“Children will not learn to accept and tolerate differences in others if they have not experienced acceptance and tolerance for their differences.” – Clyde W. Ford, We Can All Get Along
If you’re a trained teacher or enjoy being around children, then you probably already respect them. But plenty of people become parents or volunteer Sunday school teachers without recognizing the importance of respecting children in the same way we respect adults. Respect for children requires being considerate of them. We consider their situation and point of view. We’re thoughtful about them. We don’t dismiss them but take them seriously. We validate them as worthy human beings, as imago dei.
Respecting children means that we do all we can to make sure they feel welcome and safe in our presence. That’s easier to do when we enjoy being with a child. Some children are hard to enjoy, just as some adults are hard to enjoy. We respect them anyway. So specifically, what does respecting children look like?
• Pay attention to children. Notice what’s new with them (haircut, shoes, jacket . . .). See them, and let them know that you see.
• Listen to children. If possible, physically get on their level to communicate – as one educator put it, “Eye to eye and heart to heart.”
• Let children teach you something. There’s a good chance that children know something valuable that you don’t know, whether it’s counting in a foreign language or coding skills. It’s a valuable practice to turn the tables and let them be the knowledgeable people once in a while.
• Speak respectfully to children. Don’t condescend or talk down to them.
• Get to know children as individuals. If you’re a parent, you have the privilege of witnessing the emergence of a person who is unique in all the world. If you’re a teacher, you have the privilege of spending a few weeks or months getting to know these unique young people. Try not to let a previous teacher’s opinion color your attitude toward a child. In fact, if someone is gossiping about a child (this goes for adults as well), politely bow out of the conversation. And be discerning. Disparaging information about a child or family sometimes comes disguised as a prayer need.
• Make allowances for the child’s age and level of understanding, but also allow for individual differences in children’s growth. It’s tempting to compare children, measuring the growth of one against the growth of another, but that’s not really fair to children or to yourself. Listen and watch to see where each child is coming from and what they understand.
“We love because (God) first loved us” (1 John 4:19). The apostle John may not have known it, but he was setting out one of the most important principles of helping our children become morally wise: passing it on. We tend to pass on what was passed to us. We love others because someone first loved us.
This principle is not limited to love. We are honest with others because someone was first honest with us. We encourage others because someone first encouraged us. We respect others because we were first respected. This is basic. If we want our children to respect others (including us), then we must first respect them. We must treat them with courtesy and grace.
Adapted from The Gift of an Inner Moral Compass © Karyn Henley.
All rights reserved.
Top image by Nappy from Pexels