In a nutshell, respectful parenting is about raising kind, compassionate, confident, capable, little ones without having to shame, bribe, yell, guilt or punish.
What are the benefits of respectful parenting?
Research has shown that children that are brought up with respectful parenting methods are significantly more well-adjusted, resourceful, emotionally healthy, resilient, helpful, kind and independent. They are more likely to be successful in their careers and able to healthily navigate and thrive in social and personal situations.
This sounds great in theory but does that mean my child is going to walk all over me?
Respectful parenting is often confused with permissive parenting where the child is in-charge, has no rules, and is never told no. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Respectful parenting has strict boundaries, very definite limits and a consistent structure of follow-through.
The only difference from “tiger mom approach” is that instead of beating/shaming/yelling/threatening it out of the child, we work together as a team and help them understand the why. It is saying to a child: I see you, I hear you, I understand – and then responding as a parent and empowering them to work through any situation.
Awesome! Sign me up, how do I start?
There is only one main rule: we respect. We respect the child, we respect each other’s feelings and boundaries and we respect the environment. If you go into any situation with that in mind, half the battle is won and thought out for you.
Some questions to ask are:
How can I be respectful of the child and the situation? How can I teach this little one to handle this situation if I am not here? What do I need to say? What do I need to allow? How do I need to empower?
In my workshops, I teach participants the Racheal Method which is to say PLEASE:
Prep yourself and your child for any situation. What is the worst that can happen? What is the ideal situation? What are my boundaries in this situation to keep my child safe and to respect the environment while letting her still be a child?
What do I need to physically prepare for? For example, if we are going to playdate at a friends house, is it close to nap/snack time? What are some tricky situations that she might get caught in and how can I prepare her for those – a friend doesn’t want to share a toy, she needs to go potty but doesn’t know where the toilet is, a friend hits her, there are people there that she might not know.
By prepping yourself and your child for the situation, you make sure that when the curve balls happen, you can stay calm and confident. It also lays out clear expectations of behavior for your child. But more than anything, it empowers them to have control over situations instead of feeling helpless, which is when tantrums usually occur.
While you can’t prepare for everything (and will go nuts trying to), this method empowers both you and your little one and teaches the fundamental rule of “I can handle it”.
Listen to what your little has to say. Very often, we go into situations and immediately try to remedy or make excuses (you can’t do this because…) but don’t make space for them to be heard. Just because you allow them to tell you what their opinion is doesn’t mean that you are agreeing to their solution. It just helps you see the bigger picture and makes them feel understood.
A couple of weeks ago, my daughter had a huge meltdown about getting in her car seat. She started screaming and crying and if I hadn’t stopped to listen but instead threatened and forced, I wouldn’t have realised that the reason why she was screaming had absolutely nothing to do with the car seat. She was upset because the bow on her dress was poking her back. Once I created a safe space for her to tell me the problem, it was a two-second fix.
Could there be a two-second fix to the problem?
The only way to find out is if we stop to listen and identify what the problem is in the first place.
Have you ever been caught in a situation where all you needed was someone to just say ‘I’m so so sorry it’s so hard’ and it immediately made everything feel better? It wasn’t about fixing it or finding solutions, it was just someone empathising that what you were going through was frustrating and difficult.
The power of empathising with your little one as they work through a frustration, again, doesn’t mean that you approve or that they are allowed to hit/kick/bite/smack/snatch, it’s just taking a beat to say, I see you, I hear you, I understand, it is so so hard.
Instead of being on opposing teams and at loggerheads with each other, doing this builds trust, teaches compassion, role models and shows respect for her feelings. This then builds a bridge for you to be mama and teach them how they should respond in any situation.
Always acknowledge whatever the situation is. It’s sometimes literally repeating the situation or echoing their thoughts. It is why you will often hear children having a meltdown repeat the same thing over and over and over again. Until you empathise and acknowledge that your little one wants the red car, you can’t move on to why he can’t have it – you don’t have it or someone else has it etc. He won’t be able to hear you until you can acknowledge that he wants the red car. The key to acknowledging is no buts, no explanations, no whys, all that comes later. The first step is to simply just acknowledge.
“You want the red car.”
“You didn’t want goldfish crackers for snack today.”
“You don’t like it when mama tells you no.”
“You didn’t want to sit in your car seat.”
This is usually the hardest step: to sit and make space. Not to fix it for them but to just sit and allow them all the big feelings they might have – of disappointment and frustration, of hurt, jealousy and anger.
It is saying your feelings are valid and allowed and I will sit with you, I will hold your hand, I will make space for you to have these feelings.
Especially with little ones, sitting means just holding them while they cry and tell you all their feelings about the situation. Have you ever been in a situation where you just didn’t have the words to explain and just cried it out first and immediately felt a lot better? It is the same for a little one. Allowing them the space to release and be heard often de-escalates the situation.
Very often you will notice that they aren’t even crying about the red car. Crying is incredibly healing. There are two ways that children work out their stress – crying or laughing.
In fact, you will often see children go from straight from crazy screaming in circles on the floor to smiling and laughing once they’ve gotten all their anxiety/fears/anger/frustration out. The key is to support that and provide a safe space instead of shutting it down because hearing it is hard and our instinct is always to try and make it all better.
Finally, after you’ve prepared, listened, empathised, acknowledged and sat with them, then comes the magic of empowering them. It’s where action takes place but instead of doing it for them, you help them to do it themselves by talking them through what their options are, what they can do about the situation and how to gain control so they feel empowered rather than helpless. It’s how you build resourceful, resilient, fiercely independent little ones that are capable of anything. They believe in themselves because you believe in them.
What do you think we should do about it? What can you say? Where can you go?
The magic is that instead of fixing it for them, we empower them to know what to do the next time they are caught in this situation again. It takes practice but with time, they will be able to face any situation and know that there is a solution and that they are capable of coming out with it.
I hope this article has changed the way you think about respectful parenting but more than anything, I hope it ignites a fire inside your heart to parent with courage and compassion. As a Child and Family Development Specialist and in my 20+ years of working with parents, teachers and children, I have seen this method work again and again and really hope you will consider starting this journey of listening and leading with love.
If you want to know more, I talked about respectful parenting on Family Time, a Happy Go KL show on BFM!
Racheal Kwacz is a Child and Family Development Specialist and has helped hundreds of parents and teachers around the world raise kind, confident, compassionate, respectful little ones using the Racheal Method. She developed it when she was working and living in the US and now shares her knowledge at her parenting workshops and corporate engagements. She is a mom to a joyful, curious and fiercely independent 3-year-old foodie who is her talking, walking, living, posterchild for respectful Parenting. To learn more, connect with her on her website or follow her on Facebook and Instagram!