5 Reasons Why You Should Treat Your Children Like Adults

I remember going clothes shopping with my toddler and standing in the aisle for ages (and I mean ages) while she picked a new winter jacket. I heard some whispered comments from other shoppers, some curious and some unkind, about why on earth I was humoring my toddler with a choice of jackets. For me, it was simple — I was showing my little one that I respect and value her opinion. But for others, it seemed I was giving her too much say. So, why is teaching our children to be little adults important? And how should parents treat their child with respect? Here, I’ll explain how to be the adult you probably needed as a kid by respecting your children.

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

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

For example, I often see parents expecting their children not to get sad or distressed when things don’t go their way, or they shout at their kids for being disorganized. As grown-ups, we are human and accept these behaviors in ourselves, knowing we can’t be perfect. Yet somehow, we expect better of our little ones.

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

5 Benefits of Treating Your Child Like a Little Adult

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

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

How To Treat Your Child Like a Little Adult

Here are some key strategies that parents should employ to treat their child in a mutually respectful way:

Respect Their Need for Autonomy

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

Name Their Feelings and Demonstrate Empathy

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

Set and Communicate Boundaries

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

Use Active Listening

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

Involve Them in Decisions

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

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

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