Sometimes, in conversation, your child hits the nail on the head. They come out with an absolute truth, but one you or your child’s teacher does not want to hear. Your child may ask you why they get in trouble for yelling, yet you yell all the time. Your child, who is being reprimanded in class, may ask their teacher why the ‘good’ student in class never gets reprimanded for doing the same thing they did. They may wonder why, if hitting is wrong, sometimes a parent hits a child as punishment.
There is often a double standard around technology, too. You may complain that your kid spends too much time on their iPad or phone, yet your child never sees you without your phone in hand, spending hours on social media.
Perhaps you admonish your kid for not being more physically active, yet you spend hours on the couch watching TV.
You might say to your child, “Don’t talk to your [mother] like that.” Your child may be modeling the way you speak to your partner or even to your own parent when you’re angry.
If you tell your teen not to drink and drive, but then drive the family home from a gathering after having had a few, your teen is getting a double message. Similarly, if your teen gets a speeding ticket and you reprimand them, they may reply, “Well, you speed, too.”
The phone rings and you say to your kid, “Tell them I’m not here,” and then get upset when your child is not truthful about something. Your child can reply with, “You lied about not being here when the phone rang.”
Sometimes children tell me they get in trouble for some things, but a sibling does the same things and does not get in trouble. A child may cry that “you never get mad when my brother does that.” Or the child may see their sibling do something wrong or hurtful, go and tell you, and nothing happens. It’s a short trip to believe that you love one sibling more than the other.
When caught off-guard with these ‘zingers,’ adults may deflect their discomfort back onto a child, becoming angrier. However, these questions are important to children, and are more than demonstrations of ‘attitude’ or resistance. An angry or defensive response is confusing to a child; they are stating a truth but are made to feel like they did something wrong.
Children have a strong sense of justice. They see adults as the arbiters of what is fair and just. Children look to adults to resolve issues with siblings or peers and trust the adults to uphold what is right.
If they see something that seems to them to be illogical or unfair, it is their curiosity about this striking anomaly that causes them to speak up. Of course, they have a vested interest, and that makes them impassioned. However, even if the child is not directly involved, they may observe an adult interacting with another child, and make the same observations.
How should you respond when ‘caught’ in a double standard?
It is best to tell your child that they are right and thank them for reminding you about something that is important to them. Say that you are glad they brought it to your attention so you can do better. Then make the needed change. This models to your child how to self-correct.
Your child is smart. They know when they have nailed you, and if you sweep their questions under the rug, they will lose respect for you, just as many adults do for politicians who beat around the bush or do not do as promised. If you continue to uphold a double standard with your child, you lose more than their respect - you lose the possibility of having an honest relationship with them, the opportunity to empower them, and a chance to be honest with yourself.
Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning psychologist. For permission to reprint this article or to obtain books, CDs, or MP3s, visit gwen.ca. For daily inspiration, follow her on Facebook.
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