There’s an excerpt from my book, The Newbie’s Guide to Positive Parenting, that has been around the world. It is my most widely seen quote to date, and also happens to be the most controversial because people misunderstand it without its surrounding context.
“So often, children are punished for being human. They are not allowed to have grumpy moods, bad days, disrespectful tones, or bad attitudes. Yet, we adults have them all the time. None of us are perfect. We must stop holding our children to a higher standard of perfection than we can attain ourselves.”
Many parents understand the quote’s meaning, which is children aren’t perfect and that we often expect much better behavior and more self-control from our children than what even we, as grown-ups, are able to demonstrate. They have expressed wholehearted agreement and acknowledged that they, too, have been guilty of holding their children to a higher standard than they hold themselves to.
Still, there are many others who have misunderstood it to mean that we shouldn’t hold children accountable for their behavior and that we should disregard all disrespect and bad attitudes, which obviously isn’t what I’m suggesting at all.
To give context to this quote, here is what I say in my book directly afterward: “Of course, I’m not saying to always “let them by with it” just because they’re human. Teach them better! Teach them it’s not okay to project a bad mood on those around you. Teach them how to handle frustration, anger, fear, sadness, and disappointment. Teach them that it’s not acceptable to be rude to people.
Hold them to a high standard! But please, hold yourself to one, too.
Don’t project your bad moods. Learn how to handle your frustration, anger, fear, sadness, or disappointment. Don’t be rude to them. We all need high standards, and do you know what else we all need? A little grace. You know better, but sometimes you have a bad day and say something that isn’t nice, or you slam a door, or you yell at your kids.
We aren’t robots. Sometimes life is just plain hard, and we need a break, not a lecture. We need a hug, not a scornful look. We know we did wrong, but we’re having a hard time. We just need grace. The same goes for our children.”
Here’s a good exercise:
Listen to yourself and the other adults in the home today and notice whether anything you say or do would land you in trouble if you were the child.
It’s an eye opening exercise because we realize that most of us do at least one thing that we would scold our child for doing.
We have reasons, of course. We are stressed because of work. We’re sleep-deprived because of the baby. We are sick or achy or hormonal. We are good people who are trying hard and who occasionally mess up. We tend to look at the reasons behind our own behavior and give ourselves a little grace for making mistakes.
But when our kids do it, we don’t look at the reasons behind it. We see them as bratty or naughty, and we skip straight to correction. It’s okay for us to be human, but we expect better of our kids, and that’s not fair.
If I can’t keep my temper in check at all times, I don’t expect my children to have perfect emotional control. If I can’t watch my tone and speak with a kind voice always, how can I expect my little ones to manage this?
We expect these little children with their underdeveloped brains and limited life experiences to behave better than grown men and women. And if you don’t believe me, listen to the next presidential debate or spend some time scrolling your social media newsfeeds.
I’m in full support of high standards. I think we ought to expect our children to be kind, thoughtful, and well-mannered. I think we ought to live up to our own expectations, too.
It is, of course, extremely important to teach our children that it is never good to be rude or disrespectful. Children, and all humans, should be held accountable for their actions. Failing to correct our kids when they need correction is permissiveness, and that isn’t positive parenting. It isn’t parenting at all. They must be taught to do better, and we must do better, collectively, as well. We adults must set the standard high and lead the way. We should also remember, though, that sometimes compassion is the best teacher. Sometimes grace is the solution.
I am a good person, but I also know that I am flawed. I am an imperfect human that messes up despite my best efforts, and I know that my little imperfect humans are going to mess up, too. That doesn’t make their poor choices “okay,” but it makes them understandable and gives us all a chance to grow and improve. Sometimes correction is absolutely necessary to be sure. And sometimes we just need a little grace.
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