Communicating with Respect

Updated: Feb 13, 2020

by Erin O'Connor

With children we often end up having one sided conversations in which we, the adult, speak to the child without expecting or allowing them to respond. Sometimes we reply to “why” questions with “because I said so”. We wouldn’t speak to adults in our lives that way. So how can we give children the same respect?

Kris Prochaska in her Ted Talk points out that we often assume an inequality in the parent-child relationship such that we fail to explain to children our reasoning behind decisions that impact them. We just expect them to comply. She remarks that even though children are developing their conversation skills, they are still our equals in many ways in the conversation. Continued one sided conversations with children can lead to their developing a belief that one must accommodate everyone else at their own expense.

We can start establishing a sense of equality with young children by explaining why we do things. For example, we wash vegetables before eating them because they may have bacteria on them that could make us sick. As Prochaska points out, children are forging a path, and they need guidance on that path. True guidance can only come with explanation.

We can also ask our children to explain to us their behavior. Perhaps something we saw as negative had a positive intent in the child’s mind.

She goes on to explain how parenting is often seen as a role and not a relationship. This forces us to evaluate our success in that role based on our children’s behaviors. Children develop though through supportive relationships of equality. We can establish these relationships of equality by admitting that we don’t know all the answers to things and working with our children to find the answers. If they ask you a question you’re not sure how to answer, brainstorm possible explanations with them. This makes children integral to the conversation (not as a little adult but as someone with knowledge and a view point).

Providing children, even young children, with options allows them to gain a sense of ownership over their responsibilities and of some equality in decision making. Do you want to eat breakfast now or after you get dressed? Do you want me to carry you to the car or do you want to walk? Giving them control can also make them more likely to do what you need them to do when you need to get things done.

With little changes in how we communicate with our children, we can show them that we value their perspective and model for them how they can treat other peoples' perspectives with respect.