Today’s blog is the fourth in our I’m Being Challenged By My Child series and we are going to be thinking about the difference between two perspectives: personhood and childhood. The Dr. Seuss quote “a person is a person no matter how small”, is a great way to begin thinking about this issue.

So often I hear adults speaking to each other in ways that aren’t very respectful and the response is, ‘please don’t speak to me that way’. I reckon this is a fair call, don’t you? Also I hear adults speaking to children in the same disrespectful way, however, rarely does a child correct the inappropriate behaviour of the adult. What is this about? As I understand it, adults generally do not deliberately set out to speak inappropriately to children, so the question begs to be asked, why do we do it? After observing the behaviour of adults and children over the last 17 years in my role as an educator and family man two factors seem to have the biggest influence upon us.

Firstly, it seems adults deem it okay to speak inappropriately to children because of their experience as a child and how they were spoken to. A few people have put it to me this way; what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. What is clear from this thinking is that personal experiences so often colour and flavour how we behave towards others – whether it is right or wrong.

The other factor, which I believe is equally important, is the view that children and /or young people, aged birth to 18, are ’under construction’. This means, as measured by adult thinking and consequent behaviour a person’s age puts them in a lesser or incompetent state than that of adulthood and as such different rules apply in regards to how they are treated and dealt with. In this lesser state the young person or child can be managed in a manner that ‘adulthood’ would never deem as satisfactory or appropriate.

I experienced an example of this last week at the movies. An adult scowling at a young person as they asked their caregiver a question during the movie. Only moments later to observe this same person sulking when their partner/friend told them to be quiet after they spoke to them during the same movie. Clearly what is good for the goose is not good for the gander in this instance.

Both of these factors, when we look at them objectively, are highly problematic. Firstly as we understand childhood to be an adult construct, or adult formed perspective, but as such we must remember that we are in complete control of how it is viewed and managed. We know that to get the best out of a person encouragement, compassion, empathy and use of strengths always delivers great results. Speaking down to or inappropriately, as we can all personal testify, never draws the best out of a person. So now is the time to make a change and always remember that we should never speak to any person, regardless of how small, in a way that we would not appreciate and value ourselves.

Secondly, seeing childhood as a time of life where young people are put in the ‘under construction’ box is highly problematic. It uses a deficit mentality, and not a single soul I know wants to be measured in this way. A person’s chronological age should not be the determining factor as to whether they are seen as competent and capable or incomplete. Yet the way we treat children suggest this is the case. The great news is, the power to make a difference is in our hands. When you see a child try something for the first time and not succeed or when you see a young person being frustrated by a challenge they are facing, it’s time to remember that they need the same support as us adults. The best step is to get involved and talk about what they are trying to achieve, talk about their thinking, find out what they know and help them to grow and strengthen the capacity they have already displayed by getting thus far. This principle is exactly the same as how you and I continue to learn – exactly!

So from today onwards be mindful of these two things:

1. The words that come out of your mouth and the tone that you use when speaking with children and young people should be powerful, empathic and inspiring. Remember how important being respected and encouraged is to you and apply this same mindfulness to others of all ages.

2. Treat others, regardless of age, in exactly the same way as you want to be treated, as capable and competent. We are all learning. Remember, just as you face challenges, learn new things and discover new possibilities, respect, empathy and encouragement are exactly what you require and this very same principle applies to every young person also.

This may not be rocket science but when our perspectives and actions value personhood above all else we can help our young people feel like rockets are fueling their lives and that’s worth every ounce of energy and effort in my book.