I once read an article by Erma Bombeck where she talked about treating company coming to dinner like she would her own children. She asked her adult guests the routine questions and gave the usual commands normally reserved for children. "Did you wash your hands? Don't chew with your mouth open. Get your elbows off the table. No dessert for you if you don't eat your vegetables, etc."
The article would have been funny if it weren't so true. If we treated our guests with the same respect or lack of respect that we usually show our children, they probably would not be our friends for long.
One of my sons was sick almost non-stop from January through February, so when he left for school without a jacket, I came unglued. In frustration, I asked him if he had pooh for brains. All day long I thought about my comment and wished I had used some restraint, or better yet, practiced that great, non-judgmental love and logic that I'm always preaching to other parents. When Josh got home, I apologized and he acted like it was ridiculous that I would apologize, since it was very obvious he didn't have pooh for brains. I thought I was off the hook until a couple of days later when he needed an alibi for not doing his chores. You guessed it; he couldn't do them because he had pooh for brains.
I have many friends and acquaintances who don't mean half as much to me as my kids, but I've yet to ask any of them if they had pooh for brains when they did something that I thought was common-sense impaired. I have to wonder why I would be more worried about showing respect to people in passing than to my children whom I want to have a healthy, respectful, lifelong connection.
There used to be a television show entitled, "Kids are People Too." I never watched the show from start to finish but the title was thought-provoking. Sometimes, in the process of trying to teach, train and raise children, we forget that they are people too. They do in fact have feelings and share that universal need to be loved, accepted and respected.
Perhaps the best way to show respect for children is to remember how we felt as children. What things frustrated us or seemed unfair? What did we worry about, and how did we feel about being teased? If we can tune into our own feelings as a child, we have a better chance of understanding and being sensitive to the feelings of our own children. They may have different needs than we did at their age, and we need to be aware and respectful of those needs. Even when disciplining children, they need to know that they are still loved and valued.
Just as we would confront a friend we disagreed with in private, so should we discipline a child without an audience. We do not show respect for a child's dignity by embarrassing him publicly for his mistakes.
Children learn to show respect for parents by the respect they are shown. Isn't that a scary thought. Never treat a child at 7 the way you would not want to be treated at 70, 'cause guess what, they will get their turn to reciprocate. I did not want to take credit for any sassiness or disrespect on the part of my first batch of children. I had hoped that occasional problems in this regard were a freak accident of nature. I decided to watch myself and listen to the way I talked to them, especially when I was correcting them. What a rude awakening! I was the drill sergeant barking out orders, the supreme court judge and jury laying down the law and the penalties for breaking the law. My perceptions of my sweet, patient self were shattered by my evil twin that came across so disrespectfully. I realized that I had been a good teacher of how not to show respect. We had a saying on our refrigerator at that time that said, "Positive In, Positive Out." I must have thought the saying referred to food!
I have decided to stay close to those feelings I had as a child, and I do try to be attentive to those of my children; after all, I have more at stake than missing dinner with a friend who can't chew with his mouth closed.
Sherry Berteaux, BSW MA, is a licensed mental health therapist. Please submit topics or questions you would like to have addressed in Family Forum to email@example.com or mail to the Chinook Observer, Attn: Sherry Berteaux, P.O. Box 427, Long Beach, WA 98631.