Treat Your Children Well

When are we going to stop treating children like little adults?  Not only do we dress them like miniature adults, we use adult rules for their behavior, as if they can understand our logic.  Now we are handcuffing children because we don’t know a better way to handle a difficult behavior situation in school.  This has got to stop.  We have allowed ourselves to operate in plastic bubbles that keep out good sense, compassion and empathy, thinking that that will protect us legally.  We must be stronger.   We must be braver.  If we have to operate without common sense, then we have allowed all common sense to be de-valued.  We might as well not have any.  We have heard of schools and municipalities arresting and handcuffing children before and we were astonished and horrified.  AND IT IS STILL HAPPENING.

We parents are the ones who must teach our children, but now, too often, we are handing off teaching our children the ins-and-outs of how to behave to the Power of the Rule: an established school rule, a law, a local ordinance, an “Its-out-of-our- hands” mentality that was established by adults, for adults—but, what the heck, let’s now apply it to our children since they are so unruly.

Now, I have no education in child psychology or adult psychology, but I do have a theory, one that I intuited after living in a post-Columbine Denver and it is simple:  We are ignoring our children.  We are expecting them to behave like adults.  We do not take responsibility for raising them.  We do not respect them enough to acknowledge them as sensitive young individuals in their most vulnerable years.  If we did we would be giving billions to schools and daycare providers to help bring them up in the absolute best design and environment that they all deserve.

My theory on how we are treating our children began with my observations while shopping.  Several years ago, shopping at any store was not so noisy.  There was less screaming and racket going on.  It was often a peaceful endeavor and I looked forward to it. When my daughter was a baby and I had to bring her with me, I’d chat with her the whole time to keep her occupied, explaining what I was doing, what I was looking at, what color the box was, what it smelled like.  It was a learning experience and we had fun.  Sometimes I would push her around in the cart real fast, which made her shriek with laughter.  One day, after a race down the cereal aisle, a man approached me and said, with a twinkle in his eyes, “You are having WAY too much fun with that baby!” We did have fun, and that was the point.

Now, it is painful for me to go to stores like Target and listen to the children crying in the background.  Hardly anyone notices or cares.  No one listens anymore.  No one hears them.  Too often no one, not even their parents, responds.  To me it is heartbreaking to see a little one pushed aimlessly around a store while the mother traipses around, oblivious to the noise emitted from her baby, as if that is what you do.  Something made her cry.  She is crying for a reason.  After all, these are humans who cannot speak.  As parents we must try to empathize and understand, not ignore and hope it goes away. Very few parents address their children’s wails or moans, even as infants.  Instead, they just push them around and ignore them.  No cuddling, no trying to see what’s wrong, no eye contact.  Even I know they are teaching their babies to not expect any attention, not to expect any help, and not have any hope of being heard.  These babies are deprived of basic nurturing and they will most likely carry that sense of hopelessness with them into life.

When we lived in Denver I saw this more frequently.  I used to blame it on the fact that Denver skews young; those moms seem to have kids younger than I am used to in Chicago. But, in Chicago the pitiful wails continue too, albeit on a slightly lesser scale, but there is no doubt that babies are ignored in massive quantities everywhere, to their detriment physically and emotionally.

Here’s a typical example of what I’m talking about: A couple months ago I came out of a dressing room  to find a babbling child under a year old had managed to weasel himself out of his mother’s red cart and stand up on the seat.  He was wobbling back and forth the way babies do when they can’t walk yet and I caught him just as he pitched forward out of the cart.  His mother was several feet away looking elsewhere, his grandfather was seated two feet in the other direction looking at the floor.  THIS HAPPENS ALL THE TIME!  I feel like I’m on Falling Baby Patrol because I so often have to alert mothers that their child is ready to take a header onto a hard tile floor.

To be ignored is to be rejected, and I believe this plays out through children’s lives in multiple ways to get attention and in multiple ways to handle the stress of rejection.  And now, just when life’s stress levels cannot get any higher, when children and babies cannot process their stress in ways adults deem appropriate, we label these children criminals and juvenile delinquents and wrap their little wrists in hard metal clamps. We treat them like criminals and make them stay overnight in jail cells, or we throw them out of school, separate them from their friends, and shame them.  We give them our worst.  We treat them as if they are the worst beings on the planet.

We are forgetting that these children are the products of ourselves.  We made them.  They reflect us, yet we still ignore them.  We are unwilling to face the fact that these babies are new little people, coming into a hard, bright world and the transition is sharp, noisy and sometimes ugly.  And stressed out babies can grow up to be stressed, alienated, misunderstood children and young adults.  Not everyone can make that transition smoothly.

No amount of rule-making will solve this problem.  Adding another inch of forms to sign regarding expected behavior in school will not make this go away.  Those papers are just proof that we don’t know what we are doing.  That we have lost faith and compassion.

So please, for the sake of all children everywhere, watch your baby. Talk to your baby.  Look at your child.  Respond to her.  Pick her up when she cries, even if you don’t know the reason.  They might not either, and it is certain that they are not going to tell you.  They are probably just tired of shopping and need to go home.  After all, everybody needs a nap every now and then.

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11 Responses to Treat Your Children Well

  1. One problem we have is a new society bred from children having children before they are “done” be raised by parents who have been either too busy making money, partying, or taking drugs. There are many of those in our society right now. The schools have all forms of punishment banned, and some parents are afraid to say “NO” to their children. When parents become afraid of setting limits for their children the kids are like weeds, growing crooked or in the wrong places. I hear children today talking to their parents as though they were friends. They know deep down however, they are not in control and with out the feeling that the parent is in control, there is no safety net. Children need to know that their parents are in control and that they will protect them and know the right thing to do, other wise they become like the little helicopters coming off the maple tree… just twirling and not knowing where they will land. I remember once when I was grounded as a child, I must have been giving my father a dirty look because he said..” Sorry I know you aren’t liking me much now, but that’s ok, I love you enough for both of us, and you’ll understand that some day. Everyone must have a license to drive a car, but not to have a baby which is a whole human being. No classes no advice… just a night with some one the girl will probably forget when she is a few years older, so sad…. But to be just downright forward. I think it’s a minefield out there and I wish everyone with small children all the luck in the world..

  2. Jim says:

    You can just scatter seed and expect a beautiful garden to grow. It must be tended, watered and generally cared for. Our children are our garden. They hold all our hopes for the future.

  3. Another articulate and compassionate blog, Mimi, about a subject I care deeply about. Walking my son daily[ at least once] in his stroller was such a pleasure for both of us and a chance to point out so many things outside to him. Now I see “busy” moms strolling their kids while they talk non-stop on their stupid cell phones. What’s wrong with this picture??? Also, when working at the Mental Health ctr, I saw countless moms bringing in perfectly NORMAL, energetic kids to be diagnosed with ADHD[ or worse!] and get them drugged [ and sometimes hospitalized!] so that they would be “easier” to handle. It was so obvious that the parent[ and that was almost always just Mom] was overwhelmed and undereducated about what it meant to BE a parent. Unfortunately, this was a multi-generational problem in so many cases and the Moms had WAAAY too many kids. So, thanks for a needed look at a huge problem that is worsening in our already fragmented society.

    • Mimi says:

      Jeanne, boy, you really know first hand. I wonder what the statistics are regarding over-diagnosing AdHd. Scary. Thanks for weighing in with very good information.

  4. Kim Gane says:

    So very true, and excellently written! So glad Kitty shared!

  5. One beautiful day at the beach, when the waves were huge and the undertow strong, I played with my children at the edge of the water, jumping in the surf, hanging tightly onto their little hands to keep them safe. Two very young mothers with toddlers were there, too, smoking and talking as their children roamed the beach. One two year-old girl was exploring the edge of the waves, unobserved by her mother. It made me a nervous wreck. So after awhile I made a point of walking over to the women to say, in a friendly way, that I guessed they weren’t from here and perhaps they didn’t realize the danger of the waves that day. I explained how the undertow could sweep their children out quick-as-a-wink into deep water. They looked at me cooly, kept smoking, unconvinced. I returned to my emcampment down the beach. Not two minutes later the tiny girl was knocked off her feet and dragged out a good 5 yards, sputtering and screaming. Only then did the mother get up off her towel to see to her child’s welfare, which came in the form of admonishment.

    • Mimi says:

      I usually end up saying something now. I can’t bear to see children ignored. Plus, that experience of being almost swept away is still somewhere in that child. I think the key words are “very young mothers.” They aren’t out of their own worlds yet and here they are responsible for another’s. Thanks Elisa.

  6. Kim Gane says:

    It’s true that many very young parents are guilty of what you describe, but not all, and it isn’t a problem that belongs to them exclusively. I see plenty of mature parents who are guilty of not being “present” in their children’s lives, especially where their cell phones are concerned, and especially here in CA. Some people are self-absorbed and will always be self-absorbed, whether they’re young or mature parents. Unfortunately. I’ve been both, and I’ve had better moments than others as both, but I’ve always put my children first, and certainly have a hard time understanding those who don’t.

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