation and as a world at large, we are surrounded powerful, passionate, and important causes like the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, climate change, and the seemingly never-ending fight for social justice of every kind.
These movements and causes are a direct result of generations of destructive patterns and habits that lead to more destructive patterns and habits. It is the patriarchy, the disregard for the planet, and the seemingly complete and utter disregard for human kindness on a very large scale level. It is also a result of avoiding hard topics of conversation because they are “uncomfortable” and “difficult to have.”
Chances are, if you are reading this article, you don’t want to raise children that contribute to this behavior, and in fact, have a desire to raise children to be part of the solution to these issues. If that’s the case, then you may be grappling with how to approach these topics with your kids.
While I would always encourage you to meet your children where they are and not over do it on difficult conversations, following a few simple steps can help them be informed children who know that they have control and a voice that matters.
START WITH CONSENT
Oftentimes consent is considered a topic for older kids or adults, but consent (or lack thereof) begins almost at birth. Here are a few ways you can teach your children that the giving and receiving of consent matters and, as a direct result, that their voice is powerful and worth listening to.
Listen to your children when they tell you to stop, even in times of play or jest. This means if you are tickling them and they are giving you the most adorable giggles but screaming, “Mama, STOP!” then stop. Take a moment to truly see what you are teaching them if you continue to tickle them “because it seems like they are having fun.”
I would venture to guess that most of you have had the “no one has the right to touch your body unless you want them to” conversation. But consent is about so much more than that and it starts with these very basic ideas. It starts with both learning you have the right to say “Please don’t do that” and also the obligation to respect hearing those words from someone else.
It means if you are teasing them and it’s “all in good fun” but you can see they are embarrassed or uncomfortable, stop! Observe their body language and treat them with the same respect you would treat an adult. Don’t be the first bully your child encounters.
You may consider asking older children if it’s OK to tell a story about them in social media or if they mind you sharing a photo of them. You would be surprised how many children ages eight and up are uncomfortable with their parents sharing these stories. They are considered private and your sharing without their consent feels like a personal violation.
UNDERSTAND THAT YOUR PERSPECTIVE IS JUST THAT - YOURS
One of the most difficult concepts for adults to grasp is that what you see and feel is a result of what you have seen and felt before. The idea that the way you experience life is about your past and your perspective. That means that everyone else is experiencing things as a result of their life’s experiences and their personal perspective.
There are ways of explaining big, scary topics like racism and privilege by telling stories that put your own children in the middle of a situation that someone different than them may be experiencing. This is where “can you imagine …?” and “have you ever had this experience?” I am not talking about scary situations but simple ones. Situations that a child, whatever their age, can relate to.
Even young children can begin to understand that if every time you left your home someone followed you around and assumed you were going to do something bad and treated you poorly or with distrust, you might begin to not trust these people. These conversations can help little ones begin to understand the complicated concept of privilege.
EMPATHY AND COMMUNICATION
It is only through empathy and communication that we can raise a generation of more conscious kids. And we can do this without pushing them too far and while still honoring their childhoods. We can teach this through examples and conversations, through honesty and respect.
When we approach parenthood in this manner we are showing our children that their knowledge is important. Their voice is valued and their input in their own experiences and future carry weight. It proves that we trust them.
Many people in my parents’ generation were treated like adults, expected to cook, clean, and care for siblings as if it were their job. They were also told children should be seen and not heard. There is a dangerous juxtaposition here - behave like an adult but we won’t respect you as one: “Do as I say, not as I do.”
It seems that most parents of my generation (at least in my small world) attempted to go the polar opposite. We were coddled and encouraged to stay little. We didn’t have to work hard; we were kids. And yet, still, “do as I say, not as I do.”
Let’s do better for this generation. Let’s involve them and show them what pride there is in working alongside of others for greater good - whether that be for a clean home, a well cooked meal, or standing up for the rights of someone less able to do so themselves. Let’s give them a voice and still play with them. Let’s experience their childhood with them in every possible way.
Author's note: This piece is very clearly written from the perspective of a white, middle class woman. It is the only thing I can fully speak to because it is my perspective. I have worked to see beyond my own experiences and while I can see, respect, and honor the experiences of others, I can never truly understand it. These are big topics and I have attempted to scratch the surface in this piece. I hope it inspires you to ask more questions and learn more about ways to empower your kids while honoring them as children.
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About the Author:
Heather Vickery is a success and leadership coach. A celebrated public speaker, Heather inspires audiences and empowers attendees with the tools they need to live bold and successful lives. Heather is a single mom of four, a dedicated community member, and fierce advocate for social justice. She also hosts The Brave Files Podcast.