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Children Don’t Want Your Power! They Want Their Own…

I came across this image on social media last week, and it really resonated with me; it’s a topic I have very strong opinions on and that I talk about A LOT!

Power is a double edged sword, isn’t it?
It’s easy to abuse it instead of use it, and it’s easy to embody the belief that you don’t have any at all.

One of the most important aspects to the healthy development of a child is their sense of ‘personal power’ but – in homes, schools and other settings – the general expectation is that children don’t have power; adults have power over children.

Although, partly I think, because just the word ‘power’ is so loaded with negative connotations, we instead tend to use more palatable terms than ‘power’; less loaded words like ‘authority’ or ‘control’.
Who has the power ensures that control isn’t lost or authority isn’t undermined, that order is kept.

And sometimes that’s necessary, of course. Power that you’re not ready for is never going to be a good idea.
But authority is too easy to use against children; not to just keep control, but to take it; to overpower them.

When we think of children being in control, we probably imagine them running amok, destroying everything in their path and basically making life hell for their grown-ups.
Thus, the idea that children should be in control is thought of as a Very Bad Thing in society.

Even in a healthy school environment, for example, the decisions that typically determine where they learn, when they learn, what they learn, who they learn from, who they learn with, when they eat, what they eat, what they wear and when they leave aren’t theirs.

And don’t even get me started on the dreaded ‘traffic light systems’ and ‘rain clouds’; the still-very-common practice of naming and shaming children for breaking the ‘rules’; that they may not understand, probably couldn’t manage in that moment, or didn’t agree to in the first place…

I’m using this just as an easy example here, not to pick on schools, because, as parents, we all have our own measures of control, too.
Thankfully many of us are choosing more autocratic parenting styles, but there is still a lot of practice out there that operates on treating children in ways which their parents would never accept themselves; with dire short and long-term consequences at the sharp end of that.

Of course I’m not saying that children should make every decision or be in charge of everything.
Whether it’s in schools; where there are lots of children to be ‘managed’ all at once; or in raising our own offspring, there needs to be appropriate control.

But what needs questioning is the definition of ‘appropriate’.

It needs challenging, because this adult-child power imbalance is so deeply engrained into the culture of childhood; not just the acceptance, but the expectation that children should be controlled and overpowered in ways which we, as adults, would deem as abusive.

For example, would we accept practices which took our wages or removed our belongings when we didn’t tow the line at work?
Would we accept the details of ‘poor performance’ or disciplinaries and the like being displayed on staff notice boards? Or our entitlement to a break or food taken away? It would be an outrage, of course!

It’s the misconception that giving children power means sacrificing ours that can get in the way of us doing just that.
But children don’t want our power! They want their own…
And the point is, power can be SHARED.

It doesn’t have to be a question of ‘who is in charge? who is the adult? who is in control?’

Because the fundamental truth is that, from birth, children need power. They could not develop beyond infancy if they didn’t.

How else do they prepare themselves (and ourselves), not just for their ‘adulthood’, but their adolescence, when the neurodevelopmental normality of breaking away from authority takes hold at around the age of 11 or 12?

How will they respond to that if they have no experience of their own personal power when they get there?

It will take decades to challenge and change harmful intergenerational parenting and education practices, but; especially when giving your kids a dose of autonomy gets translated by the judgey ‘I know better’ types as not giving consequences; pandering, indulging or spoiling your child etc.; always hold in this truth in mind…

Soon the kids we live and work with will be all grown up.
Who are the adults that we want them to become?

How we treat them is how we teach them they DERSERVE to be treated.

How many adults live unfulfilled lives because they don’t believe they deserve better? Too many.

Too many end up in trouble because they don’t know the difference between using and abusing power.

Or because they’re so lacking in power that they’ll go to the most destructive lengths to feel powerful.
The children you’re raising won’t become that adult.

How we treat children is how we teach them to treat other people.

How many adults struggle to treat others in ways they would like to be treated themselves?

How many end up on the receiving end of those who abuse their power, or of those who go to destructive lengths to feel powerful? All too often because they don’t know how to exercise their own power to say ‘no’.

The children you’re raising won’t become those adults.

Decisions, choices, agency, autonomy and control in the hands of children are not to be feared- as long as those children are still held in our hands (and not in a tight grip!).

Developing power is necessary. Using power is healthy. Abusing power is not.
Let’s give our children healthy and plentiful experiences of personal power, everyday, so they learn to know the difference.

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