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Respectful Parenting Part I: What Is Respectful Parenting About?

I’m neither an expert on this topic, nor a professional. I’m just a parent who has been down this parenting rabbit-hole for almost 3 years, and speaking from personal experiences.

Respectful parenting is a big word (or 2 big words). It sounds appealing, ambitious and daunting all at the same time. Maybe even overtly noble. I know that’s exactly how I felt when I was first introduced to it. 

When I first got to know and interact with parents who swear by respectful parenting, I thought it was just bias statistics. They happen to have good kids, and hence when they implement respectful parenting principles, they think the principles work.

It was still worth a try, I thought. Respectful parenting also goes by peaceful parenting. PEACEFUL. Who doesn’t like the sound of that word when it comes to parenting a toddler?! I started reading up on Respectful Parenting principles, and I was sold. The concepts make so much sense!

In summary, this is what respectful parenting is all about.

You can download the high-res infographic here.

In short, it’s all about empathy, respect and being able to look at things from your child’s perspectives. It’s also about having the courage to go against what you’ve always thought as good parenting - conventional methods of parenting. We talk more about this in Respectful Parenting Part II: Vs Conventional Parenting.

Rebecca Eanes wrote one of my favourite books on this topic, called "Positive Parenting". It's highly recommended.

What exactly is Respectful Parenting? Respectful Parenting does not mean parenting without discipline, it does not mean permissive parenting, it does not mean allowing your child to run freely without reins for fear of setting or enforcing limits. When I mention Respectful Parenting to other parents, I get a lot of questions like the below:

"Does it mean you don't discipline your child? What happens if he does something wrong?"

"If I want to practice Respectful Parenting, can I set limits or stop him from doing things that he wants to do? Is it still considered Respectful Parenting if I do so?

"How do you actually show a child that you're respecting him?"

I had the same questions when I was first introduced to the concepts. So let me break these questions down for you based on 1 year of research and readings, and 1 year of hands-on practice behind implementing them at home.

"Does it mean you don't discipline your child? What happens if he does something wrong?"

Yes, you still discipline your child as part of Respectful Parenting. I will call it Positive Discipline. Positive discipline means that you clearly communicate to the child what he should not do, and the natural and logical consequences if he does go ahead with that action. Instilling positive discipline means your child has to bear those consequences, and through this, he would understand the consequences of his actions, and hence learn that he should not perform that specific action again.

This is very different from implementing punishments on the child. Punishments are usually unrelated to the child's actions, instill fear in him, and causes him to feel disrespected.

Below shares 3 examples to illustrate the above concepts.

Scenario 1: The child draws and colors on the sofa.

First clearly communicate to the child that he shouldn't do it and let him know the natural and logical consequences if he doesn't stop. Before implementing the natural and logical consequences, find out from him first why he's doing it. Could it be that there's no paper around for him to draw on? Does he like the feel of drawing on fabric vs on paper? You might be able to avoid the situation if you know the rationale behind the actions and address it accordingly.

Natural consequence: The sofa would look really unsightly with all the colors, and it would be very hard to get the colors off.

Logical consequence: Help to clean up the color mess he created, and take the crayons away from him.

Scenario 2: The child throws his toys on the floor.

Again, clearly communicate to the child that he shouldn't do it and let him know the natural and logical consequences if he doesn't stop. Find out the reasons behind his actions. Is he trying to get your attention because you're distracted with something else? Does he like the sounds of the toys hitting the floor? If that's so, give him objects that he can make sounds with, like pots and pans, kids musical instruments etc.

Natural consequence: The toys might be damaged, and he would not be able to play with them anymore.

Logical consequence: Remove the toy from him to prevent him from damaging it. Or if the toy is damaged, do not buy a new one for him.

Scenario 3: Siblings or playmates are hitting each other during play time.

Similar to the above, communicate and delve into the reasons. If they want the same toy at the same time, you can either introduce another toy, or introduce the concept of taking turns. On a side note, I have observed that toddlers seemed to be more receptive to the concept of taking turns vs concept of sharing.

Natural consequence: The hitting might cause physical pain, and will cause them to feel upset or angry.

Logical consequence: They will be pulled apart for awhile and play time would need to stop until they have calmed down. Or if a toy is the cause of the conflict, the toy will be removed.

In all the scenarios above, implementing natural and logical consequences is a form of positive discipline. Implementing punishments would be to spank the child, get him to stand in a corner, shouting and yelling at him, or refusing him the right to another activity which is unrelated to his action ("No more playground for you today!"). These methods, more often than not, are unrelated to the actions of the child, and hence would not teach him anything about consequences. These methods are also disrespectful to the child and may cause him to feel fear towards you, sometimes even dislike. 

"If I want to practice Respectful Parenting, can I set limits or stop him from doing things that he wants to do? Is it still considered Respectful Parenting if I do so?

Limits are very important to a child, they help to guide him on what he should do and what he shouldn't. Limits also provide him an idea of when he is crossing the line with you, and will need to bear the natural and logical consequences of that.

Setting limits is also an important aspect of Respectful Parenting. I see it as trusting the child to adhere to the limits, and letting him know what kind of actions you do not accept from him.

Let me give you an example in a work context.

You have a new boss, he doesn't care how long your lunch time is, how many coffee breaks you take BUT he's extremely particular about what time you report for work. For some reasons, he doesn't communicate that to you. One day you come in an hour later than his expected time, and he comes barging into your office shouting and screaming at you. You are caught off-guarded because you never knew that was his limits.

Wouldn't you have preferred that he communicated that to you from the very start? "Please come in on time everyday at 8am, unless you have very valid special reasons. If you are late for more than 3 times in a month, I would need to mark your name with HR." That's his limit.

Whenever you set a limit, make sure you enforce it strictly with the child. I got the below tips on setting limits from the babysleepsite which I want to share here:

1. Focus on behavior, not the child.

2. Be direct and specific.

3. Use your normal voice.

4. Tell him the consequences.

5. Make sure he understands.

6. Limit choices.

7. Hold firm.

8. Be consistent

"How do you actually show a child that you're respecting him?"

This is easy. How do YOU want to be respected? Treat your child the same way you want to be treated by others.

Do you want to be shouted and yelled at all the time?

Do you like to be dragged from place to place, without being informed first on why and where you are going?

Do you want to be removed abruptly from an activity that you're so focused on completing without being informed first?

As crude as it sounds, I always tell myself, my child is not my pet. He's a human being who deserves the same kind of respect and trust as any other human beings. This is basic respect, but many of us seemed to forget about it when we're dealing with a young child.

The infographic we showed above was created by us awhile back (you can download it here). In this infographic, we used P.E.A.C.E. to explain 5 guiding principles we have identified for Respectful Parenting.

P: Positive Parenting

  • Treat the child the way you want to be treated - with respect. Would you rather people shout orders at you and expect you to follow with no questions? Or would you rather people tell you nicely what they prefer you to do, with some explanation on why and how?
  • Tell them what you're going to do to them or with them,  give them a heads-up before an activity especially if they're engaged in another. For eg, "I can see that you're very focused playing with your cars. You can play with them for another 10 minutes, then we will go shower". Nobody likes to be carted around suddenly or without a reason.

E: Empathize

  • Put yourself in their shoes, understand things from your child's perspective. For eg, if your child doesn't share, it doesn't mean he's selfish; it could be he hasn't grasped concept of object permanence, and he thinks the toy would never come back to him.
  • A big part of empathizing is also patience. Tantrums, or emotional outbursts are huge part of a child's life. To empathize means to understand that your child is too young to have 100% control over their emotions. Even adults sometimes throw stuff or bang doors when they are overwhelmed with negative emotions. You need to have patience to help guide your child through these outbursts.

A: Autonomy

  • Give freedom within limits, so your child feels like he has some autonomy over his life, but still within certain (sometimes un-negotiable) boundaries. You wouldn't want someone to have a say over everything, would you?! For eg, limits = must wear PJs during bedtime; freedom = choice of PJs.
  • This also helps cultivate and develop your child into an independent individual who's capable of making simple decisions appropriate for his age.

C: Consequences

  • Instill discipline through logical and natural consequences, not punishments. For eg, logical consequence of a mess the child makes would be to get him to clean up (hence forgo-ing his play time); a punishment would be to spank or get him to stand in a corner. 
  • A punishment is unrelated to his actions, instill fear, and doesn't teach him anything about consequences of actions.

E: Embrace Emotions

  • Accept and acknowledge their emotions, instead of dismissing them. If they are really upset over a damaged toy, acknowledge the emotion and help them work through it; instead of ignoring or dismissing "it's just a toy".
  • This ties in very closely with Empathy - understanding your child's perspective. A damaged favorite toy might seem like a trivial issue to you, but in the child's opinion, he might see it as the worst thing that has ever happened to him.
  • Embracing emotions also mean encouraging your child to express his emotions freely.

We hope that we have clearly explained the basic concepts of Respectful Parenting. In Part II, we talk about Conventional Parenting and how they contrast with Respectful Parenting. In Part III, we share how we implement principles of Respectful Parenting at home.

Click on the below to read Part II and Part III of the Respectful Parenting blog series.

Respectful Parenting Part II: Vs Conventional Parenting (read here)

Respectful Parenting Part III: How We Integrate Respectful Parenting at Home (read here)

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