By Mutryce A Williams
Navigating "Island" Parenting is a submission of insights, quotes, tips and parenting advice that I have gathered over the years as a source of inspiration and as tools to deal with the daily challenges of parenting. This week’s issue: A Child’s Right to Respect. The hope is that this submission would cause you to reflect on your parenting skills and also make the journey of parenting a bit easier or brighter.
My first son will be starting kindergarten this year, so we have been visiting schools. As we walked away after one of the visits, the lady who conducted the tour called after me. She whispered, “Oh I forgot to mention one thing. You are going to have to cut his hair. It is the school’s policy.” As I tucked him into bed that evening, he looked me in the eye and said, “Mommy, I am not going to that school. I really do not want to cut my hair. I like my hair. Why does that lady want me to cut my hair?” I must note that I was quite impressed with the school, and I had taken the decision that this was my first school of choice. He appeared to like the school as well. I now had a dilemma, as he is very attached to his braided hair.
In relaying my conundrum to a friend, she posed the following question, “What exactly is the dilemma?” She continued, “The situation is quite simple, if they say you have to cut his hair, cut his hair. You are his mother. It is your way or the highway. You are in charge. You cannot let that little boy rule you. Why does he have a say in the matter? It is not what he wants. It is what has to be done. You parents nowadays getting too Americanized and soft. I cannot believe you. How is that a dilemma? I never hear more in all my life.”
Another friend piped at me a few days ago, “Why does it matter what he wants to do? You are the parent. You give orders. He follows. You do not need to consult with him. You do not need to negotiate or reason with him. Just cut it!”
The situation and conversation set me thinking about our ‘children’s rights’ and I am not alluding to the UN’s Declaration of the Rights of the Child, which recognizes that “mankind owes to the Child the best that it has to give, declare and accept it as their duty that, beyond and above all considerations of race, nationality or creed:
(1) The child must be given the means requisite for its normal development, both materially and spiritually;
(2) The child that is hungry must be fed; the child that is sick must be nursed; the child that is backward must be helped; the delinquent child must be reclaimed; and the orphan and the waif must be sheltered and succored;
(3) The child must be the first to receive relief in times of distress;
(4) The child must be put in a position to earn a livelihood, and must be protected against every form of exploitation;
(5) The child must be brought up in the consciousness that its talents must be devoted to the service of fellow men.”
I am referring to the rights that a child has within his or her own home. I am referring to his or her right to respect. I can just visualize the alarm, the palpitating hearts and hear the responses. “You got to be drunk! You seriously making sport now man! What kind of craziness is this? What right does the child really have? How many and which bill in this house does the child pay? When he or she starts to pay a bill then we can talk about rights and choices.”
I actually wondered how many parents allowed their children to actively participate in decision making, especially when the decisions would impact that child’s life. Are the child’s feelings respected? Do the child’s wishes influence the decisions that are taken or is it a matter of, “I am the parent and I know best. I pay the bills, so what I say goes?” As parents do we even give thought to whether we show respect to our children?
Parental Respect: You are the example! You are the standard!
I often hear parents chastise their children about the issue of respect, bellowing that they ought to have some pride and respect in themselves. I ask, how are these children going to learn how to respect themselves if they are not shown, and I stress shown rather than taught, respect at home. Again, I am not alluding to as one parent told me once, “I teach my children respect. I respect my children. I do not swear after them and I do not ill treat them. I make sure I respect myself around them.” I am not referring to this. I am referring to the parent’s respecting the child as he or she would respect any other human being or even stranger. I am referring to respecting a child’s right to a choice. I am referring to respecting a child’s right to an opinion. I am referring to respecting the child as a human being and not a mere possession.
In a conversation with a parent of a former student, she complained about the crowd that her daughter was hanging around. She went on to say that these young women had no respect and that she didn’t like the way in which they treated and spoke to her daughter. I sat, blank faced, as I had witnessed similar interactions with my student and her mom. The similarities were stark. The young lady saw nothing wrong with the way in which her friends treated or addressed her because she saw it as the norm. This is exactly how her mother related to her, and the uncanny thing is the mother was quick to identify this in her daughter’s relationships with her friends, yet couldn’t see any parallels in her own relationship with her daughter.
It was Markita Reed who said, “One of the best ways to teach your child respect is to be respectful with them, and to those around you. By showing respect to your child, you are setting an example for them. You are teaching them how to treat themselves and others. You are also teaching your child self-esteem and how they should be treated by others when you treat them with dignity.” Parents often implore, “Respect yourselves and then others will respect you.” Again, I must note if your own parents do not show you respect then why should you expect respect from anyone else.
I have not taken a decision on the issue with my son and his hair, but before doing so I will sit with him and allow him to present an argument for why he does not want to cut his hair. I owe him the respect.
Ways to Show Your Child Respect
• Always make time for your child.
• Listen to your child.
• Give your child your undivided attention.
• Look him in the eye when speaking to him.
• Use a respectful tone when speaking to your child.
• Be kind and mannerly to your child.
• Realize that your child has a right to his opinion/feelings.
• Keep an open mind. Realize that the answer to every question should not be a resounding, NO.
• Ask him how he feels on issues especially those that would have a direct impact on his well-being.
“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home -- so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world ... Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.” Eleanor Roosevelt
“In the past, children were all too often viewed more as property than people.” Robert Alan Silverstein
"It used to be believed that the parent had unlimited claims on the child and rights over him. In a truer view of the matter, we are coming to see that the rights are on the side of the child and the duties on the side of the parent." William G. Sumner, 1840-1910
"A child, like all other human beings, has inalienable rights." Lucretia Mott
Mutryce A. Williams, a native of St Kitts and Nevis is the mother of 4-year-old Daniel and 3-year-old Nicholas. She not only values the many facets of West Indian parenting but also thinks that there is vast room for improvement. A former educator and a child/youth advocate, Mutryce firmly believes that children should not only be seen but heard.. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org