“Come on little whos, let’s hurry to the car!” I tried to hurry my four children into the van after an afternoon library trip. Their arms were full of as many books as they could carry. The wind had brought an autumn chill to the air. And each child was stammering complaints, hunched over; their arms full of books while they sluggishly moved toward the van in the parking lot.
“My little whos”… sigh… I often find myself latching onto temporary pet names for my children. Often a made up word rolls off my tongue… “Peetalpie,” “Bottlebee” or “Pumpkin Heart” It is literally whatever is on my mind in any given moment.
Lately, my children have been called “Whos.” Anyone familiar with the story, Horton Hears a Who, written by Theodor Seuss Geisel, AKA Dr. Seuss, is also familiar with the quote, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” The speck of the city of Whoville, filled with microscopic people called Whos, has become iconic to all Dr. Suess fans.
For me, calling my children “whos” began very much by accident, but as I have caught myself recently using that particular pet name, I have been pondering how important it is for to me to see each of my children, and every child with whom I interact, as a true person, complete with feelings, understanding, and heart.
So often, like most Mamas, I neglect seeing my little ones as people. I see children as responsibilities, sometimes interruptions or inconveniences, sometimes loads of fun and cuteness; certainly minds and bodies to be trained and tended… but yet… despite any perception I might be currently feeling toward my child, my underlying focus must be to be aware of that child’s person-hood.
It is essential that I look into those little eyes and listen to the chatter of the soul within. I am not talking of a child centered version of parenting, or a mama loosing her identity as Mother and becoming simply a buddy with her child.
I am valuing the intentional engagement of a child as a person. Treating a child as a visible and an aware being, is essential to raising children who behave responsibly and grow up. Not demeaning, ignoring, or talking over a child are part of that concept. It is also important to engage a child in grown-up concerns, thoughts, and responsibilities, as well as seriously engaging in a child’s little world of cares, play, and thrills.
I have found that when I perceive my children as persons, my conversation and expectations follow suit.
There are many ways an adult can show value to a child’s person hood.
A real person has feelings, fears, struggles, hard things (yes, even little ones!), frustrations, perspectives, ideas, awareness…
A child who is not treated like a person is perceived as a lower grade than an adult, feelings are not considered, what the child sees and hears about himself or herself is what is heard about Him instead of to him. A child is belittled. A child is ignored. Basic greetings and etiquette are not given to a child, nor expected from a child. Essentially, a child is endured, trained, and educated, yes, even loved, but not truly known or enjoyed. I do not want that to be my children. Have I failed? Often do and still will. But, I strive to value my little whos for the precious individuals God created them to be.
I have found a few helpful thoughts and actions can practically aid in my desire to see past the height and current development of my child and into the person they are.
1) Inclusion into the events of my world. I like my children to know what is going on in my life. I don’t sneak or hide situations from them for convenience sake. For instance, I have often had a friend or even both Jim and I, friends, over in an evening after the children’s bedtime. I do tell my children that someone is coming over after they are in bed. Yes, they would not know the difference if I didn’t tell them, but it makes good conversation the next morning as my little whos inquire how my evening went, and if I had a good visit. They are a part of my life and I want them to know I will be visiting after they are in bed should they need me, as well as being aware of what is going on. I also want them to respect me as a person and my need for friendships and time with others. Everyone doesn’t exists for my children and my life belongs to God and His work, which includes my children but is not exclusively about them.
2) Providing information on life events is also important. When children are not yet readers, they have no way of knowing what is happening. I like to read to them a lot, from grocery store adds to signs on the road. I also like them to be informed about the happenings in our family life a few days in advance…if we are going to get groceries, a doctor appointment, a weekend at Grandma’s house. I want them to have as few surprises in life as possible, so I try to keep them in the loop as much as I am able.
5) Being transparent with a child is a communication opener. I must be honest in conversation and let them know I am also human. I let them know when I am having a hard day. I apologize when I am grumpy and unreasonable…or simply wrong in my judgement. I let them know areas in my life that the Lord is working on me. We talk about it. It interests them. They grow from seeing my humanness and I find it breaks down walls and opens conversations into discussing their humanness.
6) Make eye contact during conversations. As adults, we respect and value friends who truly care about us. Those are the ones we know listen when we speak. Those friends who ask how we are doing and really want to know… Why? Because true friends focus on what we say. As a mother, part of raising my children is listening to them. Yes, the little ramblings of their hearts may seem shallow and sweet to me now, but how often I have landed in a deeper, heartfelt conversation with my child, because I took a moment to look in their eye and ingest their ramblings!
7) Don’t talk about a child as though he or she is invisible while that child is standing in ear-shot, hearing every word. Doctor appointments are sometimes the most difficult for me, because I am there to inform the doctor about any concerns I have with my child, while my child is in the room! Awkward! In general, I do not talk about my children while they are in the room. I do my best to include them in the conversation I am having with someone.
8) Do not let a child defer responsibility to Mama. I do not consider it selfish to make my children think of me or apologize to me for causing me inconvenience. If my child causes a mess that I have to pick up, I point out how inconsiderate that was of her or him, and demand their apology. I also stress that they care for other humans in need, even each other. I don’t want them to see the trouble of someone else, like a sibling, as Mommy’s responsibility, but theirs as well. For instance, if one of my daughters falls on the sidewalk, while her sister is swinging on a swing a few feet away, the sissy who is swinging needs to rush to injured sissy’s aid. I have some children that see the needs of others more readily than others. I have had to teach my children to rush to help, not wait for mommy, but be responsible themselves. I often find now, that my children run to each other for consolation and a bandage instead of mommy. It does my heart good to finish fold my laundry and be greeted by two of my girls, one who has already been bandaged up and tears dried, as they inform me of how the scrape occurred. Taking personal responsibility others in trouble is compassion. As well as taking responsibility for ones own messes is important. I am potty training my little son. He is doing well, but still has occasional accidents. If he has an accident, I have trained him to come get me, but it is his job to clean up his own poop. I don’t do it. I might sanitize after he is done, but he needs to learn to clean up his own messes as much as he is able. If a child makes a mess they are incapable of setting right…a broken dish for instance. I do ask them to apologize to me for the broken dish and extra work. If they are able, and it is safe, I will include them in helping me clean or repair the damage done.
9) Include children in the hard things. Children should understand death, suffering, pain, trauma, and poverty, are all a part of life. I do not shelter my children from such things at any age. As much as I am able, I include my children in hospital visits, funerals, and in prayer for those we know who are in crisis. I never underestimate the prayers of a child. It is also invaluable for them to learn how to respond and treat others during hard times. Even as an adult, I am still figuring out how to respond to various situations, so what I learn, I pass on to my children. I like include them in real life scenarios from birth, and do not believe it is healthy to shelter them from the rough stuff in life.
10) Keeping my word is essential to building trust and dependency with adults as well as children. So many adults give false promises or even threats to their children. It is easy to say words like “We are going home if you act out one more time” But with three other children and a doctor appointment in an hour, keeping that promise is going to cause a lot of trouble, or it won’t be kept. Even, ” Grandpa and Grandma are coming in a couple days,” Can be cause for confusion should they get sick and be unable to make it. So, I do my best to consider the promises or warnings I give my children. I do not commit to anything I am unable to fulfill. I say “maybe” and “we will see.” lot… Life is uncertain, so I like to leave a lot of open ends in our plans in case God changes things. My children have become familiar with the phrase, “If God says “yes” or “no” … we don’t know yet.” I also do not make many promises to my children. Nothing is for certain, and I as an adult am still trying to live in that mindset.
11) My favorite part of treating my child as a person is engaging in the amazing wonderments and thoughts of their little minds. I engage in every question, no matter how personal or complicated. I do not shelve subjects for a later time or date. I believe every question can be answered with an age appropriate response. If my five year old daughter want to know how babies begin inside, I simply say that “God works a beautiful miracle and puts a tiny person inside a mommy.” My six-year-old asked once why God created His enemy Satan, which caused me to read up a bit and led into an amazing discussion about the gospel and a God who planned redemption before creation. I love the questions my children have, and do my best to capture the moment, not making them wait until they are older or find the answer impersonally from another source.
12) Etiquette is showing love to others including little others. I try to be polite in front of my children! I don’t “let it go” while they are about. I say “please” and “thank-you” to them. Now, I might spend some time rolling around on the floor in a tickle frenzy with them, but that doesn’t mean I am “not” a lady. I find the foundation of every etiquette book I have read to simply be,loving others. What shows the best consideration and kindness to someone else in a given moment is what is polite. I do insist my children show the best kindness they can to others as well. “Please” and “Thank you” are required, as is “good morning.” I make a point to greet all of my children cheerfully each day with “good morning.” They naturally return the greeting. For meals, we sit at the table and converse while we eat. I do not allow my littlest children to run about while the rest of the family eats dinner. If a child is done eating early, I ask them to look around, “Daddy is not done, Mommy is not done, sissy is not done…you can sit and wait….tell Daddy something you learned in school today.” My children have learned to ask to leave the table. One does not just get up when he or she is done and leave the room. My children even ask if they can get something during the meal like salt or some more water… we are all learning, little by little, what it means to be considerate of others and how very important that is.
13) I never ever, ever lie to my children or allow my children a lie. I realize this may be a controversial subject to some mothers. But, this is simply what I do and why. I do teach my children there are lies that exist. For instance, we don’t lie to our children about Santa Clause. They know Santa is used in the celebration of Christmas, especially by people who don’t know Christ. We don’t avoid storybooks or movies about him, but we make sure our children know Santa is not real, and we do not include him in our celebration of Christmas, and our children know why. We do the same with the tooth fairy. Our children happily announce that their Daddy is the tooth fairy. I also tell my children about the lie of evolution. Saying that there are people who do not believe in God and need an explanation for how the world began instead of by God, so evolution has been that lie for many years. Telling my children a lie, and telling them about a lie are very different in my mind. There are many lies out their from body image to immorality that my children will encounter. I do not need to add to that by lying to my children. And honestly, it is just as equal a sin to lie to an adult just as it is to a child. Deceit is a lie as well. I do not intentionally trick or deceive my children into doing something. I do not make up quippy answers to their sincere questions either. Even in fun, lying can be harmful. How often has someone said something in jest that hurt. That person can brush it off as just a joke and blame me for taking it wrong, but it hurt. Either it was untrue and should not have been said, or it was true and the idea it was a joke was a lie.
Those are truly a few of the various methods I find helpful to treat my little whos as people. I honestly owe much of my thinking on the subject to my mother who was a shining example in treating me as a person…no matter how small. She often told me how important it was for her to say “goodbye” to her children before leaving them in a church nursery or with a sitter. She never scooted off while we were occupied. She treated even her little blabbering babies with common respect.
I realize, seeing from the perspective of a little mind, body, and heart can be challenging for some, and even I who endeavor to show the respect of person-hood to my children, fail so often. But I am comforted that it is not entirely impossible, because we were all little whos once too. And in God’s eyes, we will always be little, yet with such gentleness, tenderness, and compassion He leads us!