“Having Respect for the world is when you allow people to be what they are.” – Magda Gerber
Taking a shift in perspective can be very helpful during parenting and educating.
Sometimes I wish that when we speak about “children” or “adults”, we could label those stages of life in a more connecting way. Perhaps something with more emphasis on the fact that we are still a whole human and especially, the same person whether we are young or old. Maybe this would help us during our middle human years to keep a better connection to our early human years. Before I make this sound too complicated, what I’m trying to say is this, we must remember what it feels like to be a child!
Looking back at my developmental years, I distinctly remember a perspective I had on adults. I felt them to be very powerful, with great knowledge, and important attitudes. I felt a great trust in their decisions, and even if they seemed wrong, I still somehow felt that because they were adults, they must be trusted.
Most importantly, I remember how adults treated me, and their attitude. Whether they thought I was a hoot, or clever, or cute, or silly, or sweet, or good, or bad.. or ____ (place label here), I remember feeling that sometimes it was hard for adults to take me seriously. Was it my high pitched voice and tiny hands? Additionally, I wanted them to take me seriously about things that I was serious about. I wanted them to stop laughing, and patronizing me… I wanted them to just listen to me, understand me, be clear and kind, and tell me what is going on in a non-judgemental way. Of course, I only know this now, as an adult.
A few memories that colored my vision as a child:
I remember when my mother put me in a crib and left the room (possibly many times), I wanted her to come back so much. I remember feeling so alone and crying and no one coming to get me.
I remember when my grandmother pulled.. no yanked out of my hands a bottle of juice I was carefully pouring into my small cup as a little girl, because she was so scared I would spill it, (and I didn’t).
I remember my grandfather speaking to me like a friend, and inviting me to sit at his desk to see what tiny watch parts looked like, or to show me how the banjo worked.
I remember my father pulling me out of my bed to carry me into the kitchen in the middle of the night, where adults sat around drinking and smoking, so he could “show” me off to his friends, when I was just a couple of years old.
I remember teachers, strangers, doctors, neighbors, other kids parents and the many adults around me. What helps me remember them is their attitude towards me, and whether they treated me respectfully.
When I speak to parents and teachers now, one of the first topics I bring up is our own perspective toward children, as adults and how we have shifted our perspective from childhood. Much of it has to do with the way others treated us, and how we were seen. If children are seen as objects or entertainment (especially during the non-verbal stages), we send them the message that underlines that perspective. If they are seen as humans with a number of abilities, especially the ability to understand, communicate and learn, then our perspective will guide us to treat them respectfully.
For a funny comparison, if an alien came down to earth we would tell them everything there is to know about our life and ways. We would explain things with neutrality and stick to the facts. In a perfect world, we would not force them to do things, like “Now be a good alien and say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’”, instead we might explain “On earth, people try to show each other that they appreciate one another by saying words of kindness, like “please” or “thank you”. When people hear these words, it brings them happiness and it helps us show our grattitude to them. If you would like to say them, this is when people typically say them to one another…” The difference in attitude with these two approaches in explaining how the world works and inviting children to participate, rather than commanding them, can mean a world of difference to a young growing person (and for the record, I’m not saying children are like aliens.. since I don’t really know what aliens are like… but suspect they are probably pretty cool. Ok, I’m done talking about aliens for now).
So, let’s remember what it was like for ourselves growing up. How did we appreciate being treated and what made us feel at odds with adults? How could remembering to take the child’s perspective help us to treat children like the whole human they are, and send them a message of love and respect?