Respecting Young Children

I’ve always had a passion for working with young children. The longer I am in the early childhood education field and the more I see our culture’s perspective on early education change, the more passionate I am becoming about treating children with respect.

What does respecting a child mean? I think it can mean a multitude of things. Allowing a child choice is respect. “Would you like to play in the blocks or draw?” “Would you like to put your shoes on or would you like me to help you?” Isn’t that simple? When we give children choices, it tells them we respect their opinion and value them as a person.

We can ask them questions. “What do you think we should talk about this week?” “I noticed you brought your bear to school today, would you like to do a project about bears?” Giving children choices during the day and about what activities that will be offered in the classroom shows children that they are contributing members of the group.

We can show children respect also by honoring their feelings. Saying to a child who is crying to “shake it off” is not validating the way that he or she feels. It’s doing exactly the opposite! We should instead try to say to the child, “I see you are crying. What can I do to help you?” “I saw you fall on the floor. Did that scare you? Would you like a hug?” These sentences can help the child feel safe enough to show emotions and will allow the child to express thoughts and feelings in the classroom. When those emotions are squelched or devalued, productive learning may not occur. If a child does not feel safe in the classroom, exploration will not happen.

This may sound silly, but offering developmentally appropriate materials and activities is showing respect to children. Sitting infants in a circle and showing flash cards to them is not developmentally appropriate. Compelling toddlers to watch a lengthy video on sign language is not developmentally appropriate. Telling preschoolers they have to sit and complete a worksheet is not developmentally appropriate. However, giving the children opportunities to work at their own pace, on activities that interest them, is appropriate.

I know all of these ideas sound simple, but during the heat of the day, some of these things can be pushed to the side or completely forgotten. As I work with teachers on a daily basis, I tell them repeatedly that if they don’t remember much of what I say, remember this: You are a vital part of children’s early development. The impact early care and education teachers have on children is huge.

So, what are you going to do to show respect to young children?