Today I became convinced that the key to solving most of the world's problems lies with the way we treat children. If adults treated children with respect and dignity, perhaps we would have a shot at real peace in the world. At the very least, it might do away with a lot of deeply seeded psychological issues that kids grow up with, issues that evolve into unhealthy patterns and personality traits when they become adults. Between the Yap Dog Parents and the Norman Bates mothers, it's no wonder these kids grow up into people with so many problems.
Take the parents at my local park, for instance. On more than one occasion, I have heard a mother yell at her child (and I mean YELL) "no!" over and over again, for doing something as harmless as carrying a stick around. Do this, don't do that. Come over here, go over there. No, don't go near the baby. Share. Give it back. Give that to ME! Go play. We're leaving now. We're leaving in 5 minutes. Five more minutes. Just 5 more minutes. All of these outbursts come from the sidelines. The parent is seated on the side of playground and never actually gets up to reinforce their words. They just sit there and yap yap yap yap, much like a little dog yapping at a big dog on the other side of the fence. I call them Yap Dog Parents. Their yapping rings in the ears of their children and anyone else present. After about 5 minutes of this, I already felt incredibly annoyed. I can only imagine what those poor kids feel. They must not ever get a moment's peace. I can't imagine that being treated that way can lead to healthy relationships with their parents, high self esteem, or healthy coping skills to deal with criticism.
Perhaps over time the kids just learn to tune out the yapping. Then the parents would have to escalate to barking louder. The child might then withdraw even more. Alternatively, the kid might fight back with their own version of yapping, learned by example. By adolescence, those families would be looking at some serious tensions and arguments. Meanwhile, the children would grow up doubting their own ability to do anything. I mean, hey, if they can't even be trusted to carry a stick around when they're 8 years old, how competent could they possibly be? They would not learn how to deal with criticism, constructive or otherwise, because the criticism they received as children was so random and senseless, so controlling. They don't get the opportunity to process their parents' comments because they either tune them out or rebel against them. They don't learn to respect others because they were not treated with respect themselves. No wonder those are the kids who rip toys out of other children's hands. What kind of adults do they become? The kind who invade other countries, exploit the poor, or rape the land? Not a far stretch if you really think about it.
And what do I do at the park? I let my 15 month old son wander around by himself. I let him play with other kids' toys. I let other kids play with his toys. I watch him, silently, until he shows me a treasure or brings me a twig or looks over for a smile. I may ask what he's found or comment on the ball in his hand. When he wants to climb up to the slide, I follow him in case he tumbles. I go down the big slide with him when he wants. I let him pick up any object, as long as it's not harmful (and I hope there are few of these at a playground!). He has even learned to show me pieces of trash so that we can put in into the trash can instead of playing with it. When he wants to put something in his mouth, he usually looks to me to find out if it's safe. I make an "icky" face if it's not appropriate. Without so much as a "no" from me, he will put the object down and move on. He seems to trust that I have his back. I will only interfere when his safety is at stake. And I trust him to play safely. I trust that he will learn the difference between danger and safety, between being nice and being mean to others. I respect him. And if I'm lucky, he will grow up respecting me, too. If I've done my job as a mother, he will also grow to respect others.