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Senior Correspondent

A young mother who identified herself as a practitioner of “attachment parenting” recently told me that “children should be approached with reverence.” If the rest of my conversation with her was indication, I don’t think she used those words loosely.

Full disclosure: I do not believe any human being of any age, no matter his or her station in life, is worthy of being approached with reverence. Respect, yes. Admiration, yes. Reverence, no.

I told her I disagreed. Adults should not make idols of children, I said. That helps no one, especially the children in question. I proposed instead that adults should approach children with compassion, love, and respect. She didn’t think there was a difference, but the difference is night and day.

Children need compassion for the fact that they are inclined, by nature, to choose anti-social behavior over pro-social behavior. That is why they need corrective discipline from compassionate, loving, respectful adults. Until such discipline is delivered and begins to “stick,” it can accurately be said that children truly “can’t help it” when they misbehave—they were “born that way.”

Children require genuine, affirming love because they are incapable of putting themselves in proper perspective; therefore, they are incapable of “loving” themselves in a healthy fashion. A child’s self-love is very likely to fuel tyranny. Only compassionate, loving adults are capable of responding properly to this inclination, which defines the so-called “terrible twos.”

Children need adults in their lives who have tremendous respect for their needs and equal amounts of compassion for the fact that they don’t know what their needs are. Furthermore, children rarely want what they truly need. It is the responsibility of adults who respect a child’s potential for creative adulthood to give children all of what they need and little of what they simply want.

What are their needs then? Here’s a short, but far from comprehensive, list:

Children need to be contributing members of their families. Therefore, they need to be assigned daily household chores for which they are not paid. Why not paid? After all, adults get paid for working! Yes, but we do not get paid for cooking meals, cleaning bathrooms, and vacuuming floors, and neither should children. This is the stuff of membership in a family.

In addition, chores help instill a service ethic, without which democracy cannot survive. Have you ever stopped to consider why charities do not thrive in socialist countries?

Children need adults who allow their brains to grow and develop naturally without much interference from television and other forms of electronic media.

Children need to be told to eat what is on their plates not because it is good for them (although it may be) but because it is rude to refuse to eat something someone, even one of your parents, has spent time and energy preparing for you. This very civilized lesson begins at home, at the family table.

Children need adults in their lives who value and promote proper character traits over academic and athletic skills. One of the most important of all character traits is “do your best at all time.” It does not matter if you are not as good as someone else in some area. What’s important is that you do what you are capable of doing, and no less. In other words, if proper character is the priority, everything else will fall into its proper place.

Children need adults who confront them when they misbehave—adults who calmly communicate that they will not tolerate anti-social behavior, even from a 2-year-old. As your great-grandmother no doubt advised, it is to the advantage of all concerned that misbehavior be “nipped in the bud.”

A person who approaches a child with reverence is giving the child an excellent reason to want to remain a child.

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