Sitting on an airplane waiting to take off this morning and there was a cute little baby in the row right in front of me. He was not happy. It may have been his diaper, or maybe he was hungry, or scared. I don’t know and he was too young to be able to use words to communicate, so he did the best he could, with wailing.
And this led me to reflect on how parents react when their children don’t “behave” in public. I also thought about how sometimes complete strangers react to a child’s display of emotion in horrible ways. This put me on the defensive and I was ready to pounce on the first person who dared suggest some way to shut the baby up. To my utter surprise, no one did. No sighs of annoyance, even. Thank you for this small step in restoring my hope in humanity.
While I was waiting for the inevitable murderous comment to be uttered – which never came – I decided to write a few thoughts down. Here they are, unedited and raw (and sometimes sarcastic – please give me the benefit of the doubt):
Parents can be so cruel.
People can be so cruel.
Children are not an inconvenience, they are people. Children are not brats, they are people with needs. Nor are children your happiness, as if they were responsible for it. They are people.
Children should not be punished or abused for acting like children. If anything, adults ought to be punished for acting like children. How much do we expect our children to behave with more patience than we would if we were in their shoes? Children do not understand etiquette and cultural or social norms, until they are taught, and old enough to understand them.
How often have I been upset with my baby’s cries only to wonder, when I get sick and feel miserable or in pain, if that was exactly the way she was feeling, without the ability to communicate it to me? The 0-2 stage is difficult because it’s all guess work. But once they start talking, do we allow them to grow up at their natural pace, or do we expect them, all of a sudden, to have developed critical thinking skills, empathy, etc. as soon as they can construct their first sentence? And as they grow, their feelings may be immature, but they are still real feelings. Should a 9 yr old be shamed for having 9 yr old feelings? Or a 13 yr old for their age-appropriate feelings?
Yes, we should coach them on what to do with those feelings, and discourage them from being controlled by their feelings. This can only come from a place of listening and caring about their feelings. Our first response as parents in uncomfortable public situations where our children are acting out should be to listen and acknowledge their feelings, not shame them for it. The former lovingly builds them up, the other breaks them down, and I don’t want broken children.
How can we as parents build our children up even as they publicly embarrass or annoy us?