We don’t need to be our child’s friends. We are fine being his parents. There can be democracy in a family even when the inter-generational boundary is maintained. As long as we are willing to hear him out and then put our views forward, without forcing them on him, it is a conversation. Insisting he agrees totally with what we say is browbeating. “Oh, I see what you mean” is a good way to preface our rejoinders, not as a tactic but as a genuine way of connecting; a child can sense if we are merely patronising him. In fact, apart from enjoying a satisfying chat with the child, we stand to learn something from the interaction as well.
It is very easy to shoot down a child’s arguments, especially as we are more powerful than he is. What choices does he have? If he gets angry, we call it a tantrum; if he dissents we call it impertinence, and some of us may even invoke the ‘respect your elders’ bit, as if that is a clincher. At this stage he is young enough to fear losing our love. Neither does he have clever arguments to win against us. So he acquiesces. But compliance does not mean he is convinced, and making a child obey is not the only way to resolve an issue. In a few years he is going to be older and bold enough to dismiss your pronouncements with a shrug and “Whatever”.
Of course, there are many situations where the child is unambiguously wrong, and there is no way we can entertain anything more than a quick explanation. Even within the constraints of such a situation it is possible to be understanding, but firm. The child is likely to be receptive to our views out of trust rather than fear or confusion.
Our approval means a lot our children. If we respond with disapproval or shock to something he says or does, he gets confused and insecure. Obviously he had used his judgment and thought he had done the right thing. Shouldn’t we at least give him credit for using his head and ask, “Then what happened?” His action is likely to get clearer to him in the telling. After all, we don’t really need to put our stamp of approval on the day to day occurrences in his life. Mostly we simply need to listen, and understand and respect his reasoning from his perspective rather than offer unnecessary opinions.