elevating child care

A Question of Self-Worth

This isn’t what I’d planned to write today, but I’m learning that blogging isn’t always about what we want to write. Sometimes it’s about processing what’s making it impossible to concentrate on anything else.
My focus as a parenting teacher and coach, and the underlying theme of every post I’ve written, is respect for babies and toddlers. Everything I share on my blog is intended to evangelize one basic truth – all of us are born real and whole people. The sooner parents understand this, the better chance their children will have for emotional health, happiness and success. 

When respect is deeply understood, parenting is ridiculously simple. Even when the day-to-day is not so easy and fun, we can make sense of it, because we can always relate to our child’s needs on a human level. Respect is our beacon.

As I’ve expressed in other posts, I was once oblivious to the real meaning of respect. Of course, I thought I respected babies, but I really didn’t until the day I observed my infant lying on her back on the floor and for the first time saw her — a unique person deeply occupied with her own thoughts who deserved to be treated as I would expect to be treated.

Once respect is understood, we see our children through a new lens.

Respect is a sensitivity that some might be born with, or perhaps develop early on because parents treat us respectfully. Many will never quite get it, though, unless our cultural perception of infants and toddlers shifts dramatically.

The depressing truth I learned this week is that there is no point trying to explain respect to the in-the-dark majority. Like love or music or ice-cream – you can’t possibly understand if you’ve never experienced it.  So, I found myself in a quagmire of inane arguments over something as obvious (to me) as whether or not we should enjoy photos of a child in distress…

Toddler’s cry all the time for ridiculous reasons, don’t you know? It’s funny! Don’t you have a sense of humor? And it makes us so happy to see him upset over nothing because our children cry over stupid things, too. We feel less alone! The child should learn to laugh at himself. Why are you so uptight? Party Pooper!

Although it seems utterly futile and a little masochistic, I’m going to attempt (one more time) to explain my intense objection to these photos. Would we laugh at a senile granny in anguish for seemingly ridiculous reasons? Would photos posted without our permission of us in tears be hilarious? How about whimpering animals — is their misery disturbing or just plain funny?

Assuming the answer to those questions is, “well, no, but…” then consider this: Are pre-verbal children sub-human cartoon figures? Why is a crying baby funny?

We don’t suddenly become people when we start to toddle, speak recognizable words, respect our elders, vote or get married. We are all there from the beginning and waiting, hoping to connect with someone who can really see us, the person. We have a powerful instinctive need to understand and be understood, and we trust our parents to show us the way.

Psychologists have long known that in these formative first years (while our brains triple in size) the interactions we have with our loved ones, especially the manner in which our emotions are received and responded to, are internalized as “self”. Meaning, how we are treated is who we become, and psychotherapists know this deep sense of self is difficult, if not impossible to shake later on.

So the early years are the most dangerous and potentially damaging time to scoff at our children’s feelings. In fact, it is during this brief period that we have our very best shot at positively affecting our child’s future happiness, relationships and self-worth. The choices we make will matter for all the years to come. Kind of scary. Certainly the time to be extra careful.

For some reason, though, perhaps because they are accepting and can’t object, babies and toddlers are the people we’re most inclined to dismiss, manipulate, objectify, ridicule and generally disrespect. Could this compulsion to trivialize early childhood stem from core feelings of self-disdain we’ve internalized? I wonder…

“When we help a child to feel secure, feel appreciated, feel that “somebody is deeply, truly interested in me,” by the way we just look, the way we just listen, we influence that child’s whole personality, the way that child sees life.”                             – Magda Gerber

 

(Photo by jerryfergusonphotography on Flickr)

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107 Responses to “A Question of Self-Worth”

  1. avatar Robin says:

    Thank you – great point you made today about respect! – and not laughing at children who are upset on the weird assumption that it is “cute.” Thank you for being consistent and purposeful.

  2. avatar Hiba says:

    I’m so glad someone has finally spoken about the pictures of these poor toddlers. I can’t imagine how those poor babies must be feeling when they are overwhelmed and distressed, waiting to be comforted and loved while their parent(s) quickly run for their phones and take their pictures. Karma strikes back though. When these parents turn old and are one day in extreme pain and need their children’s support and love, their children will most likely not know how to support or be there for them and will probably dismiss their parents’ feelings just like their parents did when they were babies.

  3. avatar Joanne says:

    The same people who laugh at these pictures probably laughed at Jimmy Kimmel’s “Giving Kid’s Bad Gifts”. Using someone else’s distress for a laugh! Do they not know what that does to a relationship? Would you do that to your spouse? A laugh is more important than your relationship with your kids? Very sad.

    • avatar Christina says:

      yep those were not very funny really. some jokes are not funny

  4. avatar Christina says:

    childrens feelings are important yet they are often dismissed as ifnot important. I think some of my family or friends think I do strange things like the way Ispeak to my 14 month old at times, apparently there is no need to explain things, well I feel baby copes better with change or with what is going on when I talk to her and let her know what is going on rather than just scooping her up and putting he down for a nappy change, or when it is time for bed and I sit with her I tell her when I leave and give her time to respond so I know she has heard or maybe understood me, tonight she gave me a wave as I left her room. and didn’t cry again afterwards. respect is important and it doesn’t mean children will get there way, baby had to go to sleep just needed a bit of extra time and respect in being told that I was leaving the room ..

    • avatar Wendy says:

      I agree with you 100%. I explain everything to my daughter since day 1 . She is a person with emotions and thoughts. If we are going somewhere or something is about to happen I explain. Even if I am going somewhere without her, I tell her what to expect. To me it is treating her like an included memeber of our family.

  5. Love this article. Wonderfully articulated

  6. avatar Jayde says:

    Today’s parent has the overwhelming need to share every moment of their child/rens lives. Why? I am a parent but have no desire to share every Kodak moment with Facebook and beyond. Just recently 2 friends had very sick children in hospital, whilst I (kind of) understand a status update here and there, the constant pictorial update of their child in various states of distress is and was just plain confusing. At what point does a parent feel capturing the horror of a needle in their babies arm more important then comforting said child? The mind boggles

    • avatar Amber says:

      Perhaps sharing her pain and calling upon the support of her Facebook community was the best she could do for herself at the time. Having a seriously ill child tests a parents coping skills and sanity to its limits.

      I would encourage compassion.

  7. avatar Colette says:

    Thank you for this. I sometimes feel alone in my fight for the rights of babies and toddlers!

    Common adult statement:
    “Ignore him; he is just looking for attention.”

    Response:
    “So, if you are looking for attention, I should ignore you?”

    Feelings are always valid and important, no matter what age a person is. I struggle to understand why this is such a hard concept to come to terms with. I can only suppose that people who like to laugh at the distress of others struggle with their own feelings being valid.

    I could ramble on for ever!… 🙂

  8. avatar lisa says:

    Just read this linked from here.
    http://getoffmyinternets.net/kristen-howerton-invites-you-to-mock-your-children/

    Thank you for writing it. It is so well said. I am so depressed by the @assholeparent thing, which was started by a psychologist of all people.

  9. avatar Nicole says:

    This article is so true and wish more parents could see this . I was at my sons soccer and one Dad wishes another Dad a happy birthday for his one year old.The Dad’s start talking and comparing baby stories and saying how painful , hardwork and a nuisance “kids under five” are and can’t wait till they grow.
    This made me so sad and annoyed but the majority of Dads shush their kids would grow up instead of embracing these wonderful years

    • avatar Jaime says:

      As a dad, it’s hard to hear this type of mentality. I have a four year old daughter ( with another baby girl on the way!), and while I look forward to her growing up, I’m in no rush. I look back on the past with fondness, and even more so on the present, because after all, the ‘present’ is a gift! 🙂

  10. avatar Emma says:

    Thankyou for this. It’s something that has been rattling around my head but I’ve not been able to verbalize it well. I’m not sure I always get treating my kids respectfully quite right, but having the language for what I am trying to do helps.

    • avatar Stacy says:

      Emma, just by leaving the comment that you did, know that you DO show your children respect! I found Janet almost one year ago. Sadly, it was after I did the requisite Santa pictures with my toddler. She was scared, I sat with her but we’ve come a long way since then. I too used to think I crying pictures were cute – until it was my baby. The feeling that I had in the pit of my stomach was my turning point. Since then I know I can truly trust my gut – and the advice of Janet. You sound like you’re new on the RIE path. I hope you find it makes sense to you. Most of all, keep looking forward! You’ve got this!

  11. avatar Maggie W. says:

    I think laughing at toddlers catches on because it helps the parent feel better about themselves: that other parent’s toddlers are having a hard time too and there’s nothing that can be done, it’s just the way they are so we can laugh at the situation. I noticed I was falling into that thinking when I saw some “funny” posts by friends about the things their toddlers were having fits about. I thought, “well good to know that’s just the way not is and there’s nothing I can do about it when my time comes.” Good to know that’s not the case.

  12. avatar CarrieO says:

    When my twin brother and I were small he said a wrong word at the dinner table and everybody laughed. He immediately hid under the table. We were about 4 years old. After reading this article I recalled the incident and wondered if his difficulty adjusting to school and feelings of anxiety were at all related to the insensitive and disrespectful manner in which he was treated that time and probably others. I am now 58 and that incident has never left me. One reason respectful parenting of my own children was so important, and it felt almost instinctive at the time.

    • avatar Kay says:

      This post and CarrieO’s comment has hit home for me tonight. While I’ve never seen those pictures in question, something happened in my home tonight that upset me and I couldn’t quite figure it out but this post helped me realie why. The short version was that my toddler was eliminating in the bathroom with the door open right before bed. I was sitting with her chatting about the day when my stepson walks by. He is a young adult who recently moved in to our home from another country to attend college here. He said hi to my daughter and observed that she was using the bathroom, and then she said “yes the poop is coming” and well, that’s exactly what happened. As she said this I winced because I just knew how he would react: he burst in to laughter at her. I was horrified. She didn’t show signs of being upset, but I knew she was. She was so puzzled at why he would laugh at her eliminating. I did not know how to make up for his disrespectful laughter, so then I lied! I said he was not laughing at her elimination, but that he was laughing at something else. I did not like lying but I just wanted to shield her from what I felt was so disrespectful. Reading this article tonight make me realize why I was so bothered by this incident and this comment makes me worried this is going to force her to be self conscious earlier than I would hope for a child.

  13. avatar carol says:

    thanks Janet! I had a similar on line disagreement just last week when I responded to a post where people were giggling and making “how cute” type of comments about toddlers who were in an intensely sophisticated social negotiation. I understand you completely. Thank you for taking kids seriously and seeing their beauty, joy, intelligence and their full humanness!

  14. avatar carol says:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3sKdDyyanGk
    You poked me in the heart…
    This is the you tube video that I had a few heated discussions with as people giggled and make their “how cute” comments.

  15. avatar Judi Lister says:

    My boy was wild and terribly unsettled until he was like 7, his kindy teacher handed out pictorials for of the kids for a couple of years, none of my son, she said ohhh you wouldnt want them, they are not nice,,,I knew he was not pleasant and sunny but that did not mean he didnt exist, I felt she wanted to edit him out of her sunny existance because they were too confeonting for her, gee it hurt me. Not all of us who may have photos of our kids unhappy are monsters, sometimes thats all we have and we love them unconditionally, just saying xx happy to report he is the most loving and compassionate man now, particularly kind to 5he kids who were the same as him, I am very proud of him,,but thank god those days are over, there was a lot of judgement on me x

  16. avatar betsy says:

    I really love your opinions and perspective. I also really love “whymybabyiscrying”- I love it as a pressure release valve. I don’t think it’s ok to dehumanized babies but I think this is more about laughing together as parents at the absurdity of the human condition. I believe the real reason all of the babies are crying is why all babies have tantrums- they’re overwhelmed and need a break to organize and process the information acquired today before they can do anything more. But it’s still hilarious when such absurd things become the last straw, and I hope that’s what this meme is actually about.

    • avatar V. V. says:

      Yep. Totally, for me, a release valve. Toddlers! They’re toddler-y! They all do these things, not just mine! It makes it easier to not get angry when mine does it.

  17. avatar Siani says:

    If you want to read a perfect example of how the destruction of early childhood affects development, life and the adult brain, read my blog at http://www.survivormumblog.wordpress.com
    It’s why I’m such a huge fan of JL and gentle parenting – I know what happens if it’s done wrongly!

    • avatar Leanne says:

      Gosh you have been through a lot, so unfair. I respect your resilience and motivation to not ever repeat with your own baby. Big hugs. x

  18. avatar Nin says:

    Hi yes I would not usually think of taking a pic of my child in distress but I actually can’t help laughing at little when he has a tiny tantrum (he’s not yet 1). Certainly it can be funny sometimes but I’d be very reluctant to post it on the Web or try to distract him mid wail. My partner does this and after reading your posts I have to tell him not to

  19. avatar Barbara says:

    Nicely said. I agree with you. In fact it is so obvious to me that I don’t understand why others don’t agree with us! 25 years ago, I birthed my only child. He is great person and a great man. I am so proud of the person he is. Since birthing him however, I have been unable to watch movies or tv shows that involve a child being hurt, teased, bullied, tortured or anything else along these lines. These themes are not entertaining. I firmly believe that our society has become too desensitized to these things and that desensitization has led to an increase in the violence so many young people endure these days.

  20. avatar Madinstan says:

    LOVE this article and most of the comments. As a child I was horribly disrespected, dismissed, neglected and abused. It continues to affect me (partly due to the fact that my mother is still extremely critical and unreasonable). I made a point to tell my children every day I loved them, and also hugged them ALOT. They’re adults, and I still do. I was determined not to make them feel the way I had.

  21. avatar cassandra says:

    While i agree with your post regarding respect and photos of children I’m continuing to find posts patronizing. I’ve scrolled through your posts and read your books and what i feel is missing is the steps to help parents with THEIR emotional journey. this innate acceptance of children emotions and being totally zen with your child’s expression of feelings 100% of the time quite unrealistic. while it might seem obvious to some, i find parenting challenging. I find it difficult to to except my child’s emotions at the end of a long day and yet another trivial situation is blocking the pragmatic “getting on with the things that need to happen” to insure you have a healthy happy child and relationship and your sanity in tact. Rather than brushing off the feelings of majority of parents to be uneducated, why not do some study about the physiology of parenting. Why do parents gets frustrated/ angry/ disrespect their children? what are the steps involved in bridging that emotional gap? while there are some education material for parents regarding what to do with their own emotions rather than just their children’s, i don’t find that here.

    • avatar Lisa says:

      You might get that from aha parenting; Janet specializes in parenting advice, not personal counseling. I’m reading a book called Raising the whole brained child and it’s really really helpful in it’s brain science and simplicity in understanding ourselves and our little family members. Cheers

  22. avatar Victoria says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I initially wondered if it was just me being over-sensitive and having a sense of humour failure about those websites where people ridicule crying toddlers. I am so grateful that you have articulated exactly why I felt so uneasy and repulsed by them.

    I also want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your articles and podcasts. They have been such a comfort and a beacon of light to me after days when I have felt like I really didn’t cope well with my little (3 y.o) boy. I had a very unhappy experience with the way my mother parented me, and I am so grateful that you are teaching me how to break the chain of unhappiness and learn how to be a better parent.

  23. avatar chaos says:

    love this! could you include some of the psychology references? i would love to read more about it! thank you!

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