As your children grow and their need for independence and autonomy grow, it might seem that you are constantly faced with new and unexpected dynamics in your relationship. Incorporating the respectful parenting approach in your family can help you navigate parenthood with balance. And you may be surprised how children love to cooperate once we understand how to treat them with respect.
But many parents that I have worked with, have also shared that they feel frustrated and confused, especially when their kids are constantly pushing boundaries and triggering them.
Some have also shared that they are afraid of totally losing control if they stop using timeouts or punishments.
The purpose of respectful parenting is not to make children obey at all costs but to have a relationship based on trust and mutual respect. So how can we navigate through the respectful parenting journey without being totally run over by our children?
In this article, we will cover :
- What respectful parenting really is
- The difference between authoritarian, permissive, and respectful parenting
- How to deal with conflicts and opposition without being authoritarian or permissive
- 7 tips to guide you in respectful parenting
Your intentions as a parent
Before we dive into the topic of this article, it is very helpful to find out what our deepest intentions as parents are.
- What are your goals/intentions for your relationship with your child?
- What are your long-term intentions/goals as a parent?
- What are your intentions/goals for your family as a whole?
- What are your fundamental values?
Being clear about these intentions and values will guide you throughout your parenting journey and to raise your children in a respectful way. It is possible to create a relationship that reflects your expectations while offering your child the understanding and support they need.
Using the respectful parenting approach, we can grow together as a family.
What is respectful parenting all about?
Respectful parenting, also known as gentle or peaceful parenting, is based on a mutually respectful parent-child relationship, where parents work with their children to find solutions to everyday parenting challenges, understanding their children’s underlying physical and emotional needs.
It is not about letting your children “do whatever they want”.
Being aware of your own needs and values
Respectful parenting allows you to be aware of your own emotions, reactions, and needs, and tune into your children’s uniqueness, inner experience, emotions, needs, and desires. So you can be respectful of the needs of your child, without forgetting your own.
Conflicts and opposition in respectful parenting
So what if you think that something your children want to do is too risky or unsafe?
Or maybe they want to do something that doesn’t align with your values.
In moments of conflict and opposition, you will be able to view the situation from both your perspective and that of your child, and you will realize how important it is to find a caring and respectful solution.
You can explain why you don’t accept something while making sure they understand what your values are, why you feel that way, and why you are making that choice. This means that children can understand the reasons behind your choice, making it easier for them to accept.
- Giving choices, not commands.
- Labelling the behaviour, not the child. For example, “I can see you are feeling angry,” not “you are an angry boy”.
- Recognising that emotional expression is healthy.
- Guiding your child in how to express these emotions respectfully.
- Understanding that children and adults alike need space to cope with strong emotions before they can talk about it.
- Trusting your child to make good choices (and letting them learn by making bad choices too).
One of the biggest misconceptions about respectful parenting is that it is permissive. Some think that there are no boundaries and we allow children are free to do whatever they want.
“I hear a lot of people talking about respectful parenting. It sounds interesting but I don’t think it’ll work for our family. It seems like you shouldn’t punish your child or do time-outs! If I did that with my son, I worry that his behavior would become uncontrollable! You need at least some discipline to raise a kid, right?”
Sadly, this way of thinking reduces the parent-child relationship to two extremes: authoritarian or permissive.
Respectful parents are neither authoritarian nor permissive
What’s so great about respectful parenting, is that parents are neither permissive nor punitive/authoritarian. That’s right, we can set boundaries, and also be understanding when our children don’t agree!
Authoritarian vs Permissive vs Respectful parenting
It’s late, it’s time for Nathan to go to bed. You ask him nicely to head to his room. But he answers you with a resounding “no” or by ignoring you completely.
What can you do in this situation?
1st option: You threaten and punish (authoritarian parenting style)
“Listen to me and stop playing right now! Otherwise, no activities for you tomorrow!” But, you know what happens next… voices get raised, conflict erupts, and everyone gets angry. You will most likely end up getting him into bed, but he falls asleep in tears or gets up to fight his case. The relationship with your child takes a step backward.
2nd option: You let them have their way (permissive parenting style)
On the one hand, this solution may seem like a good one as you are being patient with your child. But this doesn’t actually do anyone any good in the long term. By letting your child do whatever he or she wants, you are showing them that you do not respect the rules that you have put in place to ensure your child gets something they need: sleep. And unfortunately, quite often, our patience can wear thin which is followed by… the explosion! Boom, the respectful parent we thought we were just went out the window…
3rd option: set boundaries with empathy and understanding (respectful parenting style)
“Nathan, I can see that you don’t want to stop playing. I know you really love this game, but now it’s time to go to bed. You need sleep in order to grow and have lots of energy tomorrow. Let’s get ready to go to bed. Do you want to get your pajamas on by yourself or do you me to help you?”
Maybe Nathan won’t be happy with this decision and will get worked up… Which is completely normal. Know that he’s not doing it on purpose to wind you up. He is only expressing his unhappiness as he doesn’t know how to regulate his emotions yet.
In these moments, we can accept our child’s emotions, without giving in when they push back.
7 tips for respectful parenting :
So, what are the qualities it takes to be a respectful parent? What should you do when you are faced with a difficult situation, opposition, or a tantrum?
1. Be a good leader: know how to listen but also how to set boundaries
Be a good listener
People say that good leaders lead by example. Good leaders know how to listen, and try to balance everyone’s needs, all while protecting others. Being responsible is all about giving your children a safe and stimulating environment.
It involves knowing how to stay connected and compassionate so that your child knows that you are on their side: that you are looking for cooperation, not automatic obedience.
Set clear boundaries and expectations
As a respectful parent, you know how to express your boundaries and expectations clearly and give your child the support they need to meet them.
In this way, your child is better equipped to understand what you expect of him or her, which is a very reassuring feeling. They need clear guidelines and to know what the rules and boundaries are to make sense of the world around them. However, if you just give them an order without a reason behind it, children don’t understand why it is important to do what you say.
Does that mean that your child will always be happy to cooperate?
Unfortunately not! Often, they will still push back. So how can you remain respectful and caring? Carry on reading to find out!
2. Don’t be afraid of disagreements
Do you know the biggest difference between a permissive parent and a respectful parent? Respectful parents are not afraid of disagreements. After all, conflicts and disagreements are all part of life! And it is ok for you and your child to have different opinions.
If your children sense that you are indecisive, they start to feel insecure. They need to know what guidelines have been put in place and how to follow them. Ok… testing the limits is also part of the learning process. But you must remember that it’s not because they want to wind YOU up or to test YOU. It’s because they are forming their own opinions and they need to assert themselves in order to grow.
3. Know how to accept resistance
So, as your children grow up, they will start to realize that they can make their own decisions, assert themselves and decide for themselves what they want to do.
While it may seem inconvenient, this is developmentally normal! After all, we all want to raise independent assertive, and confident adults, don’t we?
Our role as a parent is to establish rules and guidelines in order to guide, support, and protect our children.
Tantrums are generally what happens when your children have needs that your children want to be met but you can’t or won’t meet that need. Your child then expressed their unhappiness through anger, tears and screaming. The same actually applies to adults, except that over time, we have learned how to control ourselves. Your child, especially when they are young, doesn’t have the emotional tools to cope with this overflow of feelings yet.
Your role is to be there for your child when such emotions come out. Remember that they are not trying to make you angry or to test your limits. They need you in order to control themselves. Give your child an affectionate hug to reassure them and validate their emotions, while paying attention not to use language that carries blame :
- I understand what you are going through, it’s normal
- You are allowed to be angry (or sad, etc)
- You really want to do X… You must be very disappointed… You wanted to…
- I saw the truck too, it was so cool, you really wanted it, didn’t you….
4. Be empathetic
Remember that you can’t meet each and every one of your child’s needs 100% of the time…. With this in mind, it is important to communicate your expectations clearly, while also expressing your empathy and compassion. If you can manage to do this, your child will feel that they are in a safe environment to let out their tears and fears, empty out their emotions freely, and know that they can count on your support.
Remember that when your child reacts as if it were the end of the world, they act according to emotions that, for us, seem out of proportion. But from their perspective, their reaction is not excessive since they do not yet have the tools to express their feelings. Their brains have not developed enough to verbalize their thoughts and feelings clearly through language.
And once again, I should emphasize that they are not trying to make you angry or test your limits. You should accept their disappointment with empathy, even if their anger is directed toward you :
Your child is not trying to direct their negativity towards you, they are just experiencing difficult emotions.
For example :
- Instead of thinking: Why is my child doing this to me, I’m her mother, why is she so tough on me?
- It becomes: My child is having a tantrum because she doesn’t know how to express her unhappiness in another way. I’m an adult who is able to see things with perspective, so it’s up to me to guide her.
Your sympathy shows your children that you understand their position and that you are sorry that they are going through such an overwhelming range of emotions. The best way to help your child to develop their resilience is to be there for them when they go through emotional journeys, being present and guiding them as to how to experience emotions and then release them calmly. If our child feels understood, they will be more open to accepting your guidance in the future.
If you have followed all the previous steps, it will be naturally a lot easier to stay calm even in the difficult situation of being faced with an angry, screaming child.
But if that’s not the case for you just yet, take a few deep breaths. Leave the room for a few minutes if you need to. Neuroscientific research suggests that the simple act of resetting your breathing pattern can give you more peace of mind.
In most cases, when we lose our tempers, we can react out of proportion. Taking a minute to calm down allows you to collect your thoughts and to have a more reasoned approach when dealing with your child.
When faced with an angry adult, children shut down, following their natural instinct to protect themselves. When faced with a calm adult, children are able to open up more and cooperate.
When we resort to punishing children, we put an end to the possibility of cooperation. Real cooperation is only possible when a child is sure that we, as adults, understand them. If we put them on the naughty step, or stop them from doing their favorite activities, why would they want to listen to us? If we force a child to listen to us by using threats and punishments, this blocks their auto-disciplinary mechanism from developing; and real discipline comes from within.
When a child is punished, the main thing they will remember is the negative feeling they had, which is anger most of the time. This draws their attention away from WHY they were given the punishment in the first place. In order to encourage our children to do something, without resorting to threats or punishment, we need to recognize that connection is a priority. Improving our connection means they will want to follow our example.
If a situation is unsafe or too risky, try to find alternative solutions together, to meet both your child’s needs and also your own.
Little Panda wouldn’t quit touching the trash can as soon as he started walking. For him, it was a game but it drove us crazy because he would put his fingers in his mouth afterwards… obviously we asked him to stop doing it but he carried on.
The solution? We explained to him that “Your toys are over there, the trash can is for throwing garbage out. If you want to throw something out then here you go…” (and we gave him something to put in the trash). With this method, Little Panda stopped “touching and playing” with the trash. But, since then, he loves “helping” us to throw things in the trash…..
Your child wants to do something in the house that you think is unsafe. Instead of rejecting their request straight away, try to find a way for them to still play but with less of a risk.
If that’s not possible, you can explain your reasons clearly and find them an alternative. You can hopefully find a middle ground between what they want to do and your own peace of mind after making things safer.
Your child throws a tantrum in the store because they really want a packet of cookies. You are not a fan of industrial cookies at all because they contain too many additives and processed sugar. You explain that you’re not going to buy them because… XYZ… and that you will try to find the time tomorrow to make a cake together.
Maybe this won’t help your child calm down right away, but it will send them the following message : they see that you are on their side, and that you placed a boundary with their best interest in mind.
AAAAARGH, your little one is jumping on the couch again ! In this type of situation, instead of yelling “stooooop jumping on the couch right now!” we can try to understand what our children really want. Yes, they want to have fun, and it’s super fun to jump on the couch. But you don’t want your couch to be ruined. So, as parents we can try to suggest another place to jump around, and even have fun jumping together ! Instead of denying them something, it always works better to reach a compromise with your child, leading to cooperation and a solution that suits both of you!
The take-home message :
Sometimes, it’s hard to draw the line between respectful parenting and being permissive. We want to be kind and giving when it comes to our children… to always listen to them. But being too permissive doesn’t do us or our kids any good! And, letting kids get away with too much leads to us losing our tempers, sooner or later ! Boundaries set with empathy can be your new parenting tool as they help children understand the parent-child relationship, but also the world around them. This is essential for a balanced family… and it will do wonders for your zen attitude.