|by Pam Leo
"Children have never been very good at
their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them."
- James Baldwin
Children are mirrors; they reflect back to us everything we say
and do. We now know that 95% of everything children learn, they
learn from what is modeled for them. Only 5% of all they learn is
from direct instruction. Human beings are like tape recorders.
Every word we hear, everything we experience, is permanently
recorded in our subconscious. Whenever adults speak, we are being
role models for the children in our presence. What we speak is
what we teach. Children record every word we ever say to them or
in front of them. The language children grow up hearing is the
language they will speak.
We often make the mistake of thinking that since children are
smaller than we are and have less information and experience than
we do, that they don't have all the same feelings we do. But they
do. The same kind of treatment that would embarrass, humiliate or
hurt us, embarrasses, humiliates and hurts children. When human
beings are being hurt emotionally, our thinking shuts down. When
our thinking is shut down we cannot learn, we can only record.
When adults try to "teach" children by criticizing,
lecturing, shaming, ridiculing, giving orders, screaming,
threatening and hitting, it shuts down their thinking so they
can't learn what the adult intended to teach them to do or not to
do; they can only record what is being modeled.
|The most common criticism I hear of young people these days is,
"They don't treat anyone or anything with respect."
Ironically, adults often try to teach children to be respectful by
treating them disrespectfully. Children learn respect or
disrespect from how we treat them and how we treat each other.
When children live with disrespect, they learn disrespect. We can
teach respect only by modeling treating each other with respect
and by giving children the same respect we expect.
Since children have long been treated as second class citizens,
as "less than," most adults carry "recordings"
of disrespect we recorded when we were children. When children's
behavior challenges us, it pushes our recording's play button and
we find ourselves saying the very things that were said to us as
children. Has any parent not had the experience of hearing their
parents' words coming out of their own mouths now that they are
parents? Most disrespectful responses are so automatic, we have
already said them before we even realize what we've said.
Learning to treat children with respect will require a change
of heart, that can come only from a major shift in consciousness
of how we view children and how we define respect. Children are
born with human dignity. To treat a person with respect is to
acknowledge and preserve their human dignity. To treat a person
with disrespect is to attack their human dignity.
Treating children disrespectfully is like using physical
punishment as discipline; it only "works" as long as we
are bigger than they are. It behooves every adult who wants to be
treated with respect to treat children respectfully. Whether
children grow up under our roof or not, they live in the same
world we do and their behavior can and does impact our lives.
However we treat the child, the child will treat the world.
How can we expect children to understand and practice the
Golden Rule if we treat them with less respect than we give our
peers? In saying that children deserve the same respect we would
give our friends, I am not saying we should treat children like
adults or that we should never get angry. I'm saying that there is
nothing we ever have to say to a child that we need to say in a
||Screaming at, belittling, embarrassing and humiliating children
is disrespectful. If we question whether or not something we have
said to a child is disrespectful, we can ask ourselves,
"Would I say those words, in that tone of voice, to my good
friend?" If not, it was probably disrespectful. When we model
disrespect, we must then model apologizing.
If we are sincere about teaching respect to children we must
expose, acknowledge, and work on eliminating all the ways that we
model disrespect. Even if we do not model the blatantly
disrespectful behaviors of criticizing, lecturing, shaming,
ridiculing, giving orders, screaming, threatening and hitting,
there are many things we do and say to children, that have been
said and done to children for so long, we aren't even aware that
they are disrespectful. Yet, if these same things were said or
done to us we would identify them as disrespectful.
In my parenting class on treating children with respect, we
read a brilliant piece by Erma Bombeck, titled ,"Treat
Friends, Kids The Same." She imagines having friends over for
dinner and saying to them all those things that most of us heard
growing up and therefore, say to children. "Shut the door.
Were you born in a barn?" "I didn't work over a hot
stove all day to have you nibble like some bird." "Sit
up straight or your spine will grow that way." Most parents
roar with laughter at the thought of speaking to their friends
that way, then realize it is just as disrespectful to say those
things to children.
We don't say, "What do you say?" or "What's the
magic word?" to our friends but children hear it all the
time. If we expect children to always say please and thank you, we
must always say please and thank you to them and to each other,
otherwise we are modeling that sometimes you say it and sometimes
you don't. Children imitate what we do. If we expect children to
have manners, to share, to apologize, to be honest, kind,
respectful, and loving, we must do and be those things so they
will have that model to imitate.
Children imitate parents, family members, friends, caregivers,
teachers, and television. The more children are out in the world,
the more models they will be exposed to. While we can't keep
children from ever seeing models of the kind of behavior we don't
want them to imitate, we can be more selective of what models we
expose them to, especially television. Since parents are the
primary models in the early years, we must work on modeling the
behavior we expect and not modeling behavior we don't want to see
|The ancient wisdom "What goes around, comes around,"
and, "As you sow, so shall you reap," applies to how we
teach children. To move from the disrespectful way of teaching
through criticizing, lecturing and giving orders, to teaching
children through conscious, intentional modeling, takes time and
practice and a willingness to look at and sometimes change our own
behavior. Gandhi said, "We must become the change we want to
see in the world." Joseph Chilton Pearce says, "We must
become the people we want our children to be."
Most of the disrespectful things we say and do to children
aren't even intentional. Our old "tapes" just
automatically play when our buttons get pushed. Learning to teach
respect by intentional modeling is simple; it's unlearning the old
ways that is difficult. When a child doesn't behave in the ways we
expect, we must ask ourselves, "Am I providing a model of the
behavior I am expecting of my child?" When a child behaves in
a way that we don't like, we must ask ourselves, "Am I
modeling that behavior?" If we can honestly answer,
"No," then something else is causing the behavior.
We can train ourselves to stop and think before we speak, by
remembering that everything we say will be recorded and imitated.
We can stop or at least interrupt those old recordings and
intentionally model the kind of behavior we expect and will accept
from our children. When we give children the same respect we
expect, we teach children respect. How we treat them is what we
Pam Leo is the author of Connection
Parenting: Parenting through Connection instead of Coercion, through Love
instead of Fear (Wyatt-Mackenzie 2005) and is the Connection
Parenting instructor for the Academy for Coaching Parents, International.
Pam has been writing the Empowered Parents column for the Parent &
Family paper in Maine for the last ten years. For more information, articles
and reprint permissions, visit Connection
© 1989 by Pam Leo and Connection Parenting™ Reprinted with permission.