If you've read Respectful Parenting Part I, you would already have a basic grasp of what Respectful Parenting is about.
It requires quite a shift in thinking and behavior from Conventional Parenting. It's also about having the courage to go against what you’ve always thought as good parenting - conventional methods of parenting.
We were all, mostly I suppose, brought up the conventional way. We were shouted at, yelled at, spanked, caned, made to stand in a corner... We were parented this way, with good intentions, no less, from our parents who hoped that we would grow up to be good, kind, upright adults.
Just because we turned out fine, doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been better. Do you want your child to turn out fine and ok, or do you want your child to be the best he could be?
What are some of the snippets of your childhood that you remember?
Let me share mine.
I remember when we (I have 2 siblings) were young, whenever we broke a glass, we got scolded really really badly. “Why are you so careless?”, “Why aren’t you looking?”, “You can’t even hold the glass properly!” I remember being extremely terrified whenever I accidentally break a glass, I know the scoldings and the harsh tone will come, and it made me feel really bad. It was an accident, why was I being scolded for it? And when adults break a glass?! Nothing happens. My parents would smile at them, tell them “it’s ok it’s an accident”, and proceed to clean up for them. Respect for the children, similar to respect for other adults, should come into play here. It was an accident, why was a rude and harsh tone used on the child while a forgiving polite tone on the adult?
I remember when we were young, my siblings and I fought and quarreled over toys like normal children would. Whenever my parents caught wind of these quarrels, we got caned. They took the toy away and they caned us. I recall that every time that happened, it truly spoilt the entire day for me. We would be upset and grumpy the entire day, we would blame each other for the situation we were in (toy-less, and bearing obvious cane marks on our legs), and we refused to talk to each other. This conventional way of punishing - all it did was to cause your children to fear you, and to dislike their siblings. Would you have done it differently? Could you have done it differently? Could you have, instead taught them the values and joy of sharing, and guided them to learn how to resolve their conflicts on their own? Sure the conventional way fuses the situation immediately but there are no long-term positive impact. The alternative way may take weeks, even months, to have an impact, but that impact will be beneficial and is there to stay.
On Embracing Emotions
I remember when we were young, we were constantly told not to show our emotions. When I was angry, my parents shouted “why are you so angry? Go to your room!” When I was sad, my parents said “why are you crying? Stop crying!” And if I don’t, the cane is brandished. It felt like the only emotion I could express freely was happiness.
I’m sure my experiences of conventional parenting are not unique to myself.
My parents are great parents, I have no doubts about that. They had adopted the conventional way of parenting - societal definition of what makes a good parent. Shockingly, that definition doesn’t seem to have changed in the last 30-40 years.
In one of my favourite books on this topic, “Positive Parenting” by Rebecca Eanes, she wrote about “The Trap of Conventional Discipline”.
“Trying so hard to meet societal expectations of what it means to be a “good” parent, I had silenced my inner voice and gut instincts. As I was constantly trying to do the “right” things, the joy of parenting was draining away.”
“As my boy grew, so did the expectations. Toddlers shouldn’t be too rowdy. They should be considerate of others, share, and sit quietly, whether at a restaurant or on a plane. Aggressiveness is a sure sign of a mean, undisciplined child. Tantrums need to be ignored. Poor behaviour must be corrected swiftly. The trouble with these common expectations is that they don’t align at all with a toddler’s development. Toddlers are, by their nature, rowdy. They are driven to explore, to move, to wiggle! Sharing isn’t a concept they can grasp quite yet, and they are still very much focused on the self. Tantrums are the immature brain’s way of handling overwhelming emotions, and aggression is its reaction to frustration. It’s all quite normal, yet as a young parent, I felt the pressure to fight against it so as to raise a “good” kid and be a “good” mom; thus, I had fallen into the trap of conventional parenting.”
Let me share a few examples of conventional parenting which I had personally witnessed. Please note that there is no judgment here, sharing these examples is only for discussion purposes, we do not know these parents’ circumstances, nor are we aware of how their children are like.
Conventional Parenting Example 1
I brought T to a playground one evening, and T was holding onto a ball. There was another boy at the playground around T’s age, let’s call him S. S came over and started playing with T. It all went well at the start until S decided he wanted the ball all to himself. So S took the ball and refused to give it back to T. T reacted and snatched it back. So S hit him a few times on the shoulder (nothing serious, they are little kids after all). I was standing at the side, just observing. S’s mom came running over when she saw this, and she started slapping S’s hands several times, while saying “I told you cannot hit people! Why you hit the boy?! Cannot hit!” Do you see the irony? Do you think the child would eventually see the irony? More importantly, children this age (T was 2 at that time) learn the fastest by imitation.
How would you have respectful-parented the child?
We could communicate to the child in a calm voice.
First address his actions: "Why did you hit the boy?", "Is it because you wanted to play with the ball?", "Do you think it's nice to hit others?"
Then teach him empathy by helping him see things from others' perspectives: "Would you be sad or angry if someone hits you?", "Do you think the boy feels sad and angry now after you hit him?", "This ball belongs to the boy right? When you took it from him, he will be sad and angry too. That's why he tried to take it back.", "Do you like it if someone takes your toy without asking?".
Then help him problem solve: "I can see that you really like to play with the ball, but it's not nice to take it away without asking, and it's not nice to hit others", "Shall we ask the boy to play the ball with you?", "Why don't we take turns with the boy to play with the ball?", "Do you want to say sorry to the boy for hitting him just now?"
Conventional Parenting Example 2
Once, we went to a foodcourt to have dinner, just T and myself. We were already seated with our food. At the table behind me, there was a boy (probably 3-4 years old) alone with his mom. The boy was screaming and crying, and the mom was shouting and yelling at him. This went on for a really long time, and people around were starting to notice this commotion. I could hear every snippet of their conversation. It turned out that the mom wanted to go and buy dinner for both of them, but the child insisted on following her. For some reasons, she refused (maybe she wanted to keep the table?!), and she kept telling the child if he didn’t let her go, he would have no food. So the boy kept screaming that he was hungry and he wanted to eat. The mom shouted back that he needed to let her go buy food. The boy screamed, “don’t leave me alone!” This went on and on. There was a point when the mom shouted “Why are you so naughty!” Do you really think the child was being naughty and defiant intentionally? The food court was huge, there were so many people milling around at that time, and he probably didn’t know how long his mom would take. If you really see things from the child’s perspective, he was terrified by the idea of being left alone. Every time the mom mentioned she wanted to go buy food, he screamed.
How would you have respectful-parented the child?
Leaving a child alone in the food-court is dangerous and terrifying for him, I would have brought him along with me to buy food. To me, this is the clear-cut solution to the situation. Putting that aside though, let's focus on addressing the emotions here.
First, let's acknowledge his emotions: "I can see that you're upset and angry that I'm going to leave you alone", "Are you scared too?"
Show him that you empathize and can understand why he's reacting this way: "Yes I can see that you're scared. I will be scared too if I'm left alone", "I also understand that you're hungry, we can get some food after this".
Then help him through his emotions: "Can I give you a hug while you calm down?", "I brought your favorite toy, do you want it to help you feel better?", "If you want to talk more about this, we can after you feel better".
Conventional Parenting Example 3
We went to a house for a play date once. The neighbor’s door was opened and we could see a toddler playing with his vehicles. He had a pile of vehicles and he was arranging them into a circle. He was halfway through, the semi-circle was formed. His mom came over and said “shower now”. The toddler didn’t react. So the mom carried him up immediately and headed for the shower. We could hear him screaming and crying on the way to the bathroom.
How would you have respectful-parented the child?
First, acknowledge that the child is in the midst of an activity: "Oh, are you arranging your cars into a circle? They look really neat", "I can see that you're enjoying playing with your cars".
Then, give him a heads-up and set firm limits: "We are going to shower after this activity. This is your last activity", "I can see that you have 5 more cars to arrange. After you're done with these 5 cars, we will go shower", "You have 5 more minutes, I will count down from 10 when your 5 minutes are up".
Inform him of the consequences after the above limits are up: "If you do not start moving to the bathroom, I will have to carry you there".
I’m using these life examples, to highlight the differences between conventional and respectful parenting. As much as I advocate respectful parenting, it might not be a style that suits you. But I hope by highlighting the key concepts behind Respectful Parenting (Part I), and sharing how we personally integrate Respectful Parenting into our home (Part III), it would at least convince you to read up on this parenting style and look at how you can implement this at home with your child.
Click on the below to read Part II and Part III of the Respectful Parenting blog series.
Respectful Parenting Part I: What is Respectful Parenting About (read here)
Respectful Parenting Part III: How We Integrate Respectful Parenting at Home (read here)