Sunday, August 3, 2014

Understanding children

There are people who understand children... and people who don't, or won't. 

(There's a difference between don't and won't ya know.  If you don't-it doesn't mean that you can't or that you won't.  But if you won't it means that you don't and that you refuse to.)

Some people never have to understand children.  They have none, they will never have any and they don't spend time with any.  That's a personal choice that should be respected. I could go off on the parental response to the child-free attitude... but I won't.  Just fucking respect it, okay?

There are also people who don't understand children... but really should.  They spend time with them (they may even have a child or two of their own) but they don't "get" kids.

Understanding children is not that difficult.  It's like understanding dogs and cats.  If you can understand Fido and Fluffy you can understand kids.  Trust me.  Kids are EASIER to comprehend than pets.  Tenfold. 

The first thing you should know about understanding children is that they're not an enigma.  If you reach down deep enough and remember back far enough you can relate.  YOU CAN RELATE!  It's really not hard.  Let go, relax and just BE for a little while and the child will start to make sense to you. 

The second thing you should know is that projecting your expectations onto a child and then being disappointed that they don't match your mental image of them is even more damaging and even more unacceptable than it is when you do the same thing to an adult.  I'm not saying that you shouldn't be disappointed when a child doesn't meet your expectations...  (failing the math test is a valid disappointment) but if those expectations are that they be a certain way and they are not that way...  you're the one who is broken.  Not the kid.  (Just because your child doesn't like to tap dance doesn't mean they're broken... and gods forbid they prefer scary movies to the rom-coms you so adore.)

I'm not talking about behavior.  Bad behavior is due to many factors.  I'm talking about the type of person that child is.  That child is not its parents-that child is its own person and when you do nothing but belittle the child and show disappointment in the child because they are not who you think they should be...  you're hurting them.  If you do this to adults they'll just flip you off and walk away.  Nobody likes to be put into a box and forced to behave a certain way because that's how other people think they should behave.  Don't do it to kids-you're not training them-you're breaking them.

Furthermore... blaming your perceived shortcomings upon the parents, one or both, is absolutely inexcusable.  It is not the parents job to raise a child to live up to the expectations of a grandparent, an aunt/uncle or the neighbors.  It is the parents job to raise a child to live in the world... to teach them to be a good person and to develop a moral foundation that the child can build upon as they live and grow.  If that child doesn't meet your expectations that child is not flawed, any more than you are flawed for not meeting the expectations others have.  

Talk to kids like they're people.  Alter your vocabulary to their age, but don't ignore difficult concepts or ideas just because they're kids.  If you change the way you explain something you'll find that a child can understand exactly what you're saying... they may not be able to formulate a response, or have a lengthy and intelligent discussion...  but you can lay a foundation for future conversations, and provoke thought.  Critical thinking. 

When a child tells you something, don't immediately discount it because of their age, or because you weren't there to see.  Believe them.  Don't run to the adult who was present and ask for "the truth" just listen and accept. 
When  child doesn't feel good don't tell them they're not sick because they're not laying in bed groaning in agony. 
When a child says they're not hungry don't force them to finish their dinner just because you think they should. 
When a child is not tired don't force them to go to bed... I mean, bedtime is bedtime but demanding a light's out and threatening punishment if they get out of their bed is no way to address the issue.  When you're not tired at bedtime do you stay up a little?  Watch another show, read another chapter?  Why can't a child lay in bed and read until they're ready for bed?  Why can't a child play quietly in their room until they're ready for sleep?  Who the fuck does it hurt if they do?

You may be an adult... but you have no idea when someone else is feeling full or tired because you are not that person.  Age is not a qualifier here.  You don't like it when your significant other gives you a hard time for not eating everything on your plate when you go out to an expensive dinner...  so don't do the same thing to your child when they get full before they clean their plate.  You don't like it when you're tired and your friends give you a hard time and accuse you of just not wanting to hang out... so don't tell your child that they just don't want to go to bed when they're not tired "when they're supposed to be."

Perhaps the most difficult thing for people who don't understand children to come to terms with is how they relate to children.  It's a fact that there are parents and grandparents in the world who simply do not understand why children behave in certain ways.  This may be because they haven't had any experience with children since they were children-or their own children were young.  I think it's important for people to expose themselves to children over the course of their life.  Don't ever forget how illogical they are.  Don't ever forget how malleable they are.  Don't ever forget the lure of pure curiosity in  a world full of mysteries... 

If you never discipline a child you will have a problem that just gets bigger as they do.
If you never explain things to a child you will kill their curiosity and stifle their intellect.
If you always belittle their opinion-no matter how unformed and ignorant it may be-you make them feel like they mean nothing to you.  Think about it... if every time you try to talk to someone they treat you like a fool you eventually cut ties with them... right?  Nobody wants to hang out with someone who makes them feel stupid.  The same can be said about children.  If you treat a child like a child they will never respect you. 

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