Could the concept of adultism transform relationships between adults and children?

14 May, 2014

The concept of Adultism – a stealth prejudice in many of our homes

“Isms” are rare in my circle of friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Nearly everyone I know is involved in a journey of eradicating any sexism, racism or other prejudice in their lives. We are all aware that NO ONE should be treated worse because they are different.

Apart from children.

They are different and they are treated poorly because of it.


Consider how happily we humiliate children in public- forcing them to say “please” and “thank you” before giving them the item they want.

We treat their bodies like our property – taking stuff out of their hands without invitation, moving them aside without an “Excuse me”, forcing clothes on them.

We talk about children while they are right there “How old is she?” “Is she a good girl?”

We fail to take their conversation seriously – a toddler will be explaining something, or telling a story, and so often, instead of listening and responding sensibly, we chuckle, and interrupt with “Hehe, you are TOO CUTE!” And we catch other adult’s eyes to laugh at this funny little thing’s wild story of a broken leg and a horse called Shakira.

We don’t trust a child’s judgement- frequently over ruling their own ideas and solutions, often just with one word “No” or four words, “Because I said so!”

We question their feelings – “You’re not scared” and we tell them to stop feeling them “Don’t be sad!” in a way that I have never heard one adult say to another.

We give children no say in their activities and force them to tug along with out agenda “Right, time to go!” or “You don’t want that mobile phone, here have this maraca instead!”

We tell children not to listen to their own bodies, but to trust US because we ACTUALLY know what they’re bodies are saying “You haven’t eaten enough! You can’t possible be full!” Or “Come on, it is 8pm you must be tired.” Or “It is freezing! You must keep your jumper on!”

There are many more ways we oppress children because of their age- I could go on and on; they are tripping out of my typing fingers because I know them too well. I am guilty of at least a couple of these every single day.

And all of these examples, if we were to change “child” to “woman” or “disabled person” would be completely and utterly OUTRAGEOUS. But we feel free to treat children this way simply because they are young and often don’t have the words to protest. (Or they do protest and we call it a tantrum.)


The concept of adultism, as defined by Dr Checkoway is “โ€ฆall of the behaviors and attitudes that flow from the assumption that adults are better than young people, and are entitled to act upon young people in many ways without their agreement.โ€

I believe that awareness is the first, crucial step towards change. It was reading Parenting for Social Change by Teresa Brett and Escape from Childhood by John Holt that opened my eyes to the way I was allowing a corrupt power relationship to perpetuate injustice in my own home. Despite being utterly committed to a fair world, free from any “isms” I was allowing this massive “ism” to happen under my own roof.

(I’m not sure how served we are by the term “adultism” as opposed to “ageism” which seems a more technically accurate term, and one that already has some traction due to older generation having their rights overlooked. It is possible that ageism, in relation to young people, might be a more palatable phrase.)

Gosh, this is all sounding a bit heavy, isn’t it? I have woken up all fired up about it this morning!

I also feel really positive though as awareness is happening, all over the world. Just as so many people in the world are challenging, and defeating, racism and sexism, I believe we are beginning the journey to challenging ageism against young people.

One day childhood will be experienced differently- we will treat children with respect and they will be free to enjoy their full plethora of rights. This concept of adultism could be the things that transforms this.

What do YOU think?ย 

Read my follow up post to this:ย A day in the life of a family challenging adultism.

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  • Jayne 14 May, 2014 at 6:25 pm

    This is actually something I’ve espoused myself since becoming a mother – I hate the way we disrespect the feelings of our children. The food thing, for instance; if a child has a plate of food in front of them that they like I maintain that NO kid is going to refuse food for the sake of it,therefore if they say they’re full, chances are they really are full.

    We’re supposed to, as parents, instill confidence and decisiveness in our kids yet constantly crush both of these things out of them by diminishing their worth.

    Brilliant post.

    • Lucy 14 May, 2014 at 9:02 pm

      Yes, we are to quick to crush. I say err on the side of trust.

  • Exsugarbabe (@Exsugarbabe) 14 May, 2014 at 6:57 pm

    I partly agree, we don’t listen to children enough and we do need to respect their views and needs more.

    I have a problem with this, we are the adults, we know another bar of chocolate is not good for them, that horror film will give them nightmares and if there’s snow on the ground a swimming costume is not appropriate clothing. Giving a child too much power is cruel, they wont know what to do with it. At the same time expose your kids to ideas, treat them with respect and give them a chance to shine, just make sure you understand they are little people with a little less experience and judgement, our job is to tell them when to stop, be there to pick up the pieces and if we treat them badly or without respect don’t expect much good in return.

    • Lucy 14 May, 2014 at 9:06 pm

      I think we should readily talk about the sugar and caffeine content of chocolate and show in our own actions what we think should be done – i.e we had a bar of choc in the house today and Ramona saw it. She said “I’d like some of that” but decided to put it in the fridge for later. We had a little chat about how sometimes chocolate can keep you awake a night. Tonight she got it out of the fridge and said “I’d really like a bit bigger than me, but I’ll just have one bit for now” I loved seeing her respond to my trust in a really sensible way.
      She also pauses and fast forwards scary bits in her (Disney!) movies.
      I think that families are finding that the more that they are trusted the more they will respond with moderation….

    • Clare Kirkpatrick 15 May, 2014 at 6:20 pm

      In what way will a bar of chocolate be bad for them? I think teaching children that some food is bad and some is good is more harmful to them in the long-run. My children are free to eat chocolate when they want and they eat very healthy balanced diets over the medium term. Your assumption that chocolate is bad for children so you should be able to stop him eating it suggests a complete lack of respect for a child’s ability to make choices that are sensible for him.

      Same goes for scary horror films. Some kids aren’t as frightened by them – who are you to judge? Children are incredibly adept at leaving a room or turning a tv off if they’re not ready for something so long as they’ve been given the freedom to make the choices that are right for them.

      And swimming costumes in the snow? Why is that bad for you? Icelandic people wear swimming costumes in the snow when bathing in the hot springs. If a child knows you trust him and he trusts you, either he’ll say ok and change when you say with a smile (as you might to your partner) “wow! Aren’t you going to be freezing in that?” Or they won’t. They might grin and run out anyway…only to run in again within a few minutes to put warmer clothes on. While he’s out there, you could start running a warm bath for him and look forward to hearing his excited chatter about how much fun it was to experiment with being really cold. You must think children are very stupid indeed if you think they’ll allow themselves to get hypothermia!

      • Lorraine 16 May, 2014 at 5:14 am

        We (my family of origin and I, as adults!) ran out in the snow in our underwear and sat around the outside table giggling. It was April and it was my dad’s birthday and it is one of my fondest memories ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Sarah P 16 May, 2014 at 10:28 pm

        Children have no idea of anything until they are taught…I am glad your kids have an innate regulator but most don’t. I am a big believer in letting the kids make their own mistakes but thats because mine are smart too…that won’t work on a kids without that intelligence..they are not little adults. They are blank slates. Yes you should talk to them more but respect? When they earn it. Consider yourself lucky, Claire.

      • Tyreena 18 May, 2014 at 7:21 am

        Really loved your comment. Loved the way you explained that. Definitely something that has never sat right with me but I wasn’t really sure why – now I know. Thanks ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Nicola 14 May, 2014 at 7:37 pm

    Hey Lucy, ah I normally love your posts but have to say I didn’t really get this. Isn’t there a duty of care and guidance that would involve some direction? And is it really comparable to sexism or racism to be guiding a child or doing something to keep them well and safe? Genuine questions, I’d like to understand!

    • Lucy 14 May, 2014 at 9:11 pm

      Hey Nicola ๐Ÿ™‚
      Safe, yes ๐Ÿ™‚ I think there are very few circumstances that are really about safety. I “do not let” Ramona hit any one, and were she to run into the road I would grab her. That is probably it.
      I think that too often we *think* we are guiding them but actually we are just putting our own dogmatic views on to them and wanting them to comply.
      I think the basic crux of this is before we interact with our child we say “Does this infringe upon their human rights? Am I just exerting power unnecessarily? How can I help them realise their rights here?” and then, if we need to, changing our interaction.

      What sort of circumstance can you imagine that process failing? (Also genuine question, you know I love you ๐Ÿ™‚ I really want to help you get this, because I think this is for you ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Lynsey 14 May, 2014 at 7:53 pm

    While I agree that there can be too much control exercised by parents, how can you adopt this philosophy yet protect and nurture? I have a lot of experience of children being given no boundaries and dealing with the aftermath of this as they try and make sense of the world around them alongside peers.This kind of parenting can surely only be a possibility in an environment where there are only ‘healthy’ influences available. I love watching my wilful 8 month old exploring and going where he wants but even yesterday if I hadn’t guided him, he would have stuck his fingers in the electrical sockets, pulled the TV down on himself and maybe lost a finger as he explored the hinge on a door. Most people’s lives cannot be devoted to their children in a way that means that they can roam freely. I guess I’m wondering how practical this is..

    • Lucy 14 May, 2014 at 9:17 pm

      Yes, I think you are quite right in distinguishing this kind of parenting from the neglectful parenting that provides an unsafe and lonely environment for a child. This is involved, engaged, creative, freedom parenting!

      I do try and create an environment where I don’t have to worry about my children really hurting themselves – i.e I wouldn’t place knives or broken glass in a space my baby was playing. If there was something I couldn’t move I would put something around it so it couldn’t be climbed on or stand by it while it was being investigated so I could catch any falling baby! (To continue your example!)

      I think there are just very few examples where a child’s safety is at stake and far too many examples where we think we are doing the best thing but if we were to stop and REALLY think, we are squashing our child’s rights.

  • Toots 14 May, 2014 at 9:33 pm

    I think that all children should be treated with ‘respect’ and not giggled at, and have their say, but they ARE children, with no experience of the big wide world. Of course a child needs boundaries and limits. I have worked for many years as a nanny and I would never let a child dictate how the day will run. Of course, I will give them options and listen to what they have to say, but when there is a mound of laundry to be done, washing up in the sink and an empty fridge, a routine needs to be put in place, which doesnt involve waiting for a 2 year old to choose what they want to wear, making them a breakfast that gets wasted when they say they’re not hungry, finding dry pants and tights because they ‘didnt need the toilet’ when I asked them just before we are about to leave the house, trying to persuade them to put the scooter down because we dont have time to scoot the 4 miles to the supermarket, dealing with mealt down because they didnt eat their breakfast and now they’re starving hungry and all you have on you is a breadstick and some raisins, oh and screaming baby in a buggy…. I’m sure you can see where this is going! Children need a routine, to make a routine work you need boundaries. Not to mention that those boundaries help them learn what is and isnt acceptable behaviour. What happens when they start school and have to conform to different rules, or when they get a job? Everything you teach a child is to prepare them for adulthood and you can do that in a really respectful and gentle way without letting them ruling the house.

    • Lucy 15 May, 2014 at 9:52 am

      Ah, Toots ๐Ÿ™‚
      Your conclusion just sort of validates my whole life philosophy on childhood. Is childhood really just a preparation for adulthood? How very very sad.
      I don’t want to raise a child that conforms to the rules. Especially the rules of this unfair society! We need adults that will question the rules, that will point out how they leave some people poor and other absurdly rich.
      Nurturing a child who will end up only feeling comfortable sitting at a desk from 9-5 is not the aim of my game.

      PS All of those examples you give, I can think of a million more respectful, rights observing alternatives. It horrifies me that you would force a child to go to the toilet just so you don’t have to take a spare pair of legging with you. It is their body! If they grow up thinking more powerful people can force them to do stuff with their own bodies… where does that lead?

      Posted in love.

      • Laurenne 16 May, 2014 at 1:08 am

        Genuinely love you for this response Lucy. I might save this comment and send it to everyone we get these kind of comments from! L x

      • Toots 16 May, 2014 at 10:31 am

        I would never force a child to take a wee, how do you even do that! It is about far more than changing a pair of leggings. When you are in a car seat, or a buggy, or sat on a friends couch, cafe chair, seat of a bus, it becomes a bit more of an issue than just a wet pair of leggings! If these scenarious happened every day, how would anything get done? I just dont see how it could work, not having any routine, because you are constantly doing exactly what your child wants to do and picking up the pieces.

        I’m finding it hard to write anything that doesnt sound confrontational (and isnt a mini essay!), because I dont want to be, and I do agree completely that children do get a hard time, and are often treated ‘unfairly’ but I feel like there has to be some kind of balance. I dont care if she wants to leave the house in a dressing gown and a tutu and a pair of goggles, or that she wants to play with the hose in the garden and paint herself with glue, but I dont want her ripping chunks of her play dates hair out, waking up her poorly baby brother with a smack, or scraping rocks down the side of someone elses car. She has no concept of what is worse, and even if I explain, she will not understand the consequences so should I just let her do it as many times as she wants?

        I also think it is so easy to instill bad habits in a child, that can become life long. For instance, my mum used to allow me to sleep with the light on, now, at the age of 25 I cannot sleep with it off. There are endless health issues related to sleeping with the light on, not to mention the hassle it causes my boyfriend and friends who have to sleep in complete darkness. My sister was allowed to eat what she wanted, she happened to have a very sweet tooth and is now borderline diabetic and severely anaemic. My best friend had all her teeth pulled in Primary school because she would only drink Ribena, her adult teeth were damaged too….

        I think we should listen more to our children, and give them more freedom and empowerment, but I do think they need guidance and boundaries too! A happy balance.

        ๐Ÿ˜€ x

        • Lucy 16 May, 2014 at 11:43 am

          Hi Toots ๐Ÿ™‚
          Yeah, it is hard to speak with passion but not be confrontational. I hear that. I think we have to remember that we all basically LOVE our children and want the very best.
          Sorry if it seemed I was putting words in to your mouth.
          Those examples you talk of – I would never allow that to happen. The “Day in the Life” post was meant to address that a little. My lines are very much not damaging property of children- other people have rights too ๐Ÿ™‚ A right to be safe and a right to keep their things safe.
          The examples you use to show adults struggling with issues as a result of childhood…. it is my strongly held belief that most of the issues adults have is a result of way too much control over things when they were young. Definitely not the other way round.
          Love x

        • Laurenne 16 May, 2014 at 11:27 pm

          I think people are quite quick to jump to extremes – I think the expectation that your child will just hurt others, eat rubbish all the time and cause general chaos is unfair and unfounded. I would always explain to my little ones why we shouldn’t hurt others, damage property etc. and whilst they may not understand the explanation at first, in time they get to know to respect other people’s bodies and property.

          I don’t think it’s a case of ‘doing exactly what your child wants to do an picking up the pieces’, it’s about giving your children as much respect and control of their lives as they can have, whilst still balancing the needs of the whole family. In the same way I respect my husband, but don’t do everything he wants all the time! We have a mutual respect that helps us do things that we all feel comfortable and happy with.

          I think too that by respecting my children they will in turn be more respectful of the needs of the rest of the family. My 2yo is really happy to stop what she is doing and come out somewhere we need to go if we talk about it and plan to come back to whatever she is doing later. They reason better because they feel heard I guess?

          With regards to sweet foods and drinks, I simply wouldn’t have an unlimited supply of chocolate / ribena / unhealthy food in the house (for me as much as them!). Perhaps if they did have it there all the time and no restrictions they’d self regulate, who knows but I feel much happier knowing they can graze as they wish when they have access to lots of healthy stuff. This article pretty much sums up my attitude to food – thanks for sharing that Thalia!

          I also do think it’s really important to start a dialogue about these things though (like Lucy said about chocolate and caffeine), we explain to our 2 year old that although we know it tastes good, too much juice can be bad for our teeth, so we only buy a certain amount of juice each week, and drink water the rest of the time.

          With regards to the toilet, if we are going on a long drive I’ll say to my daughter ‘I’m going to have a wee because we’re going in the car for a while now and I don’t want to be umcomfy, do you want to have one too?’ if she does great if not and we have to make a potty stop it’s not the end of the world. As you say, you can’t force them to go, so if they don’t go before you leave, then have an accident, do you then get angry and scold them? I try and think if my partner needed the loo half an hour into a journey and we had to stop at a service station I’d respect his body – so I should probably do the same to my children who have far less control / ability to forward plan their toileting needs!

          Really enjoying reading the varied comments on this though Lucy ๐Ÿ™‚

          L x

        • Catherine Kilgour 19 May, 2014 at 8:03 pm

          Hi Toots

          You are 25 you have been sleeping with a light all your life. If you live to 100 and stop needing a light now, then you would have only spent a quarter of your life needing a light on to sleep and wonder why you stressed about it. Maybe your parents let you sleep with the light on because they believed it was a need that you really couldn’t sleep without it on. Maybe now you are older it might be a habit or it could still really be a need.

          What would you suggest a parent do if a child wants a night light on and they are not happy with it. Can you slowly adjust your needs by using a dimmer light or a hallway light. I have a digital alarm clock which I can adjust how bright the numbers are. On full it gives quite a bit of light.

          Could you give friends staying over eye masks like they do on airplanes?

          I visited my sister once, she lives on a farm. Her home is pitch black at night. Can not see your hand in front of your face sort of dark. My home in a town is not pitch black even with the lights off. I can walk around most nights without any inside lights on due to street lights and cars going past.

        • Exsugarbabe 24 May, 2014 at 12:00 am

          Agrred, you have some really good points. Unlike women and disabled people these are children, Ribena tastes good, why would you want to stop drinking it unless somebody told you it’s bad for you? If you like the bedroom light on why would you stop unless somebody told you it was bad, and by the way that would drive me mad if I stayed at your house too.

          On the other hand I remember cringeing at my x sister in law trying to force some junk food at my daughter’s birthday party because it was polite, he’s already had lunch so I thought he was using his common sense and was full, I ended up saying “maybe he’s not hungry, don’t make him eat.” I think making kids eat when they don’t want to is asking for trouble later, it’s telling kids manners are more important than their appitite. I also think telling kids how they feel or should feel is abusive, they should be taught to be assertive and expressive in a way that is effective, this is a skill that will set them up for life and means fewer slammed doors when they’re teens. You should also tell your kids when you don’t like something they’re doing, it goes both ways, then you are a seperate being that deserves respect and this respect goes both ways.

          I beleive this way of parenting could only work with an only child or you may well go insane explaining yourself and end up losing your temper.

          I parent a little like this due to my family having a toubled past and my son has problems at school, he argues like an adult against every rule and many teachers see this as bad behaviour. This is because my x down any rules I tried to put down to keep control of the family and lower my status so I couldn’t put down any rules, it’s incredibly hard to put right and I need inhuman patience, teachers don’t listen and they only think their way is right. When you meet children with confused bounderies you see the damage it does, not pretty.

  • Jo T 14 May, 2014 at 9:50 pm

    Ah, this is a tough one. In so many ways I totally get this, but it is also not how we live at all. Your influence has meant that I try really hard to be respectful. I question my ‘no’, I try to validate their feelings even if I don’t understand their reason for feeling it and I’m far more concious of how we converse and letting go f my agenda and running with theirs.
    But, there are many more ways in which I would not only direct, but pretty much insist. Some of this is down to other choices we have made. We have chosen to send our kids to school which means they have to wear certain things, be ready at a certain time and take part in particular activities. They need to go to bed at a certain time because a daytime nap isn’t an option at school. But beyond that, I also make decisions against their will. If Ro wants to wear a teeny tiny summer dress out when it’s really really cold, I will insist she wears a top and leggings underneath. I explain rather than demand, but I will make that final call.
    I guess for me it’s about talking through the steps we’re taking, trying not to resort to ‘because I said so’ and help them understand why certain things go a certain way. But, because of you, and efforts to show my little people respect I hope that they still know a bit of freedom, trust and respect. Usually I’d read a post like this and want to go further but I think we’re ok with where we are right now…

    • Lucy 15 May, 2014 at 10:05 am

      The examples you use… they aren’t incompatible with what I am saying.
      Particularly with older children… “We need to wake up early, so I am wondering if you have some ideas about how we can make sure we all get enough sleep? I will probably go to bed earlier?” etc.
      Same with uniform. We need to wear this uniform to go to school. What bits about it don’t you like, can we change some things to make it better for you, etc etc.
      I think the clothing outside business…. when they get cold they will ask fro more clothes… then you will hand them their jumper and leggings. Only one time have we ever had a child turn blue (*WINK* you know the one)

      • Jo T 15 May, 2014 at 10:24 pm

        You know we do have those conversations all the time. And how it works with all three of ours varies massively. If Jude is really tired, he will ask to go to bed. Hudson would never ever got to bed voluntarily despite all the conversing in the world. Again, if he was an only, un-schooled child it wouldn’t be a problem because he could sleep when and til he needed but in our house, we all get woken early everyday.
        The coat and jumper thing too. Again, I’m happy for them to test out the temperature. We’ll often go stick our hand out the door or watch the rain out the window and encourage positive choices but again, carrying a change of clothes for three kids and making time for them to get changed at the school gate or whatever, by which point we’re already late and their clothes are already wet, I just don’t see how it’s practical.
        This also makes it sound like I’m putting practicality and conformity before their needs, and I genuinely don’t feel like I am. I’m working really hard to give them the tools to make good decisions. I hope I don’t insist on conformity for conformity’s sake. There is plenty of freedom to question and I am always open to them changing my mind. But I hope they’re also learning that they can trust me and that I have their best interests at heart.

        • Lucy 16 May, 2014 at 11:55 am

          Well, and also “rights respecting” will look entirely different for each child and each family, I see that.

    • Lizzie 15 May, 2014 at 6:52 pm

      I don’t get the fear of letting kids go out in the cold without wearing a jumper, why on earth is it such a big deal when you can just chuck a jumper on them 5 minutes later when they actually feel the cold? (Without saying ‘see, I told you so’ by the way.) They live in the here & now, it’s nice and warm here in the house, Mummy insisting on putting a jumper on before going outside makes no sense to them. But it will if they are given the choice to wear their dress, and maybe next time the reminder to put a jumper on will make sense to them. Similarly with late bedtimes, too much chocolate, all that sort of thing – if they don’t experience the consequences and make the connections themselves, they’ll take longer to understand the reasoning behind it and thus make an informed decision for themselves. Although, that’s not the main reason for leaving the choice with them, in my opinion – it’s to foster self-confidence and trust, your relationship, and independence.

  • Lucy Lumm 14 May, 2014 at 11:36 pm

    Like every other post from you, I totally agree.

    I try like you every day and mess up every day to respect my son in all those ways.
    It’s disgusting how children are “allowed” to be treated because they are children?

    Children have feelings too, Children are real people too, Children are smarter than we think.
    I will always stand up for children’s rights, for those that find it hard to stand it up for themselves.

    It’s not okay to treat our friends certain ways, our partner it would be abuse, to the elderly, to the disabled… but our children…. oh yeah we can do almost what we wish with them, treat them however we like in the name of “discipline” or “bringing them up properly”. No.
    Children need to be seen as having the same rights as every other person, because they do.

    Yes when safety comes into it whether their safety or another person’s safety etc then we do need to step in, but other times we need to think before we act around our/other children, because we may just say or do things because that’s how we are conditioned… and it isn’t okay.

    Childism is unacceptable.

    Great post as always.

    X x

  • Eline 15 May, 2014 at 12:33 am

    I had an interesting conversation with another parent recently on the topic of giving our children the freedom to choose what they wear. I said that I’d allow my son to wear a pink tutu to school if he so desired. The other parent’s response was:
    “You, as the experienced adult, know that the other children would laugh at him. Would you still allow him to wear the tutu, knowing in advance he might end up with hurt feelings, that he might come home wondering why his mummy had let him make a fool of himself?”

    I found it really, really hard to answer.

    To me this episode sums up how these things are never black and white. I absolutely agree with you that children are belittled, ignored or coerced far too often. Adults routinely display behaviour that they themselves think is unacceptable, coming out with outright lies like “the dog will bite you if you don’t stop crying” (heard in an Italian park recently!) but telling their children off for fibbing. Urgh. The ‘finish your plate’ obsession? I hate that.

    But I also know that M will turn into a shrimp (and make my bills skyrocket!) if he stays in the shower all day, that he can’t leave the house without shoes because Milan is strewn with dog poo, and that he ends up miserable if he doesn’t get enough sleep, so in the end I do impose my decision on him. I try to do it as gently as possible, I give him choices whenever I can, and even if something is not really optional I give him time to do what I’ve asked him to do. Is that freedom? Not really.

    So while I agree with the sentiment of your post and I absolutely want to try my hardest not to perpetuate all the horrible isms that you describe, many of the day-to-day experiences are more subtle. I don’t have the answer on how to handle these, really – where to find a balance is something I struggle with on a daily basis. Though I do think it’s a question of balance, somewhere.

    • Lucy 15 May, 2014 at 9:47 am

      My initial reaction to this is: Maybe children in the playground bully other kids who are different as a result of their own parents fears?
      I have been told MANY stories like this- parents not letting their boy wear pink trainers to school etc
      Perhaps if we let them wear what they want they will realise that everyone is unique and has the right to wear what they want and the bullying will stop?!
      But who will go first? What kids will pay the price? It isn’t an easy one, is it? x

      • Laurenne 16 May, 2014 at 12:53 am

        This is a really interesting point Eline, and I think it’s probably one the main reason my kids won’t be going to school. (I know that’s not a helpful response!)

        I just genuinely don’t know how I’d handle that – I like to think I’d encourage my child to wear / like what they’d like despite how others might react. I like to think they’d be strong and confident enough to not care what others think, but how hard must that be for a child at school with these people all day, it’s difficult enough as an adult to be the ‘different’ one? How long before they’d give up their individuality and realise it’s easier to conform than be the odd one out / picked on?

        Same goes for consumerist things, I don’t know how I’d feel if my child was ever picked on for not having the latest trainers or gadget – I think if I sent my kids to school I’d have to concede some of our values for fear they’d suffer for it. It’s a really difficult one, and it makes me really think unschooling is the right choice for us.

        L x

    • Lizzie 15 May, 2014 at 6:58 pm

      There was a brilliant boy at my daughter’s school who came in on dressing up days (world book day etc) as a female character -e.g. Little Red Riding Hood – the rest of the family were the other characters, Mum was the granny, sister the wolf etc. He also played the main part, a girl, in his Year 6 end of year show, and was brilliant (I didn’t realise he was a boy at the time!). He is so confident and popular and clearly supported by his family.
      Of course, if a boy wants to wear pink but isn’t quite confident enough to and so chooses not to, that’s his choice too.

      • Eline 15 May, 2014 at 9:33 pm

        This is exactly where I struggle. I do think it’s due to the parents’ fears being reflected on their children, and I would LOVE for my child to be the confident one. And I’d love to be the parent who doesn’t impose her own choices simply for fear of my child getting hurt.

        Can I do it though? Of course I’m always going to try my hardest to be supportive, to instill that kind of confidence in him, but I wouldn’t be human if I wasn’t terrified that it would all end up going horribly wrong. So while I also think that it would be wonderful if all parents could be relaxed and hands-off about this kind of thing, I just don’t know whether I’d “go first”, really! So Lucy, I admire you endlessly for having the courage to stick your neck out on this and step away from the controlling mainstream.

    • Exsugarbabe (@Exsugarbabe) 18 May, 2014 at 10:10 am

      What to let your kids wear gets really interesting when you have a teen girl, you want her to have fun and express themselves with their clothes but you know men will shout and leer, this disturbs me as an adult. Of course a few stupid, nasty men shouldn’t stop any woman wearing anything but this is reality. My daughter bought some interesting leggings and we walked into town, we soon got shouts and it got worse so we were forced into buying some tights.

    • Catherine Kilgour 19 May, 2014 at 5:26 pm

      I would say to worry about ‘what if’s’ and just concentrate on being a better parent for the child you have.

      As to the pink tutu I would find out why they wanted the pink tutu. Also I would let them know that some people think that pink tutus are only for girls and might call him a girl. If they did he could tell them that what you where doesn’t change who you are and he is still a boy. I would also suggest that he could save wearing it till he gets home or he could take a change of clothes in case once he got to school he changed his mind.

      My son got mistaken plenty of times when he was younger because he had long hair. He would just say to them politely but firmly “just because I have long hair does not make me a girl” I let him know that there are some things he can do when he is younger that he won’t be able to as a adult depending on what sort of job he chooses. That people might treat him differently because he has long hair. I used his uncle as an example. My brother spent several summers either working on yachts or at summer camps and would let his hair grow long and cut it in time to go back to work in an office where looking professional made it easier for people to accept that he knew how to do his job professionally.

      Yes it is a question of balance. There is no way my son can cycle to swimming when it is an hour drive away but he can ride his bike to get takeaways two blocks away if I take his wants into consideration and not leave it till it is too little time for me to walk there next to him on his bike.

  • Ross W 15 May, 2014 at 1:25 am

    One thing I’ve become aware of is how this works with the giving/sharing of food.

    We’ve spent much 2.5 years pretty much giving Isaac the food that we think he should eat, and expecting him to eat it.

    Isaac now likes to share his food with us, and I’ve become acutely aware that I turn down his offer most of the time. “That’s Isaac’s food, not Daddy’s”. But, I’ve been giving him bits of Daddy’s food and expecting him to eat it. Why shouldn’t he give me food and expect me to eat it?

    We’re pretty equal in the food-eating stakes now. So why are the rules different for him than they are for me?

    As he gets older and more competent, confident and independant, I find myself more and more asking what it would be like to be on the receiving end of the ways in which we sometimes treat him. And I find myself more and more giving him freedom as a result. Explaining to him how the world works, keeping him out of danger, but trying and trying to giving him choice.

    • Lucy 15 May, 2014 at 10:01 am

      Perfect ๐Ÿ™‚

  • ThaliaKR 15 May, 2014 at 1:43 am

    Thank you, Lucy.

    I find this way of looking at adult-child relationships an enormously helpful and influential one. ‘Would I say that to an adult’ is such a good test, and pretty much governs my parenting.

    Most parents will have instances at the edges we want to argue about retaining (safety, school, etc) but even very traditional/hierarchical parents could, I expect, find a lot of help in using these ideas as a lens for looking with fresh eyes at other less contentious interactions: mealtimes, choice of clothing, programming the non-school half of the day.

    Young children, especially, control *so little* in their lives – even in our very child-centred/gentlish household the vast majority of our son’s day is essentially out of his control, however much we try to give him lots of choices and latitude. Every little bit of encouragement of his autonomy and personhood counts.

    Keep writing on this, please! The more everyday examples the better, probably. Thanks heaps!

    • Lucy 15 May, 2014 at 10:00 am

      Yes, I agree. In fact, I am a bit taken aback by how poorly this has been received across the internet by traditional families.
      Can’t we all look at our lives and consider encouraging freedom for their personhood and autonomy a little more? Apparently not.

      I feel like I have written something utterly ridiculous… when to me it just seems, well, just.

      • Jo T 15 May, 2014 at 10:40 pm

        I don’t know that it’s been received poorly. Or that you’ve written something ridiculous. I think that, as usual, you’ve written something that is provoking a lot of thought and conversation. But I also think that people are always going to struggle when they’re told they’re not respecting their children when they’re simply trying to love them in the way they know best.
        I don’t know that the definitions are helpful either. To read that your desire to prevent discomfort, or pain; your hope to stop the people you love best making decisions that could hurt them; your aim to live in peacefully in community is because you assume that you, as an adult are better than your child. I really don’t think that’s at the heart of it at all. It’s great to ask the questions. It’s important to think about how we consistently demonstrate to our children that they’re feelings are valid, that their bodies are their own, that they are free to ask questions and make judgements and you (and many others who I massively respect) have landed in this place. Maybe we all will at some point. But ‘accusing’ people of an ‘ism’ is never going to go down well. I think at the heart of most ‘isms’ is a fear of the ‘other.’ I’m not sure this can be an ‘ism’ when for most people the way they parent their children is the opposite – a great love of someone who isn’t other, but is very much a part of them. Do you get me?!
        ps. I know you’re not an accuser. Or even really a judger. But I think that this post is sort of a bit like that.

        • Lucy 16 May, 2014 at 11:54 am

          Hi Jo… I hear that and I can hear how it might have come across that way.
          I still struggle to see how this ism isn’t an ism. Perhaps I am narrow minded about that.

  • Eumaeus 15 May, 2014 at 2:10 am

    I think it is awesome. Yeah, you know, you don’t go over board. But this is the kind of stuff Jared Diamond talks about in his book – oooooh more scientifically, generally speaking i think it is very right. we’ve never had a problem w/our kids burning themselves on the wood stove. they are careful when they pick up knives, they go to bed on their own sometimes, yeah they don’t fast forward through the scarey bits but they go out of the room and do something else for a while and come back. wearing too many clothes or too little, yeah that’s fine. Candy is the hard bit. Grandma brings over too much.
    Thanks Lucy.

    • Lucy 15 May, 2014 at 9:58 am

      Will look Jared Diamond up, thank you!

  • ThaliaKR 15 May, 2014 at 2:24 am

    Oh, also have you seen Jane from Nothing by the Book? Unschooling and wonderful.

    Here’s her great post on ‘unfooding’:


    • Lucy 15 May, 2014 at 9:58 am

      THANK YOU!

    • Lorraine 16 May, 2014 at 6:41 am

      This does not sound like ‘unfooding’ to me?! What about if the kids want to choose to have ‘crap’ in the house? And what about making a distinction between ‘good and ‘bad’ food? And not letting your children have certain foods no matter what? None of those sound like unschooling choices – they are all about the parent knows best! It’s fine if she wants to bring up her children like this and thinks it ‘works’ but to call it unschooling is probably incorrect. Also, this is how we used to be too and my kids certainly never asked for more cauliflower! There is not a one-size fits all in parenting, but if you can nurture the relationship between parent and child as much as possible with love and respect then I think that’s about the best we can aim for. btw I’m only on day 4 of unfooding hence this standing out for me ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Catherine Kilgour 19 May, 2014 at 6:38 pm

        My husband insists on buying processed crap for my children’s breakfast. He knows my opinion but I also know I am only one person and maybe over time make different decisions.

        My son’s love broccoli and eat carrots raw. In fact when they were younger they even ate cauliflower and broad beans raw straight from the garden. I try and introduce them to a variety of foods. There are no yucky foods, just foods you may or may not like the taste or texture of but you won’t know until you try. If they don’t like a particular food after trying it I thank them for trying a little bit. They know I don’t like pineapple but Daddy does and so do they. We have pineapple in the house and use it on homemade pizzas with a small area left without it for me.

        My husband did the cooking for a few years and used a lot of packet food. It has taken a while for me to get fresh food to taste as nice and for them and for them to get used to more subtle flavours. I cooked macaroni cheese last night, not my best, yet one child asked for seconds. If they don’t like my cooking I try and find a compromise and give them more of something they do like on their plate or a sandwich and try to improve the next night.

  • Tan 15 May, 2014 at 3:46 am

    I have to say that I agree with exsugarbabe and I think that this perspective is slightly skewed towards the negative in terms of the parents motivation and behaviour; it is not the ‘powerful against the less powerful’ in a parent-child relationship (unless it is an abusive relationship), it is the ‘more knowledgable loving and guiding the less knowledgable’. Young children’s brains are still developing physiologically until 7/8 and therefore they do not have the capacity to make certain decisions themselves. Also, we do not exist in a vacuum, most of us live in busy communities where there are certain expectations of behaviour in place for mutual safety and well-being, children have little concept of societal constructs and expectations and nor should they have. It is our job as parents to teach and guide our children and that means having a direct influence; as much as I believe in letting children find their own paths, discovering as much as possible for themselves and respecting their feelings and opinions, there is a line where I make decisions that will keep my child safe and happy and guide them to thrive in the society we live in by understanding it and therefore being able to change it for the better, if they choose to x

    • Lucy 15 May, 2014 at 9:58 am

      I can only question this using my own experience.
      In my experience my three year old is, often, EXCELLENT at decision making.
      For example…
      Ramona was watching a film. I came in and said that we were wanting to go and do a supermarket shop so we had some stuff for lunch. But I know you are enjoying your film. What shall we do? Ramona replies, I will watch for a few more minutes, then i will hit pause, and watch it later. A few minutes later she presses pause and we all go to the supermarket.
      I think we massively underestimate children.
      I also want to question the need to bring up a child according to societal norms, particularly as these are often quite destructive.
      Safe and happy: YES. Perfectly compatible with not oppressing a child’s will and spirit ๐Ÿ™‚

      • SVH 16 May, 2014 at 8:46 am

        Out of interest, what would you have done if she had said ‘I will finish watching the movie and then we will go’ and the movie had, for example,90 minutes left to run?

        • Lucy 16 May, 2014 at 11:49 am

          I like to think I would have thought “Wow, she has a pretty intense need to watch this whole movie” and we would have changed plans so just one of us stays back (we always have things we can get on with at home, I guess. I often work whilst sitting next to her watching a flick.)
          However, we often hace this conversation and it has never happened. I wonder if allowing her freedom over it means she can relax a bit more about it? Like, yeah, it will always be there so I’ll hit play when I get back.

          • SVH 16 May, 2014 at 7:32 pm

            We have this situation sometimes and our little one also has the same freedom but he v rarely wants to come back to it later. I personally think that many of the situations described here are down to the personality of the child in question. I also think that there is a fine line between respecting children’s rights and becoming child – centred (which, in my opinion, risks leading to children growing up to believe that their needs and wants come first even if that is at the expense of everyone else’s…)

    • Lizzie 15 May, 2014 at 8:17 pm

      “It is our job as parents to teach and guide our children and that means having a direct influence” – Think about this: what things that your parents were dogmatic about (that they would have seen as ‘guiding’ you) did you decide to reject in your own parenting, that you now consider to be arbitrary? E.g. we grew up without a TV, my parents were dead set against it, for our sake. My mum goes on about the effect on concentration skills etc, not to mention the effect of growing up with aggressive marketing influences, stereotypes, etc etc. Whereas there was no way in hell I was going to let my daughter grow up without a TV -and it has been enormously educational, entertaining, relationship-building for us as a family! My mum gave us hot chocolate before bed every night, I avoided doing the same for my daughter (though now I’m moving towards unschooling I fail to see why!). Little things like that, do they really matter?

      Also, ‘guidance’ is different (or can be, depends what you mean by it!) from ‘dictating’. I see it as my responsibility to keep my daughter fully informed, and that can include my own opinion if she clearly wants it, and then to use that information to help her make a decision, which is ‘guiding’ – whereas making the decision for her would be ‘dictating’. We decided to home educate from September instead of send her to secondary school. I secretly did all my research first to figure out it was possible and that I felt strongly enough that it was a good idea, I then put it to my daughter, telling her in a factual way what it would involve, and what the school alternative would be, and she emphatically chose home ed. It was ultimately her decision – if she had chosen school, I wouldn’t have been happy about it but so be it.

      Obviously there has to be limits, to do with safety as you say – my mum always chuckles about when we were in Paris when I was 11 and I kicked up a fuss because they wouldn’t let me go off on my own for the day. I don’t even remember it, but even if I could remember my indignation I would be fully understanding of their reasons for ‘no’!! Having said that, when I was about 3 I got my 1.5 year old daughter & I home (a mile or so) when we got lost once, so perhaps I could have managed Paris alone at 11! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Eva 15 May, 2014 at 9:28 am

    Hey Lucy,
    your post made me smile.
    It comes at the right time (like I lot of things, I find!), while I’m reading a lot of unschooling stuff and Grille’s writing and remembering something Sandra Dodd says “Read a little, try a little, wait a while, watch.” I try and I see incredible things happening…
    Another bar of chocolate might give a tummy ache or an evening of craziness, but that’s probably more important to learn than me just saying for them “That’s enough” because I think is bad. And after seeing N (2.5 yo) eating 2 ice-creams for dinner once and now barely finishing one or declining chocolate, I realise important things are happening in front of my very eyes.
    Swimming costumes in winter? It might happen once, I don’t see them doing it over and over again… And we should be there with a blanket for them to run into when they realised it’s cold. Also, I used to swim outdoor in winter so swimming costumes in the snow seem reasonable.
    I agree – there are indeed “very few circumstances that are really about safety”.

    I want to be there for them while they explore the world their own way.

    Thank you for your post!

  • Xanthe 15 May, 2014 at 10:36 am


    “Do unto others as you would have them do into you” and “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all <- something my mother and/or Disney taught me. We used to chant these as kids, mostly to each other in order to ensure no retaliation, ha!

    But seriously, yes! Guide a little (no hurting people or property), but let go a lot… and in all things strive to remove the judgement. I've just learnt a new phrase: "I can't let (his body) (fall to the ground)" – isn't that so much more respectful than "I can't let (you) (push him over)" ? I love it and am working on that every day!

    Keep it coming x

  • Arwen 15 May, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    I think the negativity you are hearing following publishing this post is direct evidence of how ingrained power-over philosophy is in our parenting culture. Children want to learn, grow, be safe, make choices, and function within our society. They need support, assistance to reach the high shelves, sometimes respectful advice and sharing of knowledge, but mostly just our unconditional love. They don’t need teaching, training, coercing, or controlling. I’m seeing the fruits of this philosophy every day. <3

  • Melanie Little 15 May, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    It’s perfect! I couldn’t agree more – kids are capable of so much more than what traditional/mainstream parenting allows for. But it’s only once we step outside of that paradigm that we see this for ourselves. The criticisms in the comments here are, as said above, simply indicative of that. Parents can love their children and come from a place of wanting to protect and guide and still wind up undermining kids by exerting their power of them unnecessarily. It’s a brilliant post and I will happily share widely! Well done and keep on writing because for every vocal criticism you have many quiet readers nodding and questioning, which is a wonderful thing! I am so very grateful to you for bringing this message to people ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Katherine Norman 15 May, 2014 at 6:47 pm

      This rings so true for me.
      I try to think about whether I can actually know what my child feels / needs better than my child – clothes and food are really good examples.
      My experience has been that each person feels temperature differently. And by the balance of numbers the one who is out of sync is me – not my children. If my children don’t put on their coats or want to go out with less on than I feel comfortable with me wearing then I inevitably find that it is because I feel the cold more than they do and that if they are wearing their coats then they are physically too hot and end up really miserable, and I end up carrying the coats anyway. (Doesn’t mean I can’t be prepared for the weather and take coats for later if we are going far).
      The same with food – there is no way another person can know what, when or how much someone else needs to eat.
      The more trust I have given them the more able they are to understand their own body – to take a coat if they are cold, or going far enough for it to matter if they get a bit cold. And the less they desire chocolate, sweets and other less healthy foods.

      • ThaliaKR 16 May, 2014 at 9:12 am

        Hear, hear, Katherine, esp on the clothing – how can we think we know how they feel?

        My son always wants about three fewer layers than me. I tend to feel his hands, and if they’re iceblocks, draw his attention to that, but very rarely insist on more layers if he’s clear that he feels fine, and he knows that I’m carrying the extra hoodie if he needs it later.

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  • Wanderingsue 15 May, 2014 at 7:53 pm

    I totally empathise with parents (and nannies) who don’t want the inconvenience of having to carry all the coats, or change wet clothes again, or whatever.

    Giving women the vote was darned inconvenient, too.

  • Bella 15 May, 2014 at 8:30 pm

    My son happily wears flip flops in January, he also asked me for a jacket when we went out the other day in (what I believed to be!) warm weather. I’m pretty sure he isn’t going out of his way to make himself feel uncomfortable so the only other explanation is that he knows what is happening in his body more accurately than I can guess!

  • Laura Fobler 15 May, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    Years ago, I worked as a coach and then I became a mother. I wondered why I had so few battles with my child, while my husband (and so many others around me) had clashes with their kids a couple of times each day. It intrigued me and therefore, I soon became an expert on this very topic and discovered a major difference in communication skills between me and (most) others. Today, it is my life’s mission to help parents around the world to realise that our world would change if we all feel accepted, supported and inspired by everyone we ever encountered. It’s my strong belief that we should start this process by accepting, supporting and inspiring our very own children. I teach parents what to say and how to respond to their children in a way that makes them feel accepted, supported and inspired. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, this is the change that I have been hoping for. From my perspective, this is the change we all need in order to create a world we all wish for our children!

  • Ceci Manus 15 May, 2014 at 9:15 pm

    I’m struggling at the moment. I HAVE to go to work – single parent, have to earn the money, but every day there are struggles – dd (age 10) and ds (age 5) dont want me to go to work, they want me at home with them, they dont want to go to school. I have a lovely childminder who is great with them and I think they do genuinely like her. The school is as good as I can find. I hate that I have to say every day – sorry I have to go now, you have to go to school, you have to stay with the childminder. I wish I could do what they want – stay home with them. Any advice. Love your post.

    • Laura Fobler 15 May, 2014 at 9:48 pm

      Hello Ceci,

      I can honestly relate to you struggle, as I had them numerous times myself! First, please realise that ‘wants’ are not the same as ‘needs’. We all need food, but we do not all want candy or apples or sandwiches. In order to keep your children happy, satisfied, content (and so on), please address their ‘need’, which might be, is this case, attention? Or the need to be visible? If you are aware of their need (if your kids are old enough, you can check this by simply asking, is they are too young, you can check by trying different solutions/wants), then be creative, you can even involve your kids in, and think of different solutions/wants that also fulfill the need ‘attention’. Maybe an hour exclusively with you with each child (no other siblings allowed) will do the trick? Or involving them in your daily activities, one way or the other?
      If you address only their wants (instead of their needs), you will create monsters! If you focus on their their needs and come up with a solution that works for ALL involved, you will create loving, happy, satisfied, altruistic and empathetic children!
      Second, please be aware that YOUR needs are addressed too! This way, your children will learn that other people have feelings and needs too. It may or may not surprise you, but even most PARENTS have to be told that their kids have feelings too!!!!
      I hope this helps! Best wishes, Laura

      • Lucy 15 May, 2014 at 10:17 pm

        Do you think wants and needs are that distinguishable? Sometimes a want is the expression of an emotional need? Wanting to play comp games in order to feel good at something or to relax… I think our view of wants can be oppressive…

        • Laura Fobler 15 May, 2014 at 10:54 pm

          Yes, wants and needs are definitely different concepts, but we may use different words that creates the ambiguity? Most people do not communicate about their needs, they tell their wants! So part of our job as a parent is to be aware of and communicate about our kid’s needs. So I agree, yes, often a want is an expression of a need! All humans have needs, they are many of them, like the need for food, the need to celebrate or to mourn, the need to express oneself, the need to relax, the need to learn something, the need to feel good about oneself, and so on. Wants are solutions for needs. People in general ‘behave’ (do what they do) because they want to fulfill their needs! So when a child has a need to relax, one child may play games, the other one may choose to sleep for a while. One need, 2 solutions. I agree that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish them. It needs a lot of practice and even then! In that case, keep asking yourself these questions: ‘What need is my child trying to fulfill with this behaviour? How can I help him or her fulfill the need in a way that is acceptable to all people involved?’ Needs can always be met by many different solutions/wants! Does this make any sense?

      • Lorraine 16 May, 2014 at 6:51 am

        I disagree strongly that they will become monsters! This is like the idea that if kids get too much of something then they will become spoilt. If anything, a child who has their needs and wants met through a strong and trusting relationship with their parent/carer will not become spoilt but the opposite. I do think if your resources are stretched then focussing on needs may be helpful, but who are we to decide if our children are really needing or they are wanting?

    • Lucy 15 May, 2014 at 10:15 pm

      Hi Ceci
      Hey, awareness is the first step, eh?
      It sounds like some good dialogue could happen “At the moment we are in this situ where mum has to work and you have to go to school, can we think of some ways together to make this easier for us all?” How are they treated at school / could ask the teachers to be more respectful…
      Begin saying by saying yes to your children more. Talk to them about the change. And see where life takes you all.

      • Chimay 20 May, 2014 at 6:28 am

        Yes, we do this often. We work together to find solutions. The conversation in our house might sound something like… “You are really don’t want me to go to work. And I need to go to work, because we need the money for our house and food. What can we do to make it easier for you?” “What don’t you like about school? What can we do to make it better?” And then listen. And let them know you are listening. “I wish I could stay home too! Wouldn’t it be fun!” And be honest about trying to find solutions.

    • Lucy 20 May, 2014 at 10:33 pm

      I’ve asked your Q on Facebook page to see if any extra thoughts x

  • Alex 15 May, 2014 at 9:33 pm


    Your thoughts formulated in this post are not ridiculous at all. It sadly has become engrained in our society that it is found unnecessary to respect our children’s needs and to trust their intuitive wisdom. I believe children (and even young babies) are smart and can teach us adults a lot. There are a few situations of imminent danger which we need to protect them from, but these are rarer than we probably think.

    ‘Acceptable behaviour’ sets me off. First of all – acceptable to who and why? Is the cause worthy of behaving acceptably for? The guidance often thought to be required is not always only about ‘do no harm to others’ but far too often about ‘I don’t want you to because I say so’ – arbitrary exertion of control only because we adults have become used or conditioned to a certain way of doing things, which often isn’t the best, smartest or even a justifiable way of doing things! If we acknowledge that we do not know everything better and can/do/should still learn as ‘grown-ups’, we could in fact enjoy to grow WITH our children. I often feel a breeze of freedom when I have listened to my baby and found that he knew more than I did, on a more immediate, simple, instinctive level – those moments feel like my eyes have been opened! It’s empowering for both. A win-win situation!

    Believing in little people seems so uncommon in the environment we live in and makes me personally feel very lonely with my thoughts. If it makes one feel ridiculed, that’s painful, but it is also often how a revolution starts.


  • Alex 15 May, 2014 at 9:44 pm

    @ Ceci

    Despite of what Iโ€™ve commented above, I DO understand the difficulties of putting our ideas of parenting into practice as they can depend on situations we have little influence on. I sometimes feel that I will need to go radical (unschooling, which I am thinking of right now but which will depend on my boyfriendโ€™s future job situation) in order to avoid those societal norm traps, however, this only works in certain situations. Being a single mum is so tough, and like you I would love to hear about any ideas how to conquer challenges to the way we WANT to parent.

  • Laurenne 16 May, 2014 at 12:38 am

    Lucy I LOVE this post so thank you for writing it. I have been thinking over it all day while out and about, and discussing it with my hubby.

    I’m not going to lie it is a battle every day to not do some of these things, out of pure lack of thought and habit – it is so ingrained, especially as my parents, and their parents and pretty much everyone around me parents so traditionally. I know I am guilty of these often but I don’t take these posts as an attack ( as some clearly do), I just think they are an amazing, AMAZING reminder of being mindful about how we treat our children.

    And my god does it make a difference. My toddler has amazing powers for reasoning for her age because we have always explained things to her rather than forcing unexplained rules on her. I always feel so proud when I can hear her talk something out (she was talking out loud with her her 13 month old sister to ‘only touch strawberries gentle because they need to grow and we can eat them!’), and today when we had to stop playing in the garden to go out instead of getting upset she said ‘Leave watering can here, Lissy will play with it later’. So she’s starting to find mutually acceptable solutions without us even suggesting them now, how cool is that?

    As for coats etc, I think we get far too involved in power struggles like that ( I have too in the past). It’s hard to let go of that want for power, but I am determined to try! It’s so much easier all around to say ‘Ok you don’t want your coat on now, I’ll stick it in my bag and you can ask me if you get cold, OK?’ than to force a tantrumming toddler into a coat because you want them to wear one there and then. Who cares if little old ladies tell you they need a coat ๐Ÿ™‚ I always just say with a smile ‘it was her choice, we have one ready, she’ll tell me when she’s cold’.

    Every time I think of saying ‘No’ now I try to think ‘Why, why can’t they do / have / wear that?’ and I so often find that it’s some arbitrary reason like I don’t want to change their clothes again before we go out. Does it really matter?

    The please / thank you thing really gets my goat, I completely believe they pick this up from modelling eventual and never force my kid to say it. My friend told her little girl today to ‘say thank you or you’ll go on the naughty step’ gosh she is 2, I always think how fab it is that they can just speak and express their need or want for something (even if it is barked at you on occasion) – have you never forgotten politeness when you are engrossed in a task? They are so little to expect them to understand and follow silly social convention religiously! 90% of the time my toddler always says ‘please’ and ‘thank you darling’ anyway, so it clearly comes eventually!

    Thank you again for the fabulous thought provoking articles ๐Ÿ™‚ L x

  • Rosie 16 May, 2014 at 8:07 am

    It was wonderful to read this post. Thank you again for making / taking the time to write about things that actually make sense in such a back-to-front society! I feel like so much is said on the subject of parenting, and so little cuts to the core of what it’s about. I am continually criticised for my approach, which completely revolves around mutual trust and respect. Something which my baby more or less demanded from me from day one. And yet, I regularly receive praise and all-out astonishment at his level of comprehension, composure and competence at the tender age of 2. Somehow, nobody makes the connection that by allowing him the highest level of automomy possible at every stage of his life, he has developed the skills to manage this freedom and thrive on it. I feel so lucky to have witnessed this, but it is so hard to explain to someone who hasn’t seen it /done it themselves.

  • ThaliaKR 16 May, 2014 at 9:54 am

    One more thought: the grey/difficult area for me (we prob all have one?) is personal hygiene. If my boy only brushed his teeth or washed as often as he genuinely chose, I’d def be in the neglect basket.

    One thing that helps me cope with the endless negotiations and infrequent insistings is thinking about what my boy would understand and forgive as an adult. If I were insisting on getting my way about things like food or bedtime, he’d be quite right to resent that forever, or at least know that his parents were always wrong and misunderstood him. But if as an adult he looks back and remembers being cajoled into brushing his teeth (or getting in his carseat) despite clearly not wanting to, I reckon he’d cut me a bit of slack.

    Having said that, I think we can maaaassively reset our expectations of what’s ‘necessary’. We embark on the great teethbrushing negotiations once a day, rather than the twice I’d be keen on. Once is fine, if that’s what we have to do to all be sane and happy.

    And allowing an extra five minutes (aka ETERNITY) for being ready to get in the carseat is actually a fairly reasonable price to pay – more reasonable, I think, than bodily forcing him into it which is the alternative many choose.

    Oh, one *more* thought – the carseat reminded me. A friend said to my sister once, with respect to getting anxious waiting for a gap in the traffic at rush hour: there will always be a gap. It might take a FULL TWO MINUTES but there will always be a gap. I find that if my expectation is instant compliance, I’m gonna be very disappointed. But if, when my boy is prancing around the backseat avoiding getting his straps on, I think: ‘well, it’s probably two minutes at the most, he WILL want to get in eventually,’ then I relax hugely and everything is easier.

    Sorry, that was very stream of consciousness.

    Thanks again, Lucy, and all the other encouraging commenters. Yay you!

  • Amy 16 May, 2014 at 10:00 am

    My children teach me so much every day, i may change what i do because of the response or reaction from them. They guide me instead of the other way around.

    We home educate. My 11yr old chooses how he spends his time, where he goes, what he eats, what he wears, when he goes to bed etc My 5yr old has a little less freedom in how she spends her time because she cannot stay at home alone, so she has to come with me to some places. She finds it hard to go to bed when she is tired and becoming unhappy so i help her to recognise those feelings, she has stayed up and been very upset and found it hard to fall asleep, so she knows she needs to go to bed before that, even so she doesn’t want to stop playing. I acknowledge her feelings and make bedtime happy and peaceful, she chooses; her clothes for bed (not always pj’s) if she brushes her teeth, her story/game, where she sleeps, if i stay or go.

    Its all about the relationship you have with them. Always giving them your unconditional love and approval, even when they do things you don’t like. When my children fight and hurt each other, i stop the fighting, i comfort the hurt one, acknowledge how they must be feeling; cross etc and i help them both to feel better. I then engage them both positively. Conventional parenting would be very different, maybe being cross or at least disapproving (even if its the behaviour, the child feels it is of him.) Maybe a lecture about ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Then maybe a consequence or punishment or isolating them, which makes the child feel worse and the relationship suffers.

    Children need freedom and trust and in this society most have very little of either.
    Great blog ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Maureen 19 May, 2014 at 2:29 am

    As a mother of 6, and a grandmother of 12, I believe in giving children choices… but not just random, off the wall choices… They’re getting ready to go to school. They choose the jeans they want to wear. You give them 3 choices of a shirt… Any of the shirts would be fine, but THEY get to choose the shirt they want to wear. They learn they have choices, but making a ‘bad’ choice isn’t an option. That method can be used in food choices, etc, etc, etc. We are first and foremost the teachers and guardians of our children. It’s up to us to teach them how to function in the real world. We are the ones with the experience, it’s up to us to help guide them with that experience.

  • Chestnut_Tree 20 May, 2014 at 9:16 am

    I love this blog post and am really surprised that anyone is talking about kid safety as if you are advocating completely negligent parenting! But even within the arena of kid safety there is plenty of scope for more respect of the child. If you stand by, watchful, ready to step in, but also aware that children learn through experimenting, its very different from saying ‘no’ when your child is still far away from getting hurt. I didn’t realise this with my first child and only now with my second, do I realise just how quickly babies learn through their own trial and error and they learn much more quickly that way than through us saying ‘no’ (or any variation of that intervention).

    Obviously I’m not talking about trial and error with road safety or putting objects into sockets, but more common day to day scenarios where adults tend to step in far too early. As the kids get older, this sort of ‘too early’ intervening can be seen in playgrounds where adults step in when kids could easily sort out their own issues and often step in when the kids see no issue themselves but the adults do. I think if the kids are not at all distressed, why interfere? If the kids are distressed and obviously not handling it well, then go ahead and coach them in resolving the issue.

    So yes, respecting our kids more extends into a myriad every day scenarios. The effects it has on each child will depend on their temperament I think. Our son (almost 5) is incredibly confident and I think being given a lot of control over things has fed into that. At times its exacerbating as he feels he can just go ahead and do whatever he thinks is the right thing to do and when that clashes with what I need to do it can be a bit of an issue and I do have moments where I think for a nanosecond “I wish he was more compliant! I’ve given him too much of a free rein!”. But that self-confidence and freedom is so precious especially when I see him interacting with other kids and adults. Its a self-confidence that I feel home schooling can really nurture.

    I do struggle all the time with the freedom over what to eat. I have friends who put out a meal and if the kid doesn’t eat it, then they don’t get anything else to eat. Then others talk about letting kids eat whatever they want, whenever they want. We went through a long delightful phase where I kept sweets, crisps and chocolate within reach of our son and he was happy having just one Jelly Bean a day for example and knew one packet of crisps was a reasonable amount to have occasionally. But then, I don’t know why, his self regulation went a bit pear-shaped and he started scoffing the Jelly Beans etc and would happily wolf down two or three packets of crisps given the chance and then not be hungry for a proper meal for hours. So now, we don’t have those things within reach and even with biscuits, he suggested 2 a day would be reasonable but struggles to stick with that amount. What to do? With meals, I’ve realised that its more important to me that he feels he can say no to food than it is for him to eat a specific thing I’ve put out at that moment. Again, its an adultism. I wouldn’t say to my husband that he must eat a dish I”ve made if he doesn’t like it altho to be frank I find it annoying when he doesn’t ๐Ÿ˜‰ But like some commentators have mentioned above, it does make an adults job a bit more difficult because then you need to make sandwiches and spend a while asking ‘so what would you like instead’ etc. But its a price worth paying, surely?

  • Leigh 20 May, 2014 at 9:27 pm

    Totally agree with Melanie Little when she says – “Well done and keep on writing because for every vocal criticism you have many quiet readers nodding and questioning, which is a wonderful thing!” Dialogue around parenting is tough (like religion and politics) because it is so deeply personal that just a couple of slightly skewed words can be the difference between opening people’s eyes to a new perspective and the potential for insult or more defensive walls. I appreciate everyone’s commitment to this topic and think its great that I have read this post!

  • Leslie Kendall Dye (Ms. Collins) 21 May, 2014 at 12:20 am

    I couldn’t agree more with this post. I wrote about this a few months ago here:

    I looked at the situation from the perspective of an actor, who must learn empathy before she can really do her job. Same goes for a parent. Anyway, that has helped me try, even when I am exhausted or frustrated on a long day, to put myself in my little girl’s head and see her behavior as normal for her situation and not there to frustrate my plans or be disruptive.

    Thank you for writing a post about this, I see this problem every day! I would add that adults seem to think they are allowed to touch children, this one is especially troublesome when you are trying to convey to a child that her body is her own. I get irate when strangers cluck and pat her head, truly robbing her of her personhood and boundaries. I don’t know what the lasting effects are, of course, but there must be some and do we want to raise children who are not respected? What will they be as adults, what scars do they carry forward?

    Please keep this conversation up!

  • Carol 22 May, 2014 at 11:40 pm

    Hi Lucy, I don’t have kids. I read you’re articles because you always have such incredible insight the world around you. I always leave your site feeling like I’ve had the wool lifted from my eyes.
    I read your work on adultism and was reminded of this comic. I don’t know if you are familiar with it:
    Its illustrated by Ethan a 29 year old comic book artist. The stories are created by his 5 year old brother Malachi.
    I don’t know of a better or more visual example of listening to a child’s ideas and running with them.
    I think it’s fantastic.

    • Carol 23 May, 2014 at 12:10 am

      Wait. I forgot to mention some more sensitive children with vivid imaginations might find the comic a bit scary or violent. There’s quite a few pages with aliens getting their heads chopped off. Usual sort of comic book stuff.

    • Lucy 23 May, 2014 at 11:10 am

      WOW, thank you! I love it!

  • Jordan 14 July, 2014 at 7:10 am

    This is my favorite post in the history of parenting posts. I’ve felt strongly about respecting children as we respect fellow adults for as long as I can remember, but since having my daughter 16 months ago I’ve really noticed how much of a minority I am in my thinking. Thank you for this post! It’s brilliant.

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  • Rachel 2 June, 2017 at 7:37 am

    I connect with this so an such a deep level. Every part of me agrees whole-heartedly with what you are saying. I can’t believe in these so called modern times it is still our cultural norm to block our children on their own personal route to authenticity. My family has always had very ‘traditional’ and ‘mainstream’ and dare I say ‘Old fashioned’ and ‘dictatorial’? There I said it! ha! It has been such a daily battle to create the space for my children to grow as the people they already are. I just want to thank you so much for writing this and putting it out there, so that those of us quietly getting on with parenting this way day by day being judged constantly do not feel so alone in what we are doing and feel passionate about. Please keep writing about these important issues…this is by far the best and only blog I ever turn to in any minor moments of doubt or wobbles caused by other over bearing influences! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Lucy 2 June, 2017 at 10:41 am

      Oh wow, thank you Rachel. I am so glad I can help keep you steady when you know this stuff so deeply. YES!