5 Reasons Why You Should Treat Your Children Like Adults

I remember going clothes shopping with my toddler and standing in the aisle for ages (and I mean ages) while he picked out a new winter jacket. I heard a few whispered comments from other shoppers, some curious and some unkind, about why I was making fun of my toddler by choosing jackets. For me, it’s simple — I show my little one that I respect and value his opinion. But for others, I seem to give him too much to say. So, why is it important to teach our children to be little adults? And how should parents treat their child with respect? Here, I’ll explain how to be the adult you probably needed as a child by respecting your children.

What Does It Mean To Treat Your Child Like A Little Adult?

First, let’s get one thing straight. I have never, and will never, advocate giving a child responsibility beyond their age or developmental capabilities. Yes, it’s important to give them a chance to push themselves or try something new (which increases resilience and confidence). However, setting the bar too high can negatively affect their self-esteem, confidence, and self-efficacy.1 When I talk about treating your child like a small adult, I mean treating them with the same level of respect that you have for other adults. I believe all parents should incorporate this level of mutual respect into how they treat their child or children. But sometimes this is not the case.

For example, I often see parents who expect their children not to be sad or anxious when things don’t go their way, or they yell at their children for being disorganized. As adults, we are human and accept these behaviors in ourselves, knowing that we cannot be perfect. But somehow, we expect better from our little ones.

Treating your child like a small adult means recognizing and respecting their individuality — their opinions, preferences, thoughts, and perspectives. It’s about acknowledging and validating their experiences, needs, and feelings as equal and important to your own. This approach also emphasizes mutual respect through open communication and collaboration (where possible and appropriate).

5 Benefits of Treating Your Child Like a Little Adult

There are many reasons why treating your child like a small adult can be helpful or beneficial:

  1. Respect: When you show your child respect, it teaches them how to respect others. You also show that they deserve (and can be trusted) respect when you value their thoughts, opinions, etc.2
  2. Empathy: By validating your child’s feelings and considering their needs, you help develop empathy, compassion, and their ability to understand others. And by modeling this behavior, you also teach them how to treat others with kindness.3
  3. Better communication: When you treat your child like a small adult, you foster an environment that encourages open and respectful communication.4 This will improve the quality of your parent-child bond, as they feel comfortable being open and sharing their concerns, thoughts, and opinions with you.
  4. Improved confidence: When you believe in your child, they learn to believe in themselves. Feeling heard and valued shows them that they are worthy.1
  5. Increased freedom: If you allow your child to make choices or be involved in decision making, you are giving them initiative and teaching them that they can make choices and solve problems for themselves.5

How to Treat Your Child Like an Adult

Here are some basic strategies that parents should use to treat their child in a mutually respectful manner:

Respect Their Need for Autonomy

This means allowing them to make age and developmentally appropriate decisions. Can they choose their clothes for the day? Can they choose a meal or snack for themselves? How about letting them choose a movie to watch as a family? Autonomy is also about allowing them to share their preferences and respecting or supporting those decisions/choices. Encourage autonomy, increased independence, confidence, and ownership or responsibility for their actions.5

Name Their Feelings and Show Empathy

Naming your child’s emotions shows that you are attuned and interested in them, which shows respect.3 When you know how they’re feeling, you can show empathy and understanding by acknowledging their feelings, normalizing them, and offering support when needed. Not only will they feel respected, but you’re also helping them learn how to navigate and express their feelings in healthy and adaptive ways.

Set and Communicate Boundaries

Be open, transparent, and consistent with your boundaries and rules. This will help your child know what you expect of them, helping them feel safe and secure. But let them have boundaries too you respect in return. For example, they may want privacy, space, or bodily autonomy (such as not having to give hugs or goodnight kisses or wanting to stop tickling), and respecting their wishes is important. They learn to understand others’ boundaries and know they can set boundaries for people to follow, which helps keep them emotionally and physically safe.6

Use Active Listening

Sometimes, as parents, we can inadvertently invalidate our children by not seeing the value or importance of what we think are “little things.” These little things get bigger and more complicated as our children get older, so we want to focus on these issues now. That way, they share the big things as they get older. You can show your child that you are interested in what they have to say by actively listening.7 Make eye contact, make sure your body posture is open and relaxed, turn to your child, and ask questions or summarize what you heard to show you’re listening. Active listening fosters open communication and trust and shows that you value their thoughts and perspectives.

Involve Them in Decisions

Allow your child to make age-appropriate choices within your family. Letting them contribute to family decisions helps them feel included and connected to the home. It also gives them a sense of responsibility and independence and gives them opportunities to develop critical thinking skills.5

I’m sure you can remember a time when you felt small or powerless. . . and it’s not a good feeling. Remember, be the adult you need to be as a child by treating yourself like a little adult. Again, I don’t mean to make them responsible for things that are not appropriate for children or that they are not developmentally ready. Kids should still be kids! But consider how you treat other adults around you — showing mutual respect, valuing their opinions, and giving them space to contribute. Treating your child like a small adult helps them understand what mutually respectful relationships look like and supports healthy emotional, cognitive, and social development.

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