Ask Naomi Q&A’s published in each issue of Nurture Parenting Magazine
Q My daughter is very active in public, and I don’t know how to keep her from disturbing other people. For example, In line with the movie, she meanders between people. I keep telling her to stay with me; she stays for a short while, and then off she goes again. In the playground, she is very loud, and I keep asking her to quiet down. For her, joy means screaming. How do I teach her to respect other people?
A Parents in this culture feel obligated to make children unnoticeable. Like you, most parents do whatever they can to protect the adult world and to let adults have a life in which there are no “disturbances” from children.
In contrast, I teach to let children interact with the real world and be fully included. In this way, they learn from direct experience and are equal social beings. We are all humans of all ages, taking part in the experience of being alive. Therefore, we must stop protecting people based on age and stop acting from fear of inconveniencing adults. Instead, it is time to realise, in action, that children are people. In fact, children learn best through real authentic interactions. Since society seems to still see children as second class, you have to be your child’s lawyer; instead of thwarting your child’s intent to protect the adult, stand for your child’s right.
At age 2-3, our oldest son loved restaurants but not for eating. He loved going from table to table and talking to people at length, often reciting whole memorised books about dinosaurs. Although many enjoyed the charming visitor, for others, it may have gone too long. I did not protect people from his chattery visits.
I didn’t remove him when he interrupted a romantic dinner, nor did I intervene when he went into a long lecture while people had a business meeting. That would be very disrespectful of my child and patronising (disrespectful) towards the adults (as if they cannot take care of themselves.) If these adults cannot assert themselves when they need to, that is for them to live with. When they did, the child responded very respectfully and learnt from real life. He also learnt to value himself, to be self-directed, and to feel autonomous. And the biggest prize: It spared us from having parent-child struggles since I was not the orchestrator of my son’s life.
“A child has an equal right to exist and do.”
Your job is not to thwart your child’s intent in order to protect others but to stand by her in case someone does her harm.
She is not a transition towards a person, but a person. Your child will learn best from a direct encounter with people of all ages. As long as everyone is free to take care of themselves and no one is hurting anyone, life can continue and be respected. The result is consistent; children learn best this way and behave extremely well precisely because they do not experience being controlled, manipulated and losing power.
TO HELP YOURSELF, ASK THESE CRUCIAL QUESTIONS:
1. Why is the need of the adult to stand motionless in the movie line (while passing time talking, reading or thinking) more important than your child’s need to pass time by moving between the people?
2. What happens to you emotionally that gets you more concerned about these adults than about your child?
3. Are you protecting these people because you think they are inept and cannot take care of themselves?
4. Or: Are you insecure, trying to impress or look good in their eyes (usually as a result of anxiety about pleasing parents when you were a child).
Once you answer these questions for yourself, you will find it much easier to stand by your child’s right to exist in her own ways. The deeper work that you may need is to deal with possible anxiety you carry from your childhood that drives you to fear the judgment of another adult.
To do that, imagine a time when someone actually said to you, “What kind of father are you? Your child is disturbing everyone, running about between them, and you are doing nothing….”
Notice if this turns you into a child yourself, and you feel paralysed, anxious and needing to defend yourself and prove that you are worthy.
That focus about yourself is what gets in the way of being your child’s lawyer. The comment from the adult won’t hurt you once you know your job and stay focused on the child. Feeling powerful and confident yet caring, you can validate, “I understand that you prefer that the child wouldn’t meander between you and your friends. Please feel free to ask her to skip around the three of you.”In fact, you can even empower your child’s direct connection with people. A parent told me about a child who refused to get out of the swimming pool when the pool was closing. This mother kept telling the child to get out of the water. The child was having such a good time; he saw no reason to get out. I suggested to this mother to ask the lifeguard to talk directly to the child. Next time, she did, and the child cooperated promptly because it was real and believable.
Needing to protect an adult from a child is rare; more often, you may have to protect the child from the adult – not by talking to the adult, but by acting or talking with the child. Or, you and your child can always discuss things later for clarity. Most often, however, the nice thing about being on your child’s side is that there is no courthouse and no job at all. Unless someone is unsafe or hurting, just stay out of the way and trust that living beings of all ages can and do find their ways.
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Published in Nurture Parenting Magazine Issue #22