EQI.org Home

Observations of Children, Teens Parents

Over the years I have used this page to collect my observations of interactions between adults and children/adolescents. These observations helped me see the many ways children and adolescents are emotionally abused and neglected, even by well-intentioned adults.


Selected Stories

Invalidation at the Barbers

Overly-Apologetic Coach - Adult's Needs Take Priority Over A Hurting Child's

"Well, That Shouldn't Matter" - How Guilt-trips and Pressure Kill Our Spirits

Heaps of Fun

Emotional Abuse in a Day Care - The story of JW

A Failed Attempt at Behavior Modificatio in a Copy Center

Calling Their Daughter a Dope

Don't Talk About It Any More


More observations on this page


Thoughts on chemical imbalances

Adolescent Beauty

Suggestions to help abused children and teens

What if...

Articles, Poetry and Links


Core Components of EQI.org

Respect | Empathy
Caring | Listening

Other EQI.org Topics:

Emotional Literacy
Invalidation | Hugs
Emotional Abuse |
Feeling Words
Depression |Education
Emotional Intelligence
Parenting | Personal Growth

Search EQI.org | Support EQI.org

EQI.org Library and Bookstore

Articles and Links

My writing

Note on how our self-images get distorted

Editorial on whose needs are more important - Parent, Child or Teacher?



Article On Using Punishment to Get Infants to Be Obedient to God

Article on child abuse by Llyod DeMause


Sticks and Stones


This blame thing's got to go -- by Pamela Sackett


Project No Spank

Jan Hunt's Natural Child Page

Mark Reuther's Heartmates Page

Ron' Brill's Emotional Honesty Page



Several other links and books (with a couple repeats)

At the Barbers - October 1999

At barbers yesterday:

Mother and barber were invalidating a child. Telling him "don't be scared, it doesn't hurt."

Boy: Yes it does!

Mother: No it doesn't, you are fibbing, stop telling tales.

The more they invalidated him, the more he protested. She held his head in place while she invalidated him and kept ordering to sit still. The barber tried to distract him and talk him out of his feelings. They said he was going to look handsome, like a big boy, etc. They sounded so fake, so phoney.

I wondered what people said to me when they forced me to get my haircut. I remember I protested loudly also. But I don't remember how they forced or manipulated me.

I wish I would have started standing on my own much sooner in life. I wish I would have realized how I was manipulated and controlled and forced to conform.

I said to the boy, "I didn't like it the first few times I got my hair cut either." He looked up at me, startled, but we connected. I smiled compassionately. He felt understood for a brief moment.

Then the mother started to defend her self, "But this isn't his first time, he shouldn't be afraid anymore..."

I said, "It still feels a little funny to me when I am getting it cut now."

The two barbers looked stunned. Perhaps they had never seen anything like this, perhaps they had never thought of showing understanding or of validating a child's feelings. Probably they have never heard of the word validation or invalidation. Maybe one day it will be taught in schools. Till then, millions of children will suffer the same pain that this young boy, who reminded me so much of myself, had to needlessly endure. I feel empathy, even sympathy for him, living in such a home and world.


More thoughts:

This is a case where resentment can be a positive thing. My ability to re-feel the invalidation which this boy was experiencing helps me write about it now. (sentir = to feel in French and Spanish) I still resent having to get my haircut against my will, having to tuck my shirt into my pants. No one listened to me when I said it felt uncomfortable, in whatever language I had available to me at that young age.

Or maybe it is better to say my resentment guides me towards what is important and it inspires and energizes and motivates me to take some constructive action. And it allowed me to understand and connect with this boy, who I had never seen before and will never see again, in a way that, in all likelihood, not even his own mother ever will.

So parents, the next time you take a child to get his or her hair cut, ask yourselves, "Why am I really doing this?" What is more important, how I feel about his hair, how others feel or how or how he feels?


Notice that the mother said "Stop fibbing" and "Stop telling tales." In other word, she was accusing the boy of lying about his feelings. What affect might this have on him? Wouldn't it confuse him? Wouldn't he feel falsely and unfairly accused? Wouldn't this cause him even more psychological pain?

Also, notice what she said when I tried to show compassion for him. She said "he shouldn't be afraid..." But he was afraid and instead of soothing him with understanding, she invalidated him. What is is he to make out of all of this?

Sadly, he may learn to doubt his own feelings. He may learn that his feelings don't matter. He may also learn that he will be forced or coerced to do any things against his will. Perhaps worst of all, he may learn that there will be few people to turn to for understanding and empathy. Or sometimes even no one.

The Overly Apologetic Coach

A friend of mine, David, was coaching a baseball team and he made a mistake when he assigned the kids to the different positions in the field. Because there were too many kids to all play at one time, the coaches have to rotate the players. On this particular day, the coach somehow left one boy out two innings in a row. The boy asked my friend why this was. When David realized what he had done he felt very bad for the boy, especially since his parents were there that day. Because of his guilty feelings he apologized profusely. The boy said, "That's okay." My friend though shot back, "No, it is not okay." He then went on to apologize some more and to criticize himself for making the mistake and then to promise to do a better job next time.

I watched the boy's face. My friend had lost the boy's interest. My friend was now simply talking to make himself feel better, rather than to help the boy feel better. He said things like, "I stayed up late last night working on the line up because it is really important to me that everyone has a fair chance to play. I simply made a mistake and that is not acceptable. I need to be more careful so this doesn't happen again."

Before my friend was done talking he looked up and saw something happening in the game which got his attention. He quickly finished what he was saying and gave a quick "Thanks for understanding" to the boy, without looking him in the eyes or noticing that he had lost his interest and was only making things worse by his continued talking. He then left the boy feeling more alone than ever, I would guess, judging by the boys downcast staring at the ground. I suspect the boy felt a little lectured to about the importance of fairness etc. while my friend was talking. At the very least I suspect he felt tuned-out.

When I got in the car with David I asked how he was feeling as he was getting up to go back to the game. I asked if he were really feeling appreciative or if he was feeling interested in the game. My friend admitted that he was more interested in the game by that point. I then told him what I saw happening and I suggested to him he could have simply thanked the boy for initially accepting his apology and left it at that. My friend and I agreed that had he done that the boy would have likely felt truely appreciated and perhaps a bit noble, both of which would have helped him feel better. After all it was the boy who was originally in pain from being left out, so it was the boy's feelings which needed attention and priority. Instead, the adult's needs ended up pushing the boy's needs aside.

It saddens me when I realize now that this was not an isolated occurrence. It is something I have seen between adults and children time and time again, all over the world. It reminds me that there are a lot of us walking around with a lot of unmet emotional needs. The only way I see for us to remedy this situation is to a) come to the aid of the children when we can, and b) try to raise the awareness and skill level of the parents, teachers, etc

Well, That Shouldn't Matter...

I am talking to two teenagers, A and B. We are having a very good discussion about relationships -- a favorite teenage topic and one which is often difficult for them to talk about with their parents. They are asking one question after another. A is sitting at a desk. B is sitting on the floor. Mom, who I will call Mom 1, had gone shopping. Dad was working outside and it was quiet in the house. It was the first chance the three of us had to have an uninterrupted conversation in several days.

Surprisingly soon, we hear Mom 1 coming home. She comes to the doorway and tells us she came back to see if the teens wanted to go do some work at a children's museum which they had talked about the night before. She says she can drop them off on her way to the shops. By the way she asks the question it is obvious she wants them to go. She doesn't say she wants them to go, though. The teens immediately feel pressured to say yes they will go, but it is clear they don't want to, so they say nothing at all.

Sensing that the teens don't want to go, but wanting to persuade them to, Mom 1 starts trying to wear them down. She says she was at B's house and her mother, Mom 2, was "surprised" that the teens had decided to stay home rather than go do the work as they had talked about the night before. She asks again if they are sure they don't want to go. It is even more obvious they don't, as they turn away, but still they remain silent, feeling afraid to speak their true feelings.

Mom 1 continues talking, saying the same thing several more times, sometimes exactly the same way, sometimes modifying it a little. The teens still don't say anything and Mom 1 still never just says directly that she really wants them to go. Mom seems to have some hidden motive and instead of expressing herself directly, it is as if she is trying to persuade the teens that they really want to go and that she is just being helpful by a) reminding them how much they wanted to go the day before and by b) offering to take them before she starts shopping. The teens do not feel helped though. They feel pressured and manipulated.

Mom 1 repeats again that Mom 2 was very surprised when she heard the teens were not planning to go to the museum that afternoon as she expected them to. It seems likely to me that Mom 2 may have really wanted the teens to go for some reason and she may have disapproved of Mom 1's decision to allow the teens to change their minds according to their new feelings, or more generally, to think and feel for themselves. It also seems that Mom 1 is afraid of Mom 2's judgment and disapproval. Having met Mom 2, I can understand this fear.

When Mom 1 repeats once more how excited they were the night before A finally says, with a tone of exasperation, "That was before we found out that we weren't going to get paid!" Instead of validating the feeling behind this or showing any understanding at all, Mom shoots back, "Well that shouldn't matter." Immediately I think to myself, "But it does matter!"

She then says it will be the last time that they will get a chance to do it before her friend has to leave. Indirectly she is saying that it is a good thing to do volunteer work and she is wanting the teens to feel guilty for not wanting to do it. So now Mom 1 has turned up the pressure even higher.

There is a long and uncomfortable silence. Then Mom 1 says that the teens will probably really enjoy it once they get there and start doing it. She repeats that B's mother, M thought they would want to go to so she came back to offer to take them. It almost seems as she is seeking appreciation, so I think to myself it might help if the teens said, "Well, thanks for coming back to double check. That was nice of you, but we have changed our minds about going and are happy here now."

But instead of being able to speak up and take control of their lives, the teens are both losing their energy. Physically, they are slumping down lower and lower. B now is laying with her head in her arms on the floor, facing down and away from the mother. A is also looking down and away from her mother. The mother keeps repeating that B's mother was really surprised when she heard the teens weren't going and so she just came back to see if they wanted to go. At one point B lifts herself up a little and says sounding strained. "I do want to go, but later." The scene brings to mind beating a false confession out of someone.

The mother says that the museum might close at five o'clock so if they don't go now they won't get a chance to do much work. Plus it might be too late to do it when then get there if they don't go soon. (More presssure.) At about this point A puts her head down onto her hand, with her forehead in her palm and her elbow on the desk, still looking away from the mother. The mother says "I just thought I would come back and see if you wanted me to drop you off there on my way to the shops. Then you can walk over to B's house when you are finished working. So do you want to go?" Silence. After years of being beaten down like this the teens cannot even find the energy and self-confidence to say "No, we do not want to go."

By this point some teens would have screamed at the mother and started attacking her in response to the pressure she was putting on them and the way she was disrespecting and invalidating their feelings. But these two teens, who are best friends because they are so similar, don't have the inner strength to stand up for themselves. I am not sure where this inner strength comes from, but I am sure that it can either be nurtured or beaten down in the course of a child's life. These particular teens were not physically beaten as children, but they were lectured to, judged, invalidated and disapproved of enough that they have become afraid of self-assertion. I suppose their ultimate, unacknowledged fear is the fear of the parents rejection. Ironically, the parents in this case are not the kinds of parents who would ever say "You are no child of mine. Get out and don't come back." Still, the teens must fear this type of rejection on some level. I can think of no other reason they would be so paralyzed by the mother's psychological pressure.

At any rate, the mother looks at me and I say "I think they feel pressured." I ask A if she feels pressured and she says, sounding very frustrated, "Yes!"

Then I start to ask the mother what she is most concerned about, trying to figure out why she wants them to go so badly. I ask her how she felt when B's mother said she was surprised. She cannot give me a direct answer, so I suggest my theory that she may feel responsible for the two of them not going and may feel afraid of Mom 2's disapproval and judgment. She denies this and gets a little defensive. She continues to talk about how excited they were about going last night. She tries to convince me she is offering to help the teens by dropping them off.

It is obvious to me that the feeling of excitement which the teens had last night is long gone. It is also apparent that the teens would rather stay and have a serious talk with me than go do photocopying and not even get paid for it. I expect the teens felt disillusioned when they found out earlier in the day they were not going to be paid, so it is easy for me to understand how and why their feelings changed. What puzzles me is why the mother is so insistent they go, and why she doesn't respect or show any understanding for their feelings. In fact, she has not even shown an attempt at understanding them. For example, when the teens tried to explain themselves, the mother quickly shot down their explanation with "Well, that shouldn't matter."

I consider asking the teens how much they feel understood from 0-10. I imagine the answer would be 0. But I decide not to put Mom 1 on the defensive any more than she is already.

My own preference is that they stay and talk to me since I am unsure when I will have another chance to talk to them before I leave. So I express my preference as gently as I can. I also feel protective of the teens and don't want to see them pressured or guilt-tripped into doing something they don't want to do. At the same time I want the mother to feel somewhat supported and understood by me so she will feel less threatened whenever I talk to her children, all of whom I enjoy spending time with.

I tell her I agree that doing volunteer work is a good thing for teens to do. I also agree they might like it once they get there. But my main empathy is for the teens since they rarely have someone who is their advocate. I try to negotiate a compromise with the mother. Since I have the only other car there that afternoon I say, "How about if I take them over at three thirty?" The mother is not very agreeable to this. I then suggest three o'clock.

Then the mother says she is concerned that I don't have two extra seat belts in my car. Still feeling frustrated, A says "It is only five minutes away!" I say that I have one seat belt in the front and I can put one of the teens in the back. I suggest I put the guest, B, in the seat belt and joke that we would always rather have our own child get killed than someone else's since we would feel so guilty if something happened to someone else's child while we are responsible for them. I then promise I will drive very carefully.

The mother evades me and tries once or twice more to get the teens to go with her right then. They are just about ready to give in, feeling worn down. There is a lot of tension in the air. I try to lighten it by joking for them not to get too excited about going and both jump up at once. The mother notices that her teen has barely moved in several minutes and is holding her head. She asks if she is all right. I say jokingly, "I think she has a migraine." (I think this came to mind because earlier we had been talking about the father's migraines.) I feel a little bad for joking about her pain, but it is my way of trying to relieve the tension in the air. I feel torn between protecting the teens and not getting the mother any more defensive.

I reassure the mother that I can see her point and that I agree it would be interesting for the teens to get out of the house and that museum sounds interesting. I promise her I will drag them out to the car at three o'clock if need be to get them there. Eventually the mother agrees to this. As she leaves the house and we hear the door close, B rolls on the floor as if in agony and says "I hate my mother so much. She is always doing this." I find this interesting since it was A's mother who we had just been talking to, not B's mother. Apparently B realizes that it was her mother who was primarily responsible since she is the one who evidently intimidated A's mother into coming back.

I remain silent. The mood in the room is as if someone died. I am not sure what to say. I wait to see what the teens might say next.

There is silence for perhaps two uncomfortable minutes. The normally talkative, energetic teens are near death. A still has her head in her palm. When she looks up at me with a lost, defeated look in her eyes I say, "So how do you feel?" She says, "Guilty."

"How much?"

"About 9."

We talk about this a little. She says she thinks she should have gone. I ask B if she feels guilty also. She says no, she just wishes her mother would let her make her own decisions. There is still a lot of gloom in the room. I notice that my heart is still beating strongly from the tension caused by the pressure from the mother. I feel empathy for the teens as I think of how this kind of thing has probably happened to them all their lives.

I try to get the teens to talk more about their feelings but they are still very quiet. They look so defeated and drained. As if all life has been sucked out of them. As if their souls and spirits had just been killed and only the physical body remained living. I find it particularly ironic that the mother considers herself a spiritual person, but she has just gravely wounded the spirits of two young humans.

I decide to change the subject, so I ask what we were talking about before the mother walked in. No one can remember since all our energy is directed towards the stress we are feeling. Eventually I remember we were talking about relationships. This brings a bit of life back to them. Eventually we are talking again. We then get back on the topic of the volunteering. A says she does want to go now. Then she corrects herself and says she doesn't want to, but she feels like she "should."

I see that this guilt is unhealthy for her and is irrational in this instance. I try to explain the difference between healthy and unhealthy guilt, between deserved and undeserved. This seems to help relieve her pain somewhat. I suggest one need not feel guilty for one's feelings changing or for feeling disillusioned when one finds out something is not how it was initially believed to be. I show that I understand that getting paid or not getting paid does matter, even though the mother said it "shouldn't" matter. My understanding seems to help somewhat, but the effect of the mother's presence remains in the room long after she has gone.



As I thought about all of this at around 3 AM that night I suddenly remembered that powerful statement: "Well, that shouldn't matter." This was probably the main source of guilt. I feel discouraged at how easily teens are made to feel guilty. In this case it just took three words "That shouldn't matter." I want to go back to the mother and say "But it DOES matter!"

One of my biggest concerns about this story is that when I showed A and B what I had written about it, they both said that what had happened was no big deal. They said it was "such a small thing". I am not sure if they meant that other times the pressure and guilt trips are much more intense, or if they simply have no idea of the consequence of years of this kind of environment. Their comments remind me of the frog who does not perceive small changes in water temperature and allows himself to be boiled alive.

These two teens already have very low self-esteem and have tremendous difficulty asserting, or even identifying, their own desires and needs. I can see the cause and effect already taking place, but then again I had no idea what was happening to me when I was growing up. It was not until age 35 that I started to pay attention to these things.

Now that I see what is happening in so many homes around the world, I want to help raise awareness that statements like the mother's are toxic. They invalidate and create feelings of guilt, both of which damage the spirit and cause self-doubt. I know this mother and I know she wants to raise a child with high self-esteem; a child who trusts her own feelings and listens to her inner voice. I feel encouraged when I think that it will be possible to have the mother and daughter sit down tomorrow and talk about their feelings, and that the mother will at least listen to what I have to say. I also know that A will always be able to talk to me and feel understood, and that this will play an important role in her life. I believe what I have read and heard about how one understanding and accepting person can change another person's life.

But it is not A I am most concerned about right now. It is the other teens who I will never meet and who will never read about how they are being manipulated with guilty feelings. It is also the teens whose parents use physical force and threats of punishment to get the desired behavior from their children. I feel frustrated and saddened that I can not help more of them. It is small consolation to me to know that a few people will read this; a few people will agree and a few people care for children and teens as I do. Yet this is all I can do this morning at 4:12 A.M. as my candle burns and my hard disk hums.

S. Hein Jan 2002


2012 update - This story was written about Anna Z. in Australia. She is the person I call "A" in the story. Her father was a preacher. He admitted he didn't want children and had never told Anna he loved her and had never hugged her. He also told me once his relationship with god was more important than his relationship with his children. Her younger sister tried to kill herself two years later. Her mother is a new age massage therapist. At age 20 she attempted suicide. At age 23 she got pregnant unexpectedly from a man she told me she does not love.


Additional note: I emailed this story to a teen who has been helping me see what it is like to grow up in an abusive home. She wrote this:


I agree with you completely. I know what you mean and I totally know what A
and B are feeling. Guilt trips suck. They make me feel stupid and make the
entire thought of having self-esteem go right out the window. My father does that
all the time and so do my grandparents. See, I never want anything to do with
my grandparents and when they call and want to do something and I say no,
they always say something like, "Well, we were just doing it for your good.
We thought you might want to get out and have some real fun.
We only try to help you. I guess you just hate us and want nothing to do with us."

But now I don't take anything any of them say to me personally. They all need help
and I know that they have problems that they need to work out and it isn't
my fault. My aunt S. does that too. In my case she wanted to take me to
the museum. I didn't feel like going and I told her that. She got angry at
me or something and said, "You're going."

When it was time to go I told her I didn't want to go. She said,
"I thought you'd be interested in it. I'm only trying to be nice by inviting you along."

So I agree with you that it's wrong the way us teens get guilt tripped so easily.


Note on how our self-images get distored

Our self image is like a distorted mirror when we grew up in a dysfunctional family and were abused. You have never had a chance to see yourself clearly. It is a little like looking at a mirror with labels and stickers all over it. They say slut, whore, bitch, stupid, worthless, ugly, clumsy, inconsiderate, selfish, lazy, etc. How can you see an accurate reflection of your self when the mirror is covered with labels?

Editorial on Whose Needs are More Important - Parent, Child or Teacher?

One morning I asked a young mother how she was feeling. She said "sad," and began to cry. "How come?," I asked. "This morning I hit my son. He wouldn't get dressed for school and I just lost it. I feel terrible. I don't want him to be afraid of me, his own mother--the one who he needs to feel safe with above all other people."

I gave her a hug and tried to help her feel reassured that he was not damaged for life, that there were still plenty of chances to build trust and security. I asked her if she wanted to apologize to him. She said she already had apologized and he told her he needed a hug, which she gave him. I complimented her for apologizing, for recognizing it is unhealthy to hit a child, for making a commitment to change, and for teaching him to know and ask for what he needs.

Later we talked about other ways of getting him to school on time. She said she tried to explain to him that it really interrupts the teachers when a child comes in late. I suggested that this seemed to be very close to laying a guilt trip on the child, in other words, trying to create guilty feelings in an attempt to manipulate him to get her to do what she wanted. I suggested that it might be both more effective and more healthy to express her feelings rather than focus on the impact to the teacher. After all, a qualified teacher is flexible, tolerant, understanding, compassionate, and most importantly, responsible for her own feelings. If she allows herself to become upset or unsettled by such a small thing, it is the teacher who owns the problem, not the child or the parent.

Upon reflection I asked myself "whose feelings are most important? -- The mother's, the child's or the teacher's?" Again, we have a conflict of needs and feelings. The teacher needs some amount of order and control, the mother needs the child to get dressed, the child needs to feel in control of his own life. To satisfy his need for freedom he needs to feel willing to do what he is being asked (told, commanded, forced?) to do.

Yet first, we might ask, does the teacher really need order and control-- or does she just believe that she does? Could she operate the classroom in a way that allows more flexibility? Or could she simply become more tolerant of late arrivals? And also, how much order and control does she need? Doesn't it depend partly, if not largely, on her perceptions, her beliefs, her values and her goals? For example, doesn't it depend on what she believes about what she believes a teacher "should" do and what a student "should" do? And doesn't this depend on what she believes about the purpose of school and of education, which may largely depend on how she was raised, where she was raised and under which, if any, religious teachings?

Then what about the mother? Don't her perceived needs also depend on her beliefs and values? There are so many variables. And so many deeply rooted dysfunctional patterns. Who is to say that the adult's needs are the "right" ones?

Now let us consider the small child. He has yet to form beliefs and values. He simply wants to feel happy and free-- not forced and punished for refusing to obey. He simply wants to pursue those things which please him, and those things which interest him. This is his natural condition.

And what of the parent/child relationship? Isn't it the important relationship of all? Isn't it more important than the parent/teacher relationship? Or than the teacher/child relationship? I believe that it is indeed the most important relationship, if for the simple reason that the parent/child relationship lasts a lifetime. And further, it is the parent/child relationship which determines the happiness and the self-esteem of the child. And these, I believe, are our highest goals.

Thus, I suggest that the parent never force, coerce, "guilt-trip"or manipulate the child. For each time he or she does this, there are two very serious negative consequences: First, this most critical relationship is distorted. It is steered away from the development of mutual love and respect. damaged, something both the child and parent critically need for the relationship to be healthy. Many parents complain that their children don't respect them, but they fail to consider how they have created the situation.

And second, the self-esteem of the child suffers. He can't develop self-esteem if he feals guilty, afraid, controlled or powerless. If he really doesn't want to go to school, there is a reason. And to him it is a good reason. If a parent doesn't address the reasons, it contributes to a child's perception that he isn't important. If doesn't feel valued by the parent, he won't believe he has value and won't value himself.

In the final analysis, whenever there is fear, force, coercion, manipulation, obligation and guilt, no one is happy.


Below are some notes which were originally on my parenting page. S. Hein


Many people lament that children do not respect their parents and teachers any more. In many ways, I agree. I do not believe, however, that this is the fault of the children. Nor do I believe respect is something which comes automatically with the act of reproduction, or that it is the same as obedience.

Instead I believe we are seeing the effects of several trends. First, respect defined as fear and obedience is declining because corporal punishment is increasingly discouraged if not actually being outlawed.

The second trend may be that parents, teachers and authority figures are simply seen as less worthy of respect. This is an understandable consequence of the exposure of all the abuses of power among everyone from parents to priests, police, professors and presidents.

Another possibility is that there is a general trend for people are increasingly trying to fill their emotional needs with material substitutes. For example, instead of emotionally fulfilling work, people may be doing whatever pays the most so they can buy more material things. Instead of developing fulfilling relationships, people may be spending more time "networking."

When I ask people, whether it is children, teenagers or adults, why they do not someone else, the answer I almost always get is "Because they don't respect me." This is especially true when they are referring to someone who has power or authority over them, such as parents, teachers or bosses.

As child advocates then we must earn the respect of the children we work with. Below are some thoughts on how to do this.

How to earn respect

First, it is important to distinguish between respect and obedience. Obedience we can get by carrying a gun. Respect though, must be earned. When people respect us they willingly help us. They do much more for us, in fact, when they respect us than when they fear us.

But when a child is born, it has no concept of respect and it has no way of showing respect. Because of this, I have often wondered, then, just when people believe a child should start showing respect for their parents! In the past it the belief was spread that children should "honor" their parents because of the mere fact that those two particular people had sex together and created a baby. There was no explanation given as to why these people deserved respect, though, nor was there any provision for what to do if one's parents were abusive.

One might guess that the Biblical commandment to honor thy parents was put in place at least partially to of those in power in order to establish and maintain such authoritarian traditions. With the unfortunate situation that Biblical myths became deeply held beliefs, this ancient, but to me, irrational custom has rarely been seriously challenged. I am not as familiar with Eastern religions and customs, but from what I know there seems to be a similar cultural belief. I suggest, however, that we are long overdue to discard this dysfunctional commandment.

As I see it, instead of the parents divinely being entitled to respect, I believe happens in healthy homes is that the parents first show respect to their children in the first few years of its life. Then the child begins to natuarally return that respect.

The next obvious question then, is how does someone show respect to an infant?

The best way I can define respecting anyone, whether that person is an infant, a teenager or an adult is in terms of helping it meet its needs.

I would define respecting a baby in terms of meeting its needs. By feeding it when it is hungry, by allowing it to sleep when it is tired. By providing a safe ennvironment for it.

When a child is older, perhaps around 9 or 10 they will be able to start rating their feelings on a 0-10 scale. Asking them how they feel and taking their feelings into consideration is a very tangible sign of respect. For example, try asking a child or teen how much they feel these feelings from 0-10:

Afraid (of you)
Lectured to

Ask how you can improve & take them seriously. Work to improve your "rating." Don't defend yourself or challenge their responses.

Final thoughts -- Ironically, as important as respect is, in all my reading of literature for adult caregivers I can not recall a single case where guidance was given on earning the respect of children and teens.



Several links and books

The following are copied from a site which seems to now be a dead link, except in caches. The site was www.childavocate.org


Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education (PTAVE)
Executive Director Jordan Riak is a passionate child advocate and his site is a no-nonsense, matter-of-fact approach to the subject of corporal punishment. An excellent resource on political, personal, ethical, psychological, medical, sexual & religious issues involved in the corporal punishment of children.



The Institute for Psychohistory - global historical look at violence and aggression and its roots in child maltreatment


The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)
A good source for high standards in the classroom. Good early childhood programs strive for NAEYC accreditation as a testimony to quality


The International Youth Rights Action Alliance


A great site with a wealth of information and links on the ethical reasons why children should not be hit.


Instructional Support Services, Inc.
Jane Bluestein has written a variety of helpful parenting resources that support positive, non-violent discipline- purchase them at this link!

Books: (I copied this list from somewhere, so they are not my notes about the books)

Beating The Devil Out of Them by Murray Straus ISBN: 0-02-931730-4

An absolute "must-have" for anyone ready to confront the evidence that corporal punishment is damaging to children. Discusses the social, sexual and psychological implications of hitting kids.

The Case Against Spanking by Irwin A. Hyman

Excellent, compassionate book to help parents learn effective alternatives to spanking. Makes the case that this legal violence against children can no longer be tolerated.

Spare The Child:The Religious Roots of Punishment and the Psychological Impact of Abuse

by Philip Greven

No Such Thing As A Bad Kid by Charles D. Applestein

Excellent resource for working with children with severe behavioral and conduct issues- geared towards working with kids in residential and in foster homes.

Positive Discipline for Preschoolers / Positive Discipline A-Z (For ages toddler to teenager)
by Nelsen, Erwin and Duffy

These two excellent resources are for anyone seeking positive, non-violent answers to the most common and trying disciplinary problems in children. These methods not only work well, but they help parents and caretakers establish trusting, secure bonds with even the most defiant children.

Discipline That Works by Thomas Gordon

An educated understanding of positive discipline that emphasizes "I" messages and how children really react to adult attempts to control them.

Angry Young Men by Aaron Kipnis

A long overdue testimony to the abuse of children by the juvenile "justice" system and why these fail to rehabilitate delinquent children. This book takes a strong stance against violence against children, showing blatantly and frankly how it only serves to further damage at-risk youth.

Positive Discipline That Works! by Scott Noyes

This guide offers positive, non-punitive disciplinary tactics that work well with children with behavioral and conduct problems. It is a discipline program that is for those dedicated to helping caretakers decode the meanings behind the misbehaviors and how to positively guide children so that they succeed, become more respectful and develop trust and security in their caretakers.
To order a guide, contact: (802) 872-8419 or EPLectures@aol.com

For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty of Child Rearing and the Roots of Violence by Alice Miller

A classic book about the cruelty of child rearing. Excellent insight into the childhoods of vicious leaders such as Adolph Hitler, and how violent parenting contributed to their reigns of brutality.

The Men They Will Become by Eli H. Newberger

Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys by Kindlon and Thompson

Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood by William Pollack

Three long over due testimonies to the plight of American boys due to the neglect and the punitive, sarcastic, anti-male ways that caretakers in our society employ to raise boys.

Toxic Psychiatry by Peter Breggin

This book, written by an M.D., gives a chilling account of how often authorities are quick to medicate children, especially boys, for behavior that is a direct result of poor parenting in the home and poor teaching in the schools.

Children First by Penelope Leach

A political and social stand for the rights of children

Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic by James Gilligan

A reflection from an M.D. who worked in the maximum security prisons for men. This book spells out the frightening and sobering truth about the role of shame in the perpetration of violent crime and the role of negative child rearing in producing that shame.

The Young Child by Black and Puckett

A good text book for information on child development

A Guide to Discipline by Jeannette Galambos Stone

A brief reference manual on positive alternatives to punishment that begin with the caretaker's attitudes towards children. They ask the sobering question, would you like yourself as a caretaker? Contact The National Association for the Education of Young Children at www.naeyc.org for a copy.


1. In fact, I find parents as a group to be some of the most defensive people I have met, at least when it comes to the topic of parenting, especially those in the USA, though this may be partly because I have had more conversations with them.

Frog & Hot Water

Reprint from my 1996 book, Chapter Two

If we don't acknowledge our feelings as they occur, we may miss the chance to learn from them. Most of our lives are excessively busy, so we are unlikely to make the time later to reflect on our emotions and listen to their messages. Instead, we keep working harder and harder. (If you have read George Orwell's Animal Farm, you might remember this was the horse's response to the corrupt society.) As a result of ignoring our feelings, many of us stay in unhappy, unhealthy situations for years upon years. In fact, if we are not in tune with our feelings we may become like the frog who isn't smart enough to know when to jump out of the water as the water slowly reaches a boil. Almost incredibly, it has been shown that even when the frog could easily jump out, he will remain until cooked to death, if the change in temperature is gradual enough.


Sticks and Stones

When I was young I learned a rhyme
I'm sure you know it, too.

It said:

Sticks & stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.

But now I am old and I've learned on my own
That's the furthest from the truth.

Now I see just how deep
are the scars from words once spoken.

But perhaps deeper still
are the wounds that kill the very soul inside of me.

These wounds come
from things not done. And from words not spoken at all.

Words of support ... or such words as these:
"Son, how very proud of you are we."

Wounds I can't see, I can not heal;
The pain invisible, but very real.

I especially can't see, things uncommunicated to me.
Yet messages were conveyed: I needed to behave.

If I didn't behave,
unknown consequences would be grave.

There clearly was a certain fear
And clearly it was always near.

Fear of what, I did not know,
"Big Trouble", yes, but not once a blow.

Those insidious frowns, the tones, the silence,
Left invisible scars on my self-esteem, my confidence.

No bones were broken, but the damage was real.
The pain was buried, disguised and concealed.

It's taken years and years to finally reveal.
Only now can I say that I feel what I feel.

Let's change that little lie,
the false little rhyme.The longer we wait, the more lost precious time.

Sticks and stones will break my bones,
but words will forever hurt me.

Copyright 1995 Steve Hein


Why is everything backwards?
Why must I take care of my parents.
Why must I build their self-esteem?
Why am I responsible for their feelings?
Why must I study psychology so I can teach my parents how to raise children?
Why do we think that "god" created man?
Why do others think they know more about what is good for us than we do?
Why do I think that you are in charge of my feelings.?
Why do I expect you to make me happy?
Why do I blame you?
Why do the schools teach conformity instead of independence?
Why do people think that if they didn't have a drug or drinking or weight problem their self-esteem would be higher?

Why is everything backwards?

1995 Steve Hein




I believe one of the most empowering things we can do for abused children and teens is to help them identify and trust their feelings. As they begin to better identify their feelings they will better understand what happened to them.

If we are successful in getting them to share there true feelings with us we will help them feel understood. By showing our understanding they will feel more accepted and more connected to another human being. This itself will help form a therapeutic bond with them. Also, as we understand their feelings and listen to their explanations we will feel more compassion for them.

The basic steps I would recommend in a helping relationship are these:

There are many other sentence completion exercises you can do. Here are some examples, mostly from the work of Nathaniel Branden. Branden recommends trying to complete each sentence 5-10 times:

Mother was always...
Father was always...

Mother gave me a view of myself as...
Father gave me a view of myself as...

With mother I felt.... (or feel...)
With father I felt...

Mother gave me a view of life as...

Father gave me a view of love as...