patronize: to adopt an air of condescension toward
I have been noticing recently how many parents treat their children in what strikes me as a very patronizing manner. Phrases like "because I'm the mom, that's why" and "good boy!" and "what do you say, dear?" are all pretty condescending. When my child asks why he has to do something, I tell him--now this doesn't mean that he doesn't have to do it (and sometimes he needs to do it now and I'll explain later), but I think asking 'why' is entirely valid. (Sometimes it makes me question why I am asking this of him, and I can evaluate whether it's really something important or if I'm just being bossy...if "because I'm the mom" is the only reason I can think of, then I know I shouldn't really have asked it of him.) When I ask my son to do something, and he does it, I say "thank you," not "good boy." He is a person, not a dog. My children have learned through example to be polite, but when Bear forgets and says "mommy give me cracker" I repeat to him "give me a cracker please?" and he repeats it more politely. I belive that if I treat him respectfully, he will learn more from that example than from any amount of nagging, reminding, or patronizing parenting.
I started thinking about these things when I read "Unconditional Parenting" [the link goes to my blog post about the book]. The author, Alfie Kohn, has plenty of flaws (for starters I'm told that he's somewhat of a moral relativist, meaning that he doesn't believe in an ultimate 'right' and 'wrong,' and therefore believes that any one's perception of right is just as valid as any one else's...obviously i disagree), BUT, I think he does make a valid point when he says that we should treat our children as fellow people. No, they are not tiny adults--their understanding and perceptions are not as complex as ours--but they do have needs, desires, and opinions--all of which are real, and which we should accept as valid. Children are not animals to be controlled; they are people, and should be taught with respect.
ETA (Edited To Add)
Several commentors have said that Kohn is not so much of a moral relativist as I had heard. I have only read one of his books, and like I said, it got me thinking, but I definitely felt that it was imperfect. My intent with this post was not so much to talk about him, or his theories, or even per say my feelings about him or his theories...just to express my perceptions about patronizing parenting (which happen to have been influanced by his theories).