Why Aren’t We Rude to Grown-ups the Way We Are Rude to Kids?

sad face

Ben Martin listens to the way we talk to kids. And he finds it incomprehensible that we can’t give them the respect we give to adults.


What the ever-loving, craptastic, holy heck! I’ve seen adults reprimand kids countless times before, but it wasn’t until yesterday morning that I finally noticed what assholes grown-ups are when they talk to kids.

It began in the library at about 8:00. I overheard a woman as she was tutoring three middle school kids. The tutor, her voice already dripping with disgust, sighed, “Open up your textbooks.” One of the guys, who looked particularly bleary-eyed and tired, was slow to react and the tutor said, “Is this how we’re going to start? Really?” She was exasperated already and the kids hadn’t even settled into their chairs. She began to drone out the text and asked the kids questions that had clearly been designed by the chairman of the board of a mattress company specifically to put people to sleep. Over the next half hour, she split her time between reading aloud from the textbook and complaining that the kids a) needed to keep all the chair legs on the floor, and b) needed to wake up and answer the questions she was sleep-reading from the book.


Later, I overheard an exchange in a classroom of early elementary age kids. The teacher, teeth audibly clenched, and with all the enthusiasm of a politician testifying before Congress, said, “I’m going to get some games for the classroom and I want to know what ideas you all have for what games would be good to have.” It sounded as if she resented the kids for making her take the time to explain this whole “classroom games” scheme. The kids, being of the younger variety, were pretty excited about games in the classroom in spite of their teacher and started calling out the names of their favorites. The teacher’s response indicated that this was exactly the kind of bullshit she’d expected. With a tone that virtually cried out that it was all she could do not to bang her head against a wall, she said, “You know, I do not have to get games for you!  If you’re not going to raise your hands and talk one at a time, I just might not get any games at all.” Rinse and repeat as the little kids quieted down, got excited again, and were threatened with no games again.

At swimming lessons it was more of the same. All the kids had to get out of the pool to put on life preservers for the drill they were about to run and a 5 year old fast-walked around the pool. I get that you can’t have horseplay or running at the pool. Safety is important. Still, that doesn’t excuse the way the instructor shouted the boy back into the pool to re-exit and slow walk it. After the lesson was over the instructor began handing out congratulatory certificates. My son, Steve, who always has to pee by the end of the lesson had gone straight to the bathroom from the pool. The instructor held out Steve’s certificate without looking up, said, “Steve,” and then, still not looking up, shouted, “STEVE!” before I had a chance to take it and tell him that Steve was in the bathroom.

During the swimming certificate distribution, another boy, who looked to be around 4, stood and swung a faux-olympic medal around by the ribbon. His mother grabbed his arm, snatched away the medal, and shouted, “You’re going to hit someone with that!”


In each of these cases, the rudeness occurred in the context of doing something helpful or special for the kids involved. It was all just tokenism. The fake-gold medal, the swimming certificates decorated with smiley-face stickers, the special games for the class, and the extra help with homework were all designed to bolster self-worth, but were all undercut by a lack of basic patience and consideration.

I’ve done these types of things myself all too often. I’m impatient. I’m exasperated. I’m tired. I predict the worst behavior and then react to it before it happens. I’m not saying that the tutor or the teacher or the swimming instructor or the mom are bad people. Hell, there’s a better-than-even chance that they’re kinder, more patient people than I am. Some other guy is probably wrapping up another blog post right now based on something awful he heard me say to my kids. For one reason or another, it just really struck me today, for the first time, that even the most well-behaved kids get talked to this way every single day. Our collective inability to treat kids with basic respect provides one consistent message: you’re irritating and in the way.


The Way We Talk to Kids

I, however, don’t get spoken to the way kids do. People just…don’t shout at me. I honestly don’t remember the last time anyone spoke to me the way I heard literally dozens of kids being spoken to throughout the day in a variety of settings yesterday. Not when I’m at home. Not when I was employed. Not when I’m on the subway. Not when I make mistakes. Not when I’m a bit lazy. Not when I skip out on brushing my teeth before bed. Not when I lean back in my chair. I’m not a particularly intimidating person, but people don’t roll their eyes and grit their teeth and talk to me like it’s all they can manage to just keep from punching me in my big, fat, stupid face.

I also don’t remember the last time I spoke to another adult that way, but I probably raised my voice or spoke impatiently to my kids yesterday. I don’t remember because, honestly, it wouldn’t really stand out as unusual.

Picture this though: Imagine that an intrepid hero, we’ll call him Grown-Up Man, is waiting to get on the bus. It’s cold. There’s a woman in front of him who is not immediately boarding the train and is holding up the line by a few seconds. She’s probably just daydreaming or something. Imagine that instead of clearing his throat and saying, “Train’s boarding”, our hero raises his voice and spits, “Hey! Stop spacing out and get on the train right this second! You’re holding up the whole line!” The woman would probably give Grown-Up Man what-for unless she was too frightened of him. Others in line might tell our hero to calm down, or would at least give him a bunch of ugly looks. Now imagine that instead of being some grown-up woman, our hero is talking to an eight-year-old boy. That’s not even an interesting anecdote anymore. Maybe someone would raise an eyebrow and then go back to playing with their iPhone.

Here’s another one. Imagine you’re at a spinning class at the rec center. You’re pedaling away, but you really have to pee. So, you get off the bike and start walking toward the bathroom when the instructor stops everything and says, “Hey! Where do you think you’re going? Get back on your bike now.” “Umm. But, I have to go to the bathroom.” “Okay. Fine! Maybe we should all just wait here until you get back. Come on! You’re holding up the class!”

I know that my circumstances, gender, and even dumb luck play a part in keeping me from being shouted at regularly. It’s certainly not that I’m a particularly competent person. I know that parents sometimes shout at teachers. Bosses sometimes swear at employees. Customers scream at waiters and cashiers. We can pretty much all agree that when that happens it usually means that the one who starts the shouting is being an asshole. When it happens between a kid and an adult, it’s easy to dismiss it as just the way things are.

As a dad, I know that I’m a role model for my kids. I’ve always been careful to treat people respectfully. I say thanks when people hold the door. I don’t yell at waiters when they forget that I wanted them to hold the onions. But yesterday I realized that it’s not enough to just show my kids how I try not to be an asshole to the bus driver. I also have to recognize when I’m being an asshole to them.

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photo: vesparado / flickr

About Ben Martin

Ben Martin stayed home with his kids for 5 and a half years before going back to school to become a social worker. After his daughter was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis, he and his family moved to Boston and he returned to being a stay-at-home dad. On this second time around, he's taking a more thoughtful approach to being a husband and father. You can find his personal blog at www.afamilyinthecity.com. You can also follow him on twitter @FamilyintheCity


  1. Kendall says:

    But sometimes people are harsh with kids in order to let them know about the seriousness and gravity of the situation. Sometimes you say, nicely, “Hey, Johnny, may I ask you nicely not to swing that gold medal around as you may hurt someone?” And Johnny continues. Next thing you know, Timmy lost an eye because Johnny didn’t realize that, yes, you really can hurt someone else by swinging a medal around.

  2. Thank you for writing this, it’s such a great point. Sometimes we forget that we’re the adults and, even when we’re tired and cranky, it’s up to us to help teach our kids how to deal with things in an acceptable way. Us yelling at them when we’re stressed is only teaching them that it’s okay to take your stress out on other people. (I still haven’t gotten this formula right, but am working on being more mindful when dealing with my son!) Great post.

  3. I get it. We should be more respectful to kids as a collective whole. I practice respectful parenting myself, and I’m flabbergasted at times by what I hear in public. Yet, picking on teachers is a pretty low blow. I’m a teacher, and we have literally thousands of interactions with children each day. One flustered, irritated moment is analyzed when I imagine the teacher had many other respectful, understanding, and thoughtful moments throughout her day and week. You make the teacher out to be a real asshole and most teachers are heroes in my opinion. Perhaps you should have a little more respect instead of picking apart a moment.

  4. This definitely made me think about how I speak to my children. I don’t, however, agree that we should speak to children the same way we speak to adults. Kids are adults in training. An athlete in training expects direction, encouragement and honest feedback from their coach. The questions we need to ask ourselves is are speaking to our kids like a coach or like a bully? The difference very much lies in our motivation and a kid can tell the difference. Are we correcting them because we are training them to be thoughtful and responsible adults or are we snapping out of exasperation?

  5. Sarah Pearce says:

    I find that many parents talk that way to their first child, the second if it is close in age, because they don’t know how to be good parents yet. Those with older kids know we much take it slow and talk to the kids to get what we want. It breaks my heart when I see some young busy mom yank their poor kid around and yell at them because they are tired/exasperated.

  6. This is SUCH a great point. I often overhear people being rude to their children in my place of work. I’m not perfect and, like you, I’ve been snippy with my now 10 year old daughter from time to time, but I realize that just because she’s little doesn’t make her less deserving of my respect. I want her to learn to treat others the way she wants to be treated, and that means following the Golden Rule myself when talking to her as well as any adult. Thank you for your perspective.

  7. Good article… Too bad the language you choose makes it inappropriate to print in some of the places I’d like to share it. We can all pretty well agree what words are offensive, even if they’ve fallen into casual use. Using those words is also rudeness. Why not extend the respect to your readers as to a grandparent you respect?

    • I agree – lost me in the first sentence with his vulgarity of language!! However I did manage to keep reading, tripping over more vulgarities – is this how most Americans speak? (I’m an Aussie) Then just before the end he finally acknowledges “as a dad, I know that I’m a role model for my kids.” I get the point of the article, but I find it incomprehensible that he can’t write without using the vulgarities he apparently uses in his normal speech. He certainly isn’t a good role model if he talks to his kids in the way he wrote for us.

  8. Thank you. This is exactly how I feel & is expressed far better than I could. Love, love, love it!

  9. Excellent article! So cool how you’ve brought this issue to light. This is a huge double standard in our society. I truly believe if parents, teachers and anyone who interacts with children are more mindful of how they talk we can raise kids with healthy sense if self worth. The expectation we have fit out kids cannot be higher than the ones we have for ourselves and other adults. We need to give them room to just be human. As a family coach my goal is to address this issue and empower parents to be more mindful in their actions and words.

  10. Just so. Treating children with respect not only teaches them to respect others, it teaches them they are worthy of respect themselves. How many of our choices hinge on self worth?

    Yeah. This is important.

  11. Well, let me be the other side of the coin and say a snapshot of how people are is not a good gauge as to how they are at all times. Also when it comes to reaction to poor behavior, even if not intentionally, the more its corrected the shorter someone will be with them. Your notion that we don’t speak to adults the same way is wrong if you think about it like this; lets say I tell my husband to take out the garbage on Monday at 6pm. By 7 its not out so I remind him, nicely of course. 8pm still in the can. 9pm I am ready to go to bed and the garbage is STILL in the kitchen. he finally takes it out at 10 before going to bed, but after its stunk up the kitchen. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday we have the same situation. Do you think by 8pm on Friday I am going to tell him in the same tone I did on Monday?

    When my kids were young I saw my son’s 2nd grade teacher looking like she was just ran over by a truck. She sighed and said “I can’t believe its only Tuesday I don’t know how I will make it all week” and as a few kids came running into the class tossing their backpacks to the ground she snipped “hey you know better than that!” At the time I left thinking she is sort of mean to be a teacher, so I went in and talked to the principal about it. I was then told she was a Kindergarten teacher for 9 years but was told to quit because of medical problems resulting in panic attacks. She opted to move to 2nd grade because the school divided students into smaller groups with several teachers allowing her to have less than 10 kids most of the day. Over the school year I learned how great she was at teaching kids, and realized her tense nature was partially from conditioning.

    Its easy to say “I will never yell at my kids” but sometimes there is no way to talk to them in a calm voice. When my 2 boys were small and would fight/ wrestle around it was cute, but as the years went by and they grew up we would end up with holes in the wall, broken furniture and one time an arm through a window that resulted in 9 stitches. When they start fighting my voice does go up, about 50 decibels up, especially given they are now 18 & 20 and can do quite a bit of damage in my home. Last time my oldest visited they instantly started wrestling and fell into a door ripping it off the hinges.

    On your example of the slow moving woman getting on the train no one would be rude just once, but if every morning this woman stood there and held up the line eventually someone is going to speak up very rudely, and the other regular riders will smile, even if inside, because they agree. I find myself yelling at coworkers and other adults more than I do my own kids because sometimes adults just need to be corrected. Just last night I snapped on an intoxicated man who felt the need to make belittling remarks to me.

  12. Yes, It drives me crazy when I hear my kindergartner dish out my very own bad attitude. It pushes my buttons and gives me the much needed reminder that I am indeed responsible for his outlook on life and the way he treats himself and those around him. Its also a good reminder that I must not sound so pleasing when I’m dishing it out myself. Its a good look in the mirror.

  13. Yes. YES. YES!! Thank you for saying what most people don’t connect when speaking to children – Kids learn to speak to others – in the exact ways that they have been spoken to. Be kind.

  14. The thought occurs that some people speak that way to children because kids are smaller and there is no backlash from treating children this way unless its extremely ovbious you’re abusing them. The further thought occurs that some people like to talk to kids like dirt because they’re self-centred abusive assholes who get off on control and degredation. There ARE those who have just hit their limit (parents) and those who simply dont know how to speak to children (not-parents), but these are temporary states. There are a LOT of people out there who exist in a permanently malicious state and taking cheap shots at defenceless people makes them feel big. Its disgusting.

  15. Exactly!
    I thought something similar when I was leaving my gym. There was a big white slobbery dog ‘locked up’ waiting outside the door and as everyone walked by they said things like, “Hey Big Guy,” or “Oh aren’t you cute!” and bent down to rub his neck…

    I wondered why the members were not so nice to each other, hardly looked at others in the eye or smiling as they passed in the locker room or on a bike, but to a non-human… they were so friendly and positive…

    Sad realization that people treat each other and kids so poorly.

    • Well to be fair, if someone in the locker room looked at me and said “Hey Big Guy, aren’t you cute” and started rubbing my neck, that might not go over so well…

      That said, good point – we often treat animals better than we treat each other. Then again… Some people don’t.

  16. You make a very good point! I too am guilty of snapping at my kids and then get exasperated when they melt down or dare to speak to me in the same tone. I have seen a little saying that states, “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” Thank you for the reminder!

  17. One of the best articles I have read in a really long time. Spot on. Brilliant. Could not agree more.

  18. While this is written very well and of course I (and everyone else) agrees with you in proncie, there’s a few problems with it, namely: reality, repetition and the nature of both kids adults.

    I have a son. He’s 6. And I am what most people would consider an extremely patient and even-keeled parent. I can count on one hand the number of time I have actually yelled at my son, and most of those had to do with imminent harm. I am liberal with praise and when I criticize, I choose my words carefully.

    All that being said… In daily living with a 6 year old child…. You bet you ass I’ve said some off those thigs here, like, “stop swinging that, you’re gonna hurt someone.” Medal or not. Sometimes several times in the span of five minutes. You know why? Because kids are so busy enjoying the moment that they can’t retain your basic safety and etiquette requests most of the time. So what starts out as “put your socks on, honey” at 8:15am eventually becomes more and more urgent and aggravated until the 6th repetition at 8:40am is “c’mon, man, really? Socks. Feet. Now. Or you’re not going to the movies tonight.”

    Now take that…. And repeat it every day…. For every action…. Big and small…. Every week…. Every month..: always. And you can see how it is no longer “rude” but simply how you interact with a child because of past learned behavior. We don’t interact with babies that way. Why? No past behavior to base it on. We don’t interact with adults that way. Why? We assume they know what they’re doing.

    So while I respect the spirit of the article… It doesn’t really hit the nail on the head as much as people seem to think it does.

  19. This is because children are not full people. What? (you say). Who else can you grab roughly, hit if you feel like it, verbally assault, and generally treat like trash? (as long as their yours!) Who else has no right to make decisions for themselves?

  20. There’s a reason that everything you overheard was education related. Please read this amazing essay and you’ll realize that children are spoken to this way on purpose, so that they quickly realize that mindless obedience is the only option: http://www.cantrip.org/gatto.html

    The reason we don’t speak to other adults this way is that we don’t have to – they were spoken to sharply as kids and learned to fall in line with little fuss. Any adult who isn’t compliant is a lost cause – why bother? It’s kids that can still be shaped and molded.

  21. Respect is earned, and when you’re a young child, people don’t have a lot of respect for you. That’s what sucks about being a kid. Even though you feel great and you have tons of energy, people treat you like crap. Everybody bosses you around. You have no control, no autonomy. If you’re lucky, you get to choose which color shirt you wear to school and which fruit you want in your lunch.

  22. No matter if adult or child. We are humans and deserve a mutual respect. Because what goes around comes around and we (adults) are the culprits

  23. I definitely understand what the author is saying. I hate it when I’m out in public and a parent is constantly belittling and talking angrily to a child. Just the other day at the grocery store I witnessed a mother tell her young son (who was just asking for a particular brand of cereal in a quiet, polite manner) “shutup. god you’re annoying.” There is absolutely NO place for this kind of treatment of children. I am not a parent, but I worked as a nanny and know that it is completely possible to maintain patience and discipline in a firm, but loving manner. On the other hand, I don’t think our children should NEVER feel bad about themselves. They need to be told off from time to time. They are young and still learning about life. They need guidance–that’s what adults are there for. To keep them safe and teach them how to interact with others and get what they want from life. Sometimes that requires-gasp-a negative word or two. It is all about balance. We can’t be too kind-hearted because our children will not respect anyone if their parents cannot even shoot them the stink eye once in a while(my mom used this very advanced parenting technique and it worked!). They will become entitled and spoiled and will run all over their parents. Trust me I’ve seen it. Sometimes the kindest people have the most awful, selfish adult children. Like I said, BALANCE!

    Also, please don’t go out judging the people around you because you see one slice of their day. I hate this tendency of some adults. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt because nobody is perfect. I love my husband more than anything and I snap at him every once in a while and I can imagine that I will eventually do this to my children and feel terrible about it. We are human. Unless you see abusive behavior that should NEVER happen, try to be understanding because you don’t know if they have a migraine, if a loved one just died, or if they are just plain having a bad day. Be honest with yourself and realize that it happens to the best of us sometimes. We snap at people we love and don’t mean to. I agree with the author. Do everything you can to treat your children with the respect they deserve. Every interaction with them should begin with respect. As long as you always START this way they will know that their reaction to your respectful treatment has consequences. If they don’t mirror your respect back, the consequence is that they will get disciplined.

  24. TheBrutalKremlin says:

    Go ahead… get it to the point where n one dare correct, discipline or teach the little entitled brats – and 30 years from now when you have no ind=frastructure, a drug-ridden party culture and a collapsed economy – you can relax in the warm knowledg eyou were afraid to act like ADULTS and treat children as children rather than equals.

    You’re creating a faux impression of the world they’ll NEVER be able to survive in.

    • In my experience, the kids with the respect-focused parenting tend to be the ones holding the door for everyone else and volunteering to take care of the younger ones. They are the ones who work hard, and don’t whine, because being treated like a real person encourages you to act like one.

      I do group childcare. The kids I work with know how I see them: a real people, with working brains, who deserve respect, and trust and explanations…and of whom I can expect responsible, self-controlled behaviour. They work hard at meeting and exceeding my expectations, because they know my respect is worth something, and they don’t want to lose it. That applies to kids as young as five years old. The three and four year olds require a little more gentle repetition and firm instruction, but if you are unable to maintain discipline over three-year-olds without yelling, hitting, or humiliating them, it is not the children who are entitled brats.

  25. I often wonder why so many adults become teachers when it seems that they can barely tolerate the sound of a child’s voice.

    We are rude because we are frustrated with an expectation [that a child live like an adult and an adult’s pace] that is not realistic and not in keeping with average child brain development.

    It is a shame, and a detriment to our culture that we view children this way. I work closely with very young children and I see rude and polite alike as adults interact with their children and a correlation in maturity levels and self control in the children.

  26. I have to say that as an adult, I DO get spoken to that way by pool personnel. Generally through their megaphones, which magically serve not to amplify their voices, but to muffle them like they were adults in a Peanuts special. It incenses me, because it is pointlessly authoritarian and needlessly rude. The only reason I don’t push back more is that they have the power to eject me from the pool, and that would mean that my daughter would be unable to go there.

    But I get what you’re saying. I work very hard at treating my daughter and other children with respect and patience, because that’s how I want to treat people. I’m not always successful, but that’s true across the board.

  27. I agree everyone should treat everyone with respect but I disagree that it’s just children being treated with disrespect by adults. There is a general loss of civility in our American culture that has slowly but steadily increased over the course of the past twenty years. I think reality television is a big contributor to this issue. The media giants have been glorifying this no holds barred, anything goes peek into the “real” lives acted out on TV and has elevated bad behavior to celebrity status. Think Jersey Shore, The Real Housewives Honey Boo Boo etc. I’m a public school educator with 28 years in the classroom. My colleagues and I deal daily with students who are hostile, rude and insubordinate. At the same time we have many students who are respectful and cooperative. This issue isn’t as simple as blaming the children or the adults. To generalize is to overlook the pervasiveness of the problem. Sadly I can’t offer a solution other than to behave respectfully with everyone myself and to teach my child to do the same.

  28. This is eye opening. I would never talk to my husband or even my dog the way I talk to my son. Sometimes I feel badly about it and apologize and explain that I was upset or that I didn’t have a lot of time and that it wasn’t him that I was mad at but not all the time. thank you for bringing this to my attention and I will do better going forward with my communication with children. Cause you know? THey are pretty amazing and they are our future!

  29. I think its because children for the sake of their own survival are narcissistic. And our rudeness is probably a reaction to their narcissism

  30. wellokaythen says:

    Logically, we should look at ALL possibilities.

    If it’s unfair to have a double standard about rudeness, then perhaps the solution is:

    Be more rude to adults.

    • Ok, I’m going to assume you are being sarcastic, in which case, well done, Sir or Madam. I just spit out my drink all over the counter, thankfully missing my computer. Thanks for the laugh.

      And if you were being serious…..well, I’m not sure that’s the best solution, but it’s still pretty damn funny.

      • wellokaythen says:

        I thought it might be humorous to some people, but it wasn’t intended to be sarcasm. Logic is logic. If adding open-mindedness, objectivity, and logic to a conversation makes it sound funny, then there’s something wrong with the conversation….

  31. Instead of spin class what if you walked away from your position in am assembly line? Or walked away from the tables you were serving? Or left the surgery? Equating spin class to a science lab or tailing off the end of a swim class when there are 30 kids waiting for the next to start doesn’t seem equivalent.

    So yes, you get up and walk away from your position in the assembly line you will be treated with the same rudeness as a child who puts the class behind schedule.

    • Nobody would deny an adult a bathroom break. A responsible adult would tell someone that they are leaving the assembly line for a moment if it were necessary to keep the line moving.

    • If an adult left any one of those situations, we would first ask why. And if there was no good reason, we would reprimand them. But what we wouldn’t do is speak to them with the contempt and bile that I hear so many adults talk to children. And if you did talk to an adult like that, they’d probably punch you. But then, you can probably beat up a child, right, so you can feel free to be nasty to them?

    • Megan Sailsbury says:

      I’ve waited tables. I was not only permitted to attend to my bodily functions as they arose, I didn’t even have to ask anyone’s permission.

  32. I dont believe I could possibly disagree more. You are missing a very important underlying key in the development of children. I don’t yell at adults because honestly, I don’t care about them enough to get riled up. However, when my son runs at the pool, he needs to understand that he needs to stop NOW! This is for hus safety. If I tell him to get in the car in a sweet voice and he fails to move and I bark a quick Hurry Up Son… he gets the idea. He knows I still love him, and we are all over it in a second. If an afult is taking to long and im the driver, I’ll just leave them rather than allow myself the stress of getting worked up. I do teach my son respect by the way I act towards others and in the way I treat him, but when he is not following directions, I add a little emphasis to get the pount out. So, you may go rught ahead with you touchy feely version of “respect”, but I will teach my children the importance of following rules and acting with a purpose.

    • While I get the point of the article, I complete agree with you, Wade. You can ask nicely four hundred times if you want to, but eventually you’re going to have to convey that you’re serious. Part of being a parent is teaching them how to function within a society, and sometimes that sounds a little asshole-y.

    • Jen de Jong says:

      Yes there are times that you have to yell…….if safety is at risk…..but the basic “waiting for the bus” analogy he gave requires no yelling at all……sometimes we need to think before we speak

      • Agreed. It’s okay to yell, ” slow down” or “no running,” however, it is so not necessary to make that child get back into the pool and get out again “properly.” That is just controlling and a whole lot of bullshit. No need to demean or humiliate someone in the name of teaching.

    • I think you’re seeing an artificial dichotomy here. The alternatives are not restricted to “ask sweetly 6000000 times” or “snipe at them like they’re dirt on your floor.” One does not have to move straight from “you want to get in the car honey?” to “GET MOVING THIS SECOND!”. If the kid is reasonably intelligent, and has been raised with consistency, reasonable expectations, and basic respect, a slightly firmer “[name], get in the car, we’re going to be late” – same as you might say to an adult friend – will usually do the trick. You can catch the medal-swinging kid’s arm and say briefly “careful please, you could hit somebody.” and 9 times out of 10 of the time, that will be sufficient. The 10th time, you can repeat the action with the word “stop” instead of “careful please” and that tends to do it.
      No one is saying that the situations he describes in the article should have been ignored, and left to continue unaddressed. But they could have been addressed more politely, without treating the kids like crap.

      • I agree that the article set up an artificial dichotomy. I have found that I get irritated with my child when I have to repeat myself – like tell him to put his shoes on more than once because it’s time to go to school. The first time, I’m pleasant “Please go get your shoes on.” And if he gets distracted or simply doesn’t do it, it’s “Get your shoes on.” And if he still doesn’t do it, “Get your shoes on, or I’m going to take away [whatever toy is his favorite at the moment].” And then he complies. But, I find that if I set up the consequences for him the first time “You need to get your shoes on please, and if you do not, I will take away __________” (or whatever the consequence is going to be), I get a much better response immediately and I never go to a place of irritation. As adults, we (at least more than children) understand the consequences of our actions (“If I don’t get to work on time, I might get fired, so I better get my shoes on and get out the door.”) Whereas, with kids, they need us to spell it out for them. When I do that, it not only gives the child some power in avoiding a negative consequence. I have learned and am pretty good at this now – so in the above example, I wouldn’t say “Careful, you might hurt someone…” I would say “It is too crowded right now to be swinging the medal around, as you could hit someone. If you continue to swing it, I will need to take it away from you.” There is clear directly, a clear consequence, and gives the child control to make his/her decision about whether swinging the medal is worth the consequence of it being taken away.

        • ^ That works too. And I definitely see your point about adults having a better intuitive understanding of consequences, so spelling out your intended response clearly is helpful for kids. That’s not inconsistent with the idea of respecting kids as people – in fact, it’s exactly the kind of communication an adult would expect in a situation where they couldn’t anticipate the consequences.

  33. My family and I have just moved back to Switzerland where my husband is from. It is simply amazing how polite and “non-drama infused’ child/adult interactions are here. We have gone “back in time” literally 30 years and my girls are finally blossoming in public school here. Public school in America was the most horrible time my girls experienced at the “mouths’ of adults. Now they cannot stop exclaiming how much they love their teachers simply because “they like me”!

  34. The two things kids lack today are discipline and respect for adults. To be treated with respect, you need to earn respect first. Kids haven’t earnt that yet. You can’t treat them like adults because they don’t have the wisdom to act like adults. That’s life.

    • I think that is backwards thinking. If children don’t receive the basic respect deserved by all individuals, how can they learn to give respect? My first reaction to anyone is to offer respect and courtesy. Thereafter, others can only loose my respect or bolster my opinion of them by their actions.

      Adults do need to learn to treat others, particularly children, with patience and respect. After years of ‘patriarchal authoritarianism’, we can see what our world is like: harsh, unkind, greedy. And one should not confuse avoidance or fear with respect.

      Adults lack all sorts o common courtesies with children. How many adults have gotten into my daughter’s face or touched her without asking?

    • Wrong on so many levels. Respect is something that you decide to or not to give. When I speak respectfully to stranger by saying please and thank you-they didn’t earn it. I don’t even know them. Heck, they could be a pyscho killer. But I still give them common courtesy and respect. It is taught by modeling. The more you do it, the more you get it in return.
      I have taught alternative education high school students for 5 years. When a student says to me “leave me alone, I’m not doing work, I just want to be left alone” I leave them alone. I respond by saying “I’m sorry, it seems like youre having a bad day. I’d love for you to do some schoolwork with me, but I will respect your space. If you are feeling better before the class ends, I will be sitting over here, and I’m more than happy to work with you”. Guess what? They-95% of the time-will come over and work with me. Willingly. And the quality of their education is MUCH better because it’s work THEY come over and choose to do. And if they don’t do the work, they come over to me and tell me things. Like that they were in jail until 4 am this morning b/c their mom kicked them out of the house and they had no where to go. Or that their parents were fighting all night. Or that they are sick and haven’t seen a doctor is 4 weeks because their parents can’t afford it. A lot of adults wouldn’t have respected their wishes. A lot of adults would have forced them to work. Would have gotten into their faces, pushed the work on their desks, would have written them up for detention. Then I ask why the student is in alternative ed. “They punched a teacher”. My first thought is “well, they got what was coming to them, then. Let me guess-they kid said ‘leave me alone’, and an adult got into their face. Exacto.” I have taught students coming out of detention centers and jail, kids with drug addictions, kids who brought guns and knives to school, kids who are a part of gangs. I have NEVER feared for my safety. I have been pregnant twice while I worked there. Those kids respected me-because I respected them, their wishes, and their space. They held the door for me, they carried things for me, they ran errands for me to make my life easier.
      If we want kids to do something, what do we do? We put them in ‘time out’…ok, so we are isolating children away from their sources of comfort, love, and guidance. HOW is that going to guide them to learn how to ‘obey’ a ‘command’ that they don’t want to? This is all about skills. Every time we punish kids, we remove something they wanted. But we don’t do the second-and most important-portion of that. We NEVER teach the kid. We never teach the child why and how to listen and obey adults-just that they should.
      We are the adults. We are the ones with years of guidance and expertise. WHY do we expect little kids to act better than us??????

    • I don’t agree with you. Everyone deserves respect and courtesy. That simple common decency. To think and state otherwise is practically screaming out that you treat others badly.

    • Jen de Jong says:

      This is the dumbest thing I have read – How is a 2 or 3 year old soposed to EARN respect when they have no concept of what it means………they learn based on what they are taught – perhaps this is the exact reason older children have no respect – because we have not taught it to them………I do agree that older children/teens could use some work, but we as parents have to recognize when we are wrong…..and thats exactly what this blog is doing…….
      Best way to teach your kids respect is to show it to them…….otherwise the only way they will respect you is out of fear – pick which one you want.

    • Many adults today lack patience and self discipline. They were raised to believe that being an adult meant you got to do whatever you wanted, and they are surrounded by a culture that tells them that convenience and comfort are a right, not a privilege. As such, you get adults who throw temper tantrums about how some stressed out kid “ruined!!!!” their dinner, or their outing, or their flight – because dang it, they *should* be comfortable, they *should* only have to listen to the things they want to listen to. it’s their *right*!!!

      Unfortunately, the real world doesn’t work like that. In real life, you have a right to control the environment in your own home, and that’s about it. The minute you enter a public space, you have to put up with the other people who choose to be in that space. You can complain about that if you want to, but to do so comes off – ironically – as quite childish. Of course, those of us with more mature attitudes will put up with your childishness the same way we put up with the other minor irritations of daily life – but it won’t give us a high opinion of you.

      When I want respect from kids, I earn it, by showing responsibility, maturity, intelligence, and good manners. I show them basic human respect and courtesy. I speak the complete truth when I say that I have *never* seen them fail to respond in kind.

      Your whining about disrespect has certainly served to make *me* lose respect for you. I wonder if you are experiencing the same problem with the children in your life?

  35. Amen. Amen. Amen. A life Kohn would be proud to read this.

  36. A few months ago, I was at a laundromat with my 10 year old son. We were having dinner, and a man came over to flirt and talk to me. Even though I told him repeatedly that I was married, there with my son, and not interested, he continued to talk over our private conversation, going so far as to INTERRUPT my son in the middle of a sentence more than once. We had to get up and leave the laundromat and finish our dinner in the car.

    Another time, in a check out line, the cashier counted all 6 of my kids, asked if they were really mine, adn then proceeded to exclaim very loudly so they all could here, “I feel so SORRY for you.” Sorry for me? For these kids? What kind of message does that send them?? That their very existence somehow is something to be sorry about?

    Adults are RUDE to children. I don’t know why. It’s like they aren’t granted the basic human courtesies. Thank you for this article. You hit the nail on the head. Adult bullying of children has become out of control. I don’t know if I just didn’t notice it when I was a child, and that I’m more sensitive to it now that I’m a mom, but it’s completely unacceptable.

    • Fantastic article, I couldn’t agree more. Abuse is abuse in whichever form it’s delivered. And kids should never be shouted at. They always deserve better than that.

      I’ve never shouted at my 3 year old son, and never will for two reasons: 1 He is my best friend, and 2 I’ve been told I’m scary (by adults). Treat kids with respect because that’s what they deserve. If they did something wrong, it’s probably because they’re still young and haven’t learned the ‘right’ way to do it yet. Unfortunately it’s usually the adults who should know better, not the kids.

      My real problem is I see people abusing children in public all the time. That’s when I get VERY angry and feel like shouting. But like I said, I’m scary and might REALLY scare the adults! I’d love to let rip, but I wonder how I would explain the problem if someone calls the police on me! But oooohhh how I would love to… one day… just so that those kids will know that there are some people on their side…

      Kids are the most important thing that exists. They are the future, for everyone of us. For our families. For our species. For our planet. Out of everyone alive, they deserve the most respect. And It sickens me that some ‘grown ups’ act like it’s the other way around.

      One day I will snap. And I really pity the ‘grown up’ it happens to!

  37. Excellent article, I fully agree with you. Yet, it doesn’t really talk about WHY adults do this. Adults do this because this they have been treated this exact way by their parents but could never question it or even FEEL their anger and hate towards these agressive adults. The moment we start feeling true empathy for the mistreated child we were, we will start feeling empathy for the kids around us, and finally break the violence cycle. Alice Miller’s books are a fantastic read about this topic.

    • I was NEVER mistreated or yelled at as a child, but I KNOW I have been an asshole to my own child, on occasion. I believe adults behave like this because they haven’t fully accepted that they are parents. Life changes so dramatically when you have children…. If you can’t let go of your old self (the young, free spirited, spontaneous side of you), you become resentful of your current situation. I agree that some people do repeat the behaviour they received as a child, but for most of us, it’s a current mindset we need to change.

  38. Kebo Drew says:

    I am spoken to frequently as if I were a child. But then again, I am from several marginalized populations. Given that, the example of a man yelling at a grown woman at the bus stop also doesn’t ring true because of the power imbalance involved.

    However, I do also believe that children should be addressed with respect. My mother raised my brother and I by talking to us as full human beings from the time that we were babies. We responded very well to that, and we are often told that we are overly polite. Those lessons in respect mean that we are respect to others of different cultures (we lived in Latin America for a while), different ages, etc., and in generally are quite open to other human beings. I do believe that this respect also affected how we behaved and paid attention in school as children, as well as how we deal with children now.

  39. Great post! You are wise and your ability to recognize not just your own needs for reminders but your comments regarding status and gender are true and real. Thank you. I’m definitely sharing this one! I have always been sensitive to this issue and quick to point it out to others, but I know I often slip too. The key is that I’m not afraid to apologize and explain to my kids why I say what I say and why I am wrong when I do it.

  40. Sit in the office waiting for an appointment in any school and watch how the staff treats the children who come in. Usually, the children were sent by the teacher to do a FAVOR such as turn in the attendance list or to pick something up but they are still treated with disdain.

  41. Uh…what country are you living in??? Grownups ARE rude to grownups.

  42. I don’t have kids of my own but when I was a freshman in college, which was only a few years ago, I worked at a K-8 school for the summer as part of a team that supervised lunch and recreational activities during the day and then also ran the after school program. Before I took the job I went on a sort of observation day at the school I thought I would be working at, they ended up placing me at a different school but they are all in the same district so it didn’t make much of a difference in terms of the general environment. I was completely shocked by how much the adults yelled at the children. I have PTSD so I’m a little more sensitive to that kind of thing than the average person probably would be but I nearly jumped out of my skin several times in just a few hours from unexpected shouting. It made me so uncomfortable. I left wondering if I was really cut out for the job, I didn’t think I could actually bring myself to yell at someone else’s child, I felt that would violate a lot of boundaries.

    But when the job actually started I was yelling at the kids too within the first week. Now this was summer school, in North Philadelphia, so a whole lot of these kids genuinely did have behavioral problems and came from not the most stable of homes, so many of the children were somewhat conditioned to respond to aggression. As the program progressed though I started to get to know each child individually and began to realize that while children may respond to fear in the short term, in the long term it makes things unpleasant, it makes them dislike you and mistrust you. It creates an atmosphere where everyone’s just trying not to get in trouble instead of trying to do good work. But when you begin to have a good relationship with a child a funny thing happens, they start to care what you think of them! And disappointing an adult that they like and admire has a much greater impact on a child than simply angering one they don’t like to begin with. And beyond just that, when you actually get to know a child you can start helping them see the connection between their behavior and success in their goals. You can say to them “is that how you think a professional fashion designer/basketball player/ president etc. would act? Is that how they would treat other people?” You can convince them that their bad actions are not just what you don’t want them to be, it’s not who they want to be either. Even to the little boy who told me he didn’t have to cause he was “a gangster” when I asked him to settle down I said “the most successful gangsters don’t go around making a big scene letting everyone know who they are, that’s how you get caught.” From then on we made it a little game to not let anyone find out his true identity by cleverly disguising himself as a well behaved kid.

    Also, in a class room or group type situation if you have a good handle on the group it’s that much easier to keep the children in line without resorting to yelling or being “mean.” Peer pressure can be a great thing when the pressure is to be a calm and contributing member of the group. Although it can be hard to do this one correctly, I’ve seen a lot of teachers go the route of “you can all thank Billy for the class not getting any new games now.” This tends to just create animosity between children and even more discord among the group plus more acting out on the part of the misbehaving child. But when you let the majority of the group have the reward and explain to the child that is not behaving “your friends really want you to play with them, but they all worked really hard to finish their assignment beforehand so it wouldn’t be fair to them if you didn’t do the same,” I’ve found the results tend to be pretty good. Don’t focus on how bad the child is, focus on how admirable their friends are and how you know they’re just as capable of being the same.

    The things I saw that summer gave me a very new perspective on childhood and our country’s public education system. Ultimately I was very frustrated and saddened by a lot of it. There’s definitely a whole lot of areas where we need to improve and probably just as many where we’re taking the wrong approach entirely. There are bad kids, but they don’t exist in a vacuum, there are a lot of factors in their lives that cause them to choose the actions and reactions they end up choosing, and how they’re treated by the adults in their lives is probably the most important of these factors. The single best thing you can do to get a child to stop misbehaving is to simply sit them down and ask them “why?” There is always more to it than just wanting to irritate you. And if you ask what you can do to help them behave better their suggestions and insights might actually surprise you. Most children are very used to having their behavior met with scolding and yelling. But sadly being asked what’s going on and why they’re doing what they are is so rare for most that the first time it often comes as a complete surprise. It’s a nice surprise though, nothing gets kids acting like normal human beings quite like being treated like their thoughts and feelings matter.

  43. I couldn’t agree more! I’m always telling certain people to stop talking to children like that, after all you would never treat your best friend that way, how can you do that to a child? Makes me a bit sick to the stomach.

  44. Fatty Warbucks says:

    “I, however, don’t get spoken to the way kids do.”

    Are you white and middle class? Then no, people such as the police will not shout at you or speak to you like a child. There are many adults out there that do not have this luxury. Not saying that you don’t have a valid point about speaking to children respectfully, but let’s make sure we view the players through the appropriate lens.

  45. Excellent! Excellent! Excellent! If we could speak peacefully to our kids, while giving guidance of course, we might have grown ups and generations to come that would follow in kind. It might just bring greater peace for us all. It’s a super big topic. Thanks for writing about it!

  46. It’s all about position of power. People in a position of power are more likely to talk to their inferiors(?) the way that the children were talked to. For the most part adults are on an even power level. Adults (particularly teachers and coaches and instructors) are on a higher level of power than children. But look at some scenarios where the power level between adults isn’t level: policeman and a prisoner. Coach and athlete. Military (drill sergeant to private) and you’ll see the same type of talking down. Alternatively, have you ever seen a parent who has given their child the power position in the relationship? It’s horrible. It’s not about adult to child. It’s about power. Those who have power and treat those who don’t with respect are success stories that we should all look up to.

    • completely agree, I can’t remember who it’s attributed to but I always liked the quote “if you want to know what a person is really like observe how they treat their inferiors”

  47. One goal of education is to civilize young people–inviting them into the adult world of responsibility and creative work. When adults are rude as exemplified by these accounts, adolescents RSVP to that invitation with “our regrets.” Why would they want to grow up to be like that? We, as adults, have a responsibility to ourselves, civilization, and the future generation to learn to enjoy life and others. Rude behavior doesn’t display the enjoyment of our young people or life in general. What I think they learn from some adults is that adulthood comes with anger…why would they want to come to that party?

  48. I treat adults with the same scorn and disrespect I treat children, plus, if i actually take the effort to discipline a child, I’m really disciplining the parent.

  49. Yes! Children deserve respect because they are humans, too. When we yell at them, and then only speak kindly to adults, we are directly teaching them that it is ok to yell at people we see as smaller, insignificant, and not deserving of respect. They do not see themselves as not deserving of respect as many adults do, why would they? They just eventually learn that, and grow up with that. And I can tell you first hand that that is an unhealthy mindset to grow up with. We can teach these overwhelmed, young humans that it is ok to be excited and confused about this big, new world without yelling at them. We can teach them acceptable ways to deal with their emotions, again, without yelling at them. Yelling may have quick results, but the consequences of those actions are not worth it. I think it is important to take the time to “mold” our children into well-rounded, happy, and respectful adults by being that model ourselves. You can be firm without shouting. They can learn lessons without being shouted at. Kind parenting is not as easy or quick as the conventional method of being an “asshole”, but it will be worth it when that child grows up to be the wonderful human being they grew up knowing, and a great addition to humanity and society. 🙂

  50. Love it and sharing! I feel this way too and try to raise my kids with respect and sometimes fail and have to apologize and in return my kids are respectful. Amazing how that happens!

  51. Bravo! Thank you for saying this out loud and for sharing your awareness.

  52. There is so much to love about this article. From one imperfect parent/grown-up to another, thanks for writing it.


    It rocks.

  53. I might yell at a grown-up who doesn’t have the good sense to not swing a heavy metal object around that could hit someone.

    I am not meaning to justify everything rude an adult ever does, because there are adults who really are disrespectful to kids sometimes. But it’s also necessary to walk a mile in their shoes. I’ve gotten exasperated as a teacher, but it’s because I have told the kids, over and over, all year long, to read the directions for lab. And yet today is a school day in December, and I have students not reading the directions in the lab and then getting mad at me because they “don’t get it.” Maybe the teacher who is taking game suggestions has worked on hand raising and taking turns for two months, and the kids “forget” this concept every time they get excited. Should she be patient? Or is there a point where being patient enables the bad behavior?

    Re: the throat clearing and reminding people a train is boarding, most adults respond pretty well to that. But how many kids do? How many times have you had to repeat yourself, over and over and over, to a kid before you finally realized that only a stern word would get them to respond? A train conductor might very well yell at an adult who is holding up boarding if the conductor has tried four times to politely get her attention. I’ve seen that happen; haven’t you?

    Again, I think it is important to remind people to have some patience and kindness. But a few key points:
    1) there are plenty of people who are rude to adults as well
    2) we are teaching kids how to behave in the world. Perhaps the fact that we’re not as rude to adults speaks to the fact that people have mostly learned to get it together by the time they are adults.

    • Anonymous says:

      These were my thoughts, too.

    • Anonymous says:

      I can understand being frustrated etc as a teacher/parent or anyone but if after so long they still “don’t get it” maybe change your approach (not a dig, just a suggestion)

    • THANK YOU.

    • Somehow I got all the way through high school and most of college without reading the directions in the lab book before class. Once I even messed up the lab because of it. It’s not ideal but high-performing students have a lot to do these days. The lab TA was very sweet to me and didn’t make me feel stupid.

      If I had been humiliated, I would’ve focused on the humiliation instead of going to class prepared the following week. We all learn better when people are nice to us.

  54. YES. Exactly. Thank you for this. I pinned, posted and stumbled it. Every adult needs to hear this, and more than once. Me too, sometimes. 🙂

  55. I loved this article! I’m glad that others are seeing this as well. It is so sad at how people talk to children these days. They want the children to grow up and be respectable adults, but if we treat them like garbage when they are young, how are they going to be good adults?

    I was in the grocery store a few weeks ago with my 10 year old daughter and I had picked something up and then changed my mind, but we were a little further down the isle. I asked her to go and put it back for me. Only I said it like “Would you please go put this back over there for me?” There was a worker there and came up to me and told me that it was a blessing to hear a mother talk to her child nicely and not just barking orders at them. It is really sad that the way I spoke to my daughter was abnormal enough that someone actually spoke up about it. It hurts my heart to hear other parents treat their children like that.

    I also homeschool my children and while it can get pretty rambunctious around here, we love it and if they are having an off day, I just let them do something else. There’s plenty of time in life where you have no choice but to stick to the schedule and do whatever it is, I don’t believe primary school is where they have to learn that. Let kids be kids!

  56. I agree that children need to be spoken to in a respectful way and am too guilty of not always doing that. However, they do need to be given guidance. If children were adults then they would not need to be cared for by their parents. They are not yet equipped to live independently and it is our job to teach them these skills, albeit in a respectful way.
    Having said this parents, teachers and other adults are only human too. We will have bad days and feel frustrated and angry at times. Yes many adults would not speak to other adults, as they do to children, to their faces but perhaps would behind their backs. Could it be the case that children sensing the negative emotions their behaviour can induce in others is indeed a learning experience? If they are never told that something is dangerous, annoying etc how will they know and how will they learn to view the world from another’s point of view?
    Yes I agree that as adults aiming to speak respectfully to and about all our fellow humans is a worthwhile goal. But I also believe that sheltering kids from the consequences of their actions, including the annoyance they have caused, is itself disrespectful as it denies them of a learning experience.

  57. Oh dear. Thanks for giving this single mother the reminder.

  58. that is spot on, being a teacher and foster parent I had the unfortunate privilege of hearing A LOT of adults speak to children in unacceptable tones and with terrible words. I wish people would realize the long term emotional and mental ramifications of these words

  59. I think adults get impatient with kids in public mostly when the child’s behavior is embarrassing the adult. They feel they have to do something to show the other adults that they are doing their job. The response often has nothing to do with the child or correcting a behavior so much as letting the adults in the area see them ‘parenting’. I work in a public library – a library for people, where we don’t shush every noise. We understand that there will be some talking and that’s okay. Sometimes the parents are so loud and annoying about shushing their children that it becomes way more of an issue than the child simply talking. The parents who look at their child when talking, and focus on the child’s response get much better results than the parents who yell at their children while watching the other adults around them to see if they’re noticing.

  60. This article is great! And the comments in this thread are awesome too! Thanks ! I have a 2 year old and I am always trying to create a strong relationship with her. I feel that if I create a distance now with her through a hierarchical parent-child relationship….that will carry on into our relationship and I will not be her safe place when she is a teenager. Of course I’m not perfect, but I always try to recognize that she and I are both souls here to learn from EACH OTHER. If I ever catch myself yelling from the frustrations of her being 2, I apologize to her. I may be here longer than her in this lifetime , but she is equally my teacher …showing me love, patience, & joy. There is a great song by Renee & Jeremy called “Night Mantra” and it goes ” I will be your home, I will be your guide, I will be your friend always on your side….”

  61. Well said! Yes, rules must be enforced, but if you can’t/won’t enforce the rules with respect, maybe you shouldn’t be the one enforcing. Yes, children are different (louder, wilder, more exuberant) than adults, and sometimes that behavior isn’t appropriate, but if you can’t exhibit self-control and respect in your manner of addressing the child’s behavior, why should the child exhibit self-control and respect?

  62. Children obviously need guidance they also deserve respect. The expression” don’t talk to me like I’m a child” has some validity to it though. Sometimes some cause and effect tactics have to be driven home in ways that you may not approach with an adult. The games situation in the classroom for instance rewards come to those who do the right thing nothing wrong with that. Also the child who was missing when the awards were given out. Well that child certainly should have informed the adult in charge that he had left the pool area. I understand why the adult in charge raised their voice a child was not accounted for that parent should have informed the adult in charge prior to the child leaving the area.(irresponsible)

  63. Loved it !!! I call it adult bullying :). We tout how kids should not bully and then adults do it all the time … Great article !!

  64. Great article and example! If you won’t say it like that to a friend, don’t say it like that to your child.

  65. This is about as well articulated as it gets. life sucks for kids. people treat them like second class citizen. it’s appalling. And humiliating for the children. Demoralizing. Degrading. Disrespectful. Devoid of compassion. And as common place as breathing.

  66. Well said! Why adults think it’s okay to demand behavior of their children that they don’t exhibit themselves is beyond me. Thank you for standing up for our most vulnerable, voiceless citizens!

  67. Yes, but... says:


    Thank you so much for sharing your observations. I work in the early childhood field and when I am out and about it strikes me how impatient and intolerant adults can be with children. I am happy to have had many opportunities so seeing loving, caring adults interacting with children in truly authentic, respectful ways, but the disrespectful interactions seem to occur twice as often.

    I think this stems from our cultural belief that children are not “fully human”. They aren’t economically viable, the ways in which they interact with each other and in the world (play) are seen as a waste of time by our current education model, and they require a great deal of guidance, time, energy and money. We love them but objectify them, and rarely see them as individuals with their own thoughts, feelings, opinions, goals, and aspirations. And as a result of that belief, our public spaces are not child friendly. Our spaces are designed to accommodate adults, which makes sense, as adults are the ones designing them. But they’re not the only ones using them and despite what we know about child development, we still insist on children being relatively still and quiet in public. Even spaces specifically designed for children – play grounds, children’s museums, schools… are still difficult for children because they are filled with adults who hold the cultural beliefs I talked about earlier.

    Again, thank you so much for sharing what you’ve seen. I hope more people start talking about this.

  68. I really like your outlook. In my opinion the big part of the problem is that many adults don’t see kids as equal – they’re these little creatures who constantly ask for attention, who don’t listen to so many things we find important, they don’t just do what they’re told to, they also want to know the reasons why they should do that particular thing… but since the very moment a child is born it is a person on its own, it has a character, mind and heart. A kid needs a bunch of people to learn from – family, teachers, role models – but none of them are there to set nor confirm the value of that little person, they’re meant to shape personality and eventually help another human being form principles and get a clue about life.
    That been said we should have expectations depending on age and other qualities of the child, so that it doesn’t have to feel like a burden. A pre-school clearly can’t imagine the possible consequences of running around the pool – that’s what an instructor is for – to explain to the whole class it is dangerous to do that, for it could lead to an injury. That’s it – is there a need to yell when saying that? The little one won’t feel like an idiot in front of everybody and the instructor won’t get a heart attack while screaming. All the kids present at the class will learn to stay calm and be careful.
    Sadly many people think authority comes with forcing others to do what “I want” but may it be teachers, parents, whoever – those with the real authority are the ones who pay attention, who find the extra time to actually be kind. People with self-esteem don’t have a problem with being generous, they don’t need to prove their power to anyone.
    There’s no space for excuses – one day these children will grow up and they’ll be running this world and we will meet them multiple times a day. It’s up to us whether they’ll become people who care about others. They’ll be doing what they see us doing.

  69. Exactly!! Respect works both ways. Kids will learn to communicate respectfully when we do.

  70. Really? You’re in a lucky line of work. I get yelled at by adults at least once a week, for problems completely unrelated to anything I have any control over. I’m the middleman before these parents get to the person they need to talk to. And they scream at me. Adults do not hold back if they feel superior to the person they’re talking to, or if they feel like I’m being paid to listen to their abuse, or if they’re just not getting their way. Adults throw tantrums at other adults. Mostly over the phone – all bets are off when you don’t have to see the person you’re venting at – but also in person. It’s very aggressive and usually very intimidating, because working in a school you don’t know who’s psycho and showing up today with a gun.

    And I have to talk to them like they’re children to get them to shut up – which means inserting a well-placed, “That must be very frustrating for you,” or “I can hear that this situation is making you feel very out of control and angry.” Which is part of teaching good communication to kids. I recognize this feeling in you. You are emoting it this way. But at least with kids, you can then very calmly guide them into different behavior after they’ve calmed down. “It would be helpful for me if next time you want that thing, you would raise your hand.” or “We don’t hit, but would you help me by drawing your feelings?” But you can’t do that with screeching, back-talking, enraged adults. You just have to take it and call in the higher-ups. Adults who yell never have their behavior corrected, so if they were raised without learning to communicate respectfully and kindly, they most likely never will. But I’m guessing these are the same adults who are yelling at kids. It’s about power. It’s about respect. And this person’s lack of both in this moment.

    • Absolutely. I work in an in-bound call centre and have had my fair share of incredibly rude and disrespectful people say all manner of things to me. It is always the ones that have no control over themselves that flip out at having no control over their surroundings. Any perceived area of power, even if its just as a customer complaining, is held on to with an iron tight grip and then used for every inch they can get to obtain just a feeling of control.

      As parents, teachers and care-givers it is our responsibility to maintain as much control over ourselves as possible. Its not always easy or even realistic to expect that it will always work, but we are the adults and they are the children. The ball is in our court.

  71. Doesn’t this have to do with the nature of power? Why be patient and understanding when you can just force someone to do what you want without facing repercussions? Anyway, I can definitely remember this stuff happening to me as a child. It’s still odd to see how I can do some of the same stupid stuff I did back then without being yelled at; I’m 20 now. My height may also make me more intimidating than I realize.

  72. Speaking as a teacher, I think that there is a possible explanation for why we have to treat children differently than adults. There are times (most of the time I would say) when we are legally responsible for the health and safety of a child, and this responsible means we have to set boundaries and strictly (rudely) enforce them, even if this means getting a kid to get back in the pool and walk, not run.

    While I agree that sometimes this goes to far, and that bubble-wrapping children isn’t the answer (let them scrape their knees once in a while), I think that we can justify treating them differently to an adult, if we are doing that to keep them safe, which is our legal responsibility.

    • Glad another teacher commented, as I was going to echo the same sentiments. I definitely get what you’re doing with your article and agree that in general we should speak nicer to one another, but as teachers we’re given much less leeway (as he points out, legally) then people assume.

      • Thanks for bringing this up! I absolutely agree that because adults have the legal responsibility for kids it means that we have to enforce rules and limits. As both a parent myself and as a former professional in the child welfare field, I tend to think of parents as having the primary responsibility for kids’ safety and well-being. Sometimes we have to enforce rules strictly (but never rudely). For me, it’s not a question of whether or not to enforce rules, but one of how to do so respectfully.

        • Totally agree with the point made to teachers. I think that some (by no means all) teachers just aren’t capable enough, and get easily flustered, and then take it out on the kids. There was no need to make the kid GET BACK IN THE POOL…!! I remember teachers being like that and thinking (at my tender age) that they really were intent on humiliating the child in question. As adults we will often make mistakes. Then it’s important to apologise. Children who are intelligent will not respond to adults who are less intelligent barking instructions at them, caring more about the security of their jobs than they do about the fragile and delicate little people they may be affecting profoundly. My 3 children are all benefiting from excellent teachers this school year, thankfully. If we want kids to respect adults (and they should) then adults have to be worthy of respect. I am speaking as a church volunteer who runs a youth club in a deprived part of town, and volunteers as a school governor and helper as well. There is every need to be authoritarian with unruly children, but that doesn’t mean we have to be insulting.

          • The fact that you included “just aren’t capable” frightens me a bit. In my experience, most teachers who get hired are capable these days (of course, there are exceptions.) I feel like the excuse is just to blame the teacher when kids misbehave and the teacher needs to be a little strict. I completely agree with having the kid get back in the pool. Doing things over again with added emphasis helps children to remember to do important tasks that keep them safe and help the class to run more smoothly. I’m a bit frustrated that the first instinct of so many parents and the public in general is to blame teachers. Sometimes things get crazy and you have to raise your voice or have students do things over again to help your classroom dynamic or to keep kids safe. I don’t want to have to worry about someone thinking or accusing me of “being an asshole” to kids just because I want my room to run well or my kids to be safe.

            • This is a perfectly written piece.
              I am a parent of three school age children and an elementary school teacher. I am no longer shocked at the way some of my colleagues speak to their students, but I am hurt and disappointed. Those same teachers would not be speaking to the students in their classrooms in that manner if the principal or a parent was in the room. There is a big difference between being rude and being firm. My job as a teacher is to lift my children up. I don’t do it often, but know when I screw this up and it really bothers me.
              If you want to know how your younger children are treated in school, ask them to PLAY school at home. They will probably imitate their teacher, even if the rudeness they witness in school isn’t directed towards them.

        • Sometimes it isn’t even what you say but HOW you say it. I totally get what you are saying about the responsibility teachers have, but I think it is important what words you use and how you choose to say it.

    • Yes, but... says:

      I totally agree with you. It is imperative that adults provide a safe environment for children, not too safe mind you, but running around a pool and falling on the hard surface or into the water is probably better off prevented. Despite this, I don’t think that boundaries need to be set rudely. Or involve shaming or humiliating a child for their mistaken behavior. Children are incredibly resilient and adaptable, but being purposely shamed by an adult for something that could have been discussed in private or warranted a quick reminder such as “_______, I see you walking quickly around the pool. I need you to slow down so you don’t fall and hurt yourself”, is unnecessary.

      Adults are, in theory, responsible for their own well being, so I think that when they participate in reckless behavior most other adults don’t see any reason to say anything. You fall, it’s on you. You’re not my responsibility. But with children, it is our job to provide as safe an environment as needed. Not all risk is avoidable and we know that that kind of environment isn’t terribly conducive to learning. So just as safe as needed, but not so safe that children are thwarted from being children.

  73. Tamra Orr says:

    Thank you for saying exactly what I’ve been trying to say for years. My parenting mantra (I have four kids) is, If I wouldn’t say those words or use that tone with my husband/friends/coworkers, why in the world should I use it on a small person who doesn’t have the experience, maturity, skills, and perspective to let it roll off of their backs? Little people who aren’t able to rationalize that I haven’t had enough sleep or food or fun or money or anything I needed and so am taking it out on someone who can’t retaliate because they’re young and little? If anything, we need to be extra calm, patient, kind and compassionate. Keep in mind, we are raising the people who will raise our grandchildren. What lessons do we want them to repeat?

  74. Hmm…you’ve been lucky. As an adult with ADHD, I get spoken to quite often that way. I’ve seen people speak that way to the elderly as well. And…you should hear my husband explain excel or how to do other computer related things to me. I end-up getting upset and quitting more often than not. It wasn’t until I listened to him explain how to use a computer to my Dad that I realized that he could actually take the time to explain things in a slow, detailed, patient way. I’m disorganized and scattered brained, I interrupt when I feel enthusiastic about what people are saying and I often forget rules when playing (or trying to play) complicated games. Being spoken to like you’re child does erode your self-esteem. I like your solution…we should treat everyone as adults (or at least with respect).

    • Indeed. The bus incident that was doscribed happend to me, and the bus driver shouted at me. People talk to me in a condescending voice and act the way that was described in the text all the time.
      May be because I am autistic, and even though nobody knowes that, they act differently, because all my body language is “wrong” and I react differently to things.

      I used to be a tutor to children for some time, and I was really good because I tried my best to respect the children and give them the time they needed to figure things out. It is not hard on one-on-one settings, but some people can’t even do that (my mother is a horrible tuter, and if you are a little slow she looses her shit and starts mocking and shouting).

  75. wellokaythen says:

    I actually envy your experience.

    When I’m out in public, I see a lot of the OPPOSITE problem: parents who refuse to limit their children’s behavior in any way whatsoever. They don’t shout, and they aren’t rude to their children, because they’re not even willing to say “please stop doing that” or speak to them in any kind of voice, polite, rude, whatever.

    I would love to see parents treating their children as adults, because that would mean they don’t tolerate their children’s wild behavior. That would mean expecting children to behave like civilized people instead of wild animals. That would also mean that businesses have the right to kick out your whole family when the children misbehave. Yes, please, let’s start doing that.

    I’m not supporting yelling at kids or being rude to them. But, being too permissive is just as big a problem.

    • Yes, but... says:

      Yes, there are definitely parents who fail to set limits on what children may do in public areas. That being said, children aren’t adults and while I support respecting children as they are also human beings with thoughts, feelings, opinions, etc., expecting them to behave as adults is unrealistic.

      Children make noise, they makes messes, they touch things, they are curious. These behaviors are all developmentally appropriate for children, but our society is not built to accommodate children or these behaviors. It’s built to accommodate adults and the things adults prefer.

      It’s a failure to design a public sphere in a way that is both child and adult appropriate that causes us to see children as wild, unruly and in need of controlling adults.

    • ireneybean says:

      I often find myself being overly rude or mean to my son in order to avoid having the onlookers think I’m one of those parents who let their kids run amok with no boundaries. When that happens and I catch myself doing it, I readjust myself, take a deep breath, and apologize to my son. It’s really cool nowadays to complain about parents who refuse to discipline their kids. It’s also really cool to complain about parents who are too strict or harsh. Once past the adorable infant stage I quickly realized that onlookers would disapprove no matter how I handled things, so I should try to think more about what would work for me and my son rather than what would please the people around me.

    • Wrong. Children are NOT adults and should not be treated like adults in regards to their behaviour. A crazy child right now is nothing more then a crazy child right now and repressing them does not in anyway help them grow into themselves. Unless you won’t a bunch of brain died follow the leader do us your told don’t question authority drones that allow their rights to be taken away because adults spent their entire live telling them they are wrong simply for BEING A CHILD.

      • wellokaythen says:

        Okay, now I’m confused, because I’m hearing conflicting messages. We should treat children like adults, but they’re not adults, so we can’t treat them like adults, but we’re supposed to treat them like adults, but that’s unfair because they’re not adults?

        In any event, I’m not talking about childish curiosity and everyday messiness. I’m talking about children running around a restaurant screeching at the top of their lungs and practically tripping up the wait staff carrying hot food. (Saw that last week) I’m talking about children chasing each other through an art museum and touching objects worth millions of dollars, with no adult supervision in sight. (Saw that last month) I’m talking about torturing neighborhood animals when their parents are not around. (Heard about that a few months ago)

        The “kids will be kids” kind of argument has its limits. It sounds a lot like “boys will be boys,” which obviously has been taken to extremes in the past.

        To be fair, parents who are actively and conscientiously supervising their children are in the majority. I don’t notice them so much because they’re doing what they’re supposed to. I’m seeing a small minority of parents letting their children run wild. There are two extremes, the parents who are tyrannical and the ones who are checked out. From what I see around me, the checked-out parents seem to outnumber the tyrannical ones about 10 to 1.

  76. Sometimes, I suspect a power trip is involved.

    The other day, I was at a bird show as part of a parrot club, where we had a booth set up. My African grey’s taken a liking to a smallish middle school girl, who was also there, so I left said grey sitting contentedly on this girl’s shoulder while I checked out the other booths.
    I come back, and she tells me this random lady snuck up behind her and deliberately flailed around right by the grey’s face to startle her. Luckily, my grey’s relatively easygoing, so she didn’t bite, but she did flap around and screech a bit. She then tells this girl in the most condescending voice possible “And that’s why you don’t keep parrots on your shoulder”.
    I couldn’t help but notice that this lady didn’t pull that stunt with the other three club members there (of whom I was the youngest at 22), despite our all having spent the entire show with parrots on our shoulders.

    I was livid. We’d never met this lady. She didn’t know this parrot, and she had no way of knowing if said parrot was likely to bite if startled.

    • I should add that this middle school girl is also a club member, and has plenty of experience with birds. I’d never have left an inexperienced kid with a largish parrot…

  77. Nice article Ben. The comparative scenario is really powerful, I’m pretty conscious about how I talk to children but when I thought through the scenario, I noticed a difference in response in myself – will have to work on that. It’s sad that we aren’t more focused on teaching our children by example with our own behaviour towards them!


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