Respecting the little people

Respecting the little people

Last year I wrote an article for The Dad Website, which covered my story as a father of two boys – Will, nine and Tom, 21 – and how my approach to fathering had changed.

There was one point that needed further interrogation.

I pointed out that I changed the time when I decided to treat my sons as a little people rather than children; for Tom it was 12 but for Will it was four-and-a-half. As I pointed out to Tom when I drafted the article, I was incapable of recognising I should have altered by approach for him much sooner.

I think he’s forgiven me, but more on that later.

It’s amazing what you learn when you raise this topic in conversation. I must say it’s the women who appear to be right across this stuff but maybe every article on The Dad Website is really ‘101’ for most women – is that too harsh on us blokes?

Anyway, one of the words that keeps coming up is ‘respect’ in terms of the difference in how we treat children, but ‘equality’ may be more applicable here. This doesn’t mean you are equal but, like a manager or coach, it helps to build rapport with employees or players based on a premise of equity.

There’s even a parenting method for this thing called ‘respect’: it’s Resources for Infant Educarers or RIE, which is pronounced ‘wry’.

More than 60 years ago, (Magda) Gerber and her mentor, paediatrician Emmi Pikler… dismissed the notion of babies as “cute blobs” years ago, understood them as whole people deserving of our respect.”

Now, different people will have different parenting approaches and I don’t want to confuse the topic by including discipline, rule-setting or having fun as I feel these are separate, albeit related, matters; I just want to focus on how you, as a dad (or mum), makes the change from treating your offspring as a child to treating them as a little person.

As part of my research, I asked Will when he thinks is a good time to make the change and he said “about four years old” because “before then you really don’t know what’s right and wrong, whereas once you’re four you definitely know!”

So if I stick with my changeover time for Will at about four-and-a-half years, I reckon I’m pretty close. That doesn’t mean there is lower respect given before then but I think there’s less chance to have a relationship based on equity and mutual respect when they’re a toddler.

Looking back on it now, I was pretty horrible at times with Tom because I didn’t respect his opinions enough and so our relationship was more hierarchical than equitable.

Of course, Will and I still have our arguments but I now need to provide a valid, consistent, fair, logical response to a request or suggestion from Will – and not just “no because I said so”.

I believe that little people start their lives under our parent wings just after they’ve graduated as a toddler and about to hit school. At this point, and over the next couple of years, we have a fantastic opportunity to fill them with self-confidence by simply answering their questions thoughtfully and asking their opinion, just as we would to a teenager or adult.

To quote Aristotle: “Give me a child at seven and I’ll give you the man.” There’s a reason why this age wasn’t four and I reckon it’s because they’ve just become a little person at that age and they still need to spend a few years with their parents to set their life course; during this time, a dad’s role is therefore critical.

Fortunately, Tom’s turned out to be a fantastic human being: super smart, gifted in many ways and surrounded by many good friends. That said, I reckon my substandard performance as a dad from 2000 (when he was four) until 2003 (when he was seven) has meant that Tom is missing something – time will tell what that is and whether he’s found a workaround to compensate for me.

I started a business in 2001 and commenced a significant volunteering role, which went on for many years. Were they the best actions to undertake as a dad when Tom had just become a little person? Probably not.

Of course, you don’t stop your life when your child becomes a little person, but I recommend you take stock of your relationship with them and be aware that it may be about to change. I also think you should consider this key stage of their life when thinking about work/family decisions that could either help or hinder their development up until the age of seven.

If you need any further motivation to improve your relationship with your little people think about how much better your relationship with the little person’s mum and/or your partner will be when they see you rockin’ fatherhood.

I’m clearly no expert but I’ll continue to have chats about this topic because I feel it’s important for dads to work hard to turn little people into self-confident exemplars, ready to face the world.

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