This blog curates the voices of the Division of Psychoanalysis (39) of the American Psychological Association. Nicole Wegweiser, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, who sees children, adolescents, and adults out of her private practice in Monmouth County, New Jersey, submits this post.
As parents, we tell our children what to do. It is our job to set limits and boundaries, and teach them how to behave and be respectful. I would imagine I bark orders at my kids at least 20 times a day: “Be nice to your sister." "Get dressed." "Sit up." "Chew with your mouth closed." "Clean up your toys.” These are just a few of the everyday utterances that leave my mouth.
For the child being on the receiving end, I can imagine how this may get frustrating. Nobody likes someone telling them what to do, and just like us, children have opinions, desires, and needs.
And so the power struggle begins…
My children’s demands constantly tempt me, and I often contemplate how much say they are allowed to have: Should they get to choose what they want to wear in the morning, or do I? Should they get to pick what they want to eat for dinner, causing me to cook two or even three different meals? If they don’t want to do a planned activity, such as going to a soccer practice or friend’s house to play, do I give in to their request?
Most of the time society tells us that as parents, we are in charge and need to maintain authority within the family. But I've noticed an epidemic of children acting entitled and disrespectful towards their parents, teachers, and coaches. I've also noticed that most children don’t just automatically respect their elders; instead, elders must earn their respect, which is different than it was generations past.
So how do we earn our children’s respect? It’s simple—by respecting them. It is important that we truly listen to what our children say, and that we listen to them the same way we listen to our partners and friends. Then, we need to let our children know that we’ve heard what they've said. That might mean that we repeat it: “I hear that you want to play longer, but it’s time to go.”
Answering a child with, "Because I said so and I am your parent" certainly has a time and place. But if we don’t allow a child to question the world they live in, we may be teaching them not to be curious. When we disregard our children’s feelings, or tell them we don’t care what they think, we may be sending a message to be silent. In the moment it can be effective, but the long-term impact may be that we raise our children not to speak up when they are bullied, assaulted, or mistreated. We may be raising young adults who do not have the resources to speak out for what they believe in, because we never gave them the chance. We may be raising adults who cannot resolve a conflict because they are too frightened to speak their mind.
As parents, we must teach children to trust themselves, and to do this, we have to validate their voice. That doesn’t necessarily mean giving in to their every wish and demand. We all want what’s best for our children. We all try to do the best job we can. Ultimately, we will never be perfect.
And that’s ok.