Thursday, May 19, 2005

A Matter of Respect

Remember that catch-phrase, "Expect Respect"? It was part of a campaign addressing violence against women. Many women in abusive situations, we are told, have become so acclimatized to the violence that they simply don't see that they are in that situation. You know, I think this is a slogan that parents of two-year-olds should adopt, and for much the same reasons! I can't think the number of times - at a park, a school, in a store - I have seen a child aggress against a parent, seen the parent respond, and then seen the child simply wallop the parent again. And again. It doesn't matter how often I see that, I am shocked. The first attempt is not shocking. Toddlers, as we all know, do try that from time to time. They're emotionally-driven, impulsive little critters, still very egocentric. They are frustrated and have trouble expressing it in more socially acceptable ways, so they express it in the most expedient way possible - with a blow, or a shriek, or a bite. (A shriek can be an aggression, if done right in a person's face.) The first aggression is not really the issue, though of course it needs to be addressed. The issue is the second and subsequent aggressions, perpetrated in direct defiance of the parents' objections. A child who will do this has no respect for their parent. The parent who allows this to continue happening has not established themselves as worthy of respect. In my experience, it is those earnest and loving parents who try to raise their children by well-thought-out principles who are most often flummoxed by this behaviour. A child hits mom in the face. Mom, whose principles require her always to be rational, gentle, and calm with her child, demurs, "Now, Simon, you know mommy doesn't like that." Whap!! "Simon!" this in tones of distress. "Mommy doesn't like that." Whap! Simon knows mommy doesn't like that. For Simon, that's the point. After all, Mommy is trying to make him do something he doesn't like (put on his winter boots when it's twenty below, say). And it's not just mommies. I've seen daddies in the same position, though, I admit, less often. Me, I'm always shocked that the blows are received entirely passively. The toddler needs to understand that their anger is acceptable, but its expression must be controlled. They need to understand that their parent has enough self-respect not to tolerate abuse. They need to know that when they are having trouble controlling themselves, you can provide the safe harbour for their raging emotions. And they need to know that when they do get angry, they are still loveable. None of this, however, means that a parent needs to accept abuse! Rather the reverse. So, what should a parent do? Expect Respect. The child swings a punch. If possible, it's best if the parent can intercept the blow before it arrives. Grip the wrist firmly and stop the blow. If it has already landed, take the wrist and pull it away from you. Then, rationally, calmly, and very firmly say to the child: "You can be angry, but you can't hit." Speak slowly and deliberately. Hold the wrist and maintain eye contact as you say this, and stay like that until the child relaxes. You may need to repeat this after a few moments. Stay firm, though, and they'll relax. Once they have relaxed, they get a warm and reassuring hug. At this stage, I will also remind them that "Hands are not for hitting, remember? Hands are for hugging." There. You've been calm and rational, but you've also managed to insist on being respected. And it ends with a reassuring snuggle for everyone. A win-win -- when a parent Expects Respect.

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