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Children, Respect and Saying No

qRBc19GThis letter was written by 9 year old Chloe. It says:

“Dear Parents,

It seems you both are a little overly strict tonight. Therefore I do not wish to read with you tonight. But if you change your additude I will be happy to. Goodnight. 

From Chloe L Smith.”

It’s a very clear, polite and in my opinion completely adorable, letter for a daughter to write to her parents to overcome some disagreement which must have taken place before she put pencil to paper.

Although there have been many responses on social media to this letter over the last few days calling her “disrespectful”, “spoilt” or “bratty”, demanding for her to “learn respect” or to be disciplined for writing such a letter.

In previous generations the word respect, in the context of  children showing respect to their parents or their elders, often took on a totally different meaning. Words like compliance, obedience or even fear, would be more accurate.

I know for myself the idea that a younger person should always give up their chair for someone older has led to some ill-thought-out scenarios, including the time I opted to faint on the floor while pregnant rather than asking someone older than me to move so I could sit down.

That wasn’t respect, that was irrational fear and I have made big steps towards overcoming that.

So, I would be proud if my child presented me with this letter. Although I’d have to make a real effort not to laugh, because it’s also  hilarious, but I wouldn’t want to invalidate their feelings by expressing my amusement. (My laughter would be done quietly behind a closed door while high-fiving their father).

Why do I think this letter is SO awesome?

Because she’s nailed polite conflict resolution. She actually seems to have used a very good formula for resolving conflict and I assume this is how her parents approach disagreements with her. She very clearly explains the issue, the natural consequence, a solution and offers a reconciliation.

So her approach wasn’t disrespectful, regardless of whether or not her parents actually did need to change their attitude. For all we know they could have been being perfectly reasonable and Chloe’s letter was just about how Chloe was feeling at the time and how she interpreted her parents strictness, not that her parents had actually been overly strict. But that still doesn’t make Chloe wrong to write this letter or that she should be punished for expressing herself in this way.

Validating a child’s feelings is not the same as giving in to whatever a child’s wants.  Saying no is part of being a parent, but that doesn’t mean we can’t also be sensitive to our child’s feelings at the same time.

For example this morning my 5 year old had a massive meltdown because he wanted to take his Lego to school. We sat on the front step and had a big cuddle while he cried. We were a little late to school, but it was important that I acknowledge how he was feeling in that moment – BUT he STILL couldn’t take his Lego to school today.

At the end of the day the best way to teach children to be respectful is to show them respect. We can’t expect children to be respectful to others and sensitive to their feelings if we aren’t first sensitive and respectful to them.

Let us know what you think of this letter.

About Rachel Stewart

Rachel is the founder of Parenting Central Australia. She is raising two children, boy and girl, with her partner.She has a background in early childhood education, but right now is content to be a stay at home mum.She is passionate about birthing rights, breastfeeding and mental health. She enjoys crafting, drinking coffee (sometimes wine) and spending a little too much time on Facebook.

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