Respectful Parenting - what it looks like in Practice

Respectful Parenting - what it looks like in Practice

October 21, 2021

As teachers, we are constantly aiming to build and nurture trusting and honest relationships with parents and children. Together as invested stakeholders in children’s development and learning journey we are able to unpack respectful parenting techniques and strategies that support both parent and child needs with transparency and honesty. In a time where mindfulness is trending in education, we are often engaged in meaningful dialogue with parents who eagerly search for mindful and respectful parenting strategies that truly support challenging home routines and difficult emotional encounters that happen as a normal part of life. As we navigate the complexities of the ‘new normal’ with covid-19 in our lives, this topic has become a daily dialogue between teachers and parents. As the Wellbeing Team Ambassadors for EtonHouse, we often use the following 3 main focus points for Respectful Parenting with suggested tools and techniques that we hope improve our ability to adjust, explore and find what works best for each unique family.

The power of our words

Our image of a child has definitely evolved over years as we move from traditional/authoritarian ways of seeing children as ‘empty vessels waiting to be filled’ to realising and acknowledging how children are also human beings carefully observing all other human beings in the world around them as they analyse and test modelled behaviours. As respectful parents/teachers we honour children as human beings who are born intrinsically curious, constantly learning, adapting and applying what they hear, see and feel as they express themselves. We, as adults, can further consider the importance and value placed on words we choose to use in each moment with young children as the impact and long-term effects are being embedded in their developing self identity. The way in which we “see” children, directly impacts the power of our words and through these interactions and expectations of children, we begin to help shape and define who they are and how they communicate confidently with others in every moment of each day. If we “see” children as incapable and unable to do things or complete daily tasks which we feel require our support every step of the way, the child will indeed view themselves as incompetent and with a low self esteem in achieving physical, cognitive and emotional goals. However, if we believe and see children as capable, curious individuals who are respected in what they have to offer from birth, their emotional growth mindset and determination to take positive control with minor or major challenges in their daily life experiences becomes something very achievable for them. They will develop that innate sense of grit, agency to problem solve, express their thoughts and ideas in order to build on their self reflection and personal development as a human being. For example, taking time to consider, at an age-appropriate level, what we do FOR or WITH children and how we are talking AT or TO children at each moment. As we steer towards the “with” versus the “for” and talk “to” rather than “at” children, we are building on their sense of value as an important person. As a respectful adult/parent/teacher, we can unpack the powerful impact our words have on children’s actions, reactions, choices and decisions in aspects of their life.

Credit for the posters: We are Teachers and Our Little Playnest

Parents are children’s first educators role modeling the power of words and It is our responsibility to respect and appreciate children by:

  • Giving children choices so they feel in control and have agency with decisions 
  • Role modelling problem solving strategies by verbalising expectations together
  • Providing opportunities for age-appropriate responsibility 
  • Listen to your child with their ‘whole’ body
  • Respond to your child’s gestures with words to empower their actions/needs. Example, I can see you have your arms up, would you like a cuddle. 
  • Take a breath, notice your body language when you respond instead of react
  • Acknowledging and celebrating their uniqueness as well as their positive self talk as they begin to see themselves as competent and capable people
  • Using words beyond “happy, angry, sad” to describe how they may be feeling / what they are observing. Example, I can see how that may make you feel “surprised, frustrated, lonely, disappointed”
  • Be brave to talk to your young or older child using respectful statements like, I can see you are sharing something really important. Let’s work it out together.

(Bringing Up Great Kids - Australian Childhood Foundation Professionals, 2021)

The challenge as adults, living a busy fast paced life with multi-tasking as an expectation nowadays, moments of challenge can happen rapidly and on numerous occasions throughout the day and we have the responsibility of noticing and supporting children through each of these moments as best we can. It is important to remember to breathe in these moments. First, acknowledge your own emotions, thoughts and feelings, even just for a few seconds, take time to pause and then respond to each situation with empathy, kindness and honesty. Ask yourself if you are about to ‘react or respond’ as a regulation strategy.

When we have realistic expectations of children moving through each developmental milestone and guide them whilst increasing their responsibilities using positive language to extend them, we are then truly listening to children and modelling strategies for their future toolbelt. Our words are powerful, listen carefully to your child by watching their whole body dispositions, facial gestures and their own voices and actions as you respond in each and every moment because children are highly intuitive and always watching us as this informs them of who they are and who they want to be.

The power of our emotions with our important role as parents

Parenting is considered by some to be the ultimate journey into the deep inner self. Being plunged into a world of unconditional love, we are shown how far we’ve come on the path of inner work and how far we still have to go. We believe that children are whole human beings, discovering the world through every touch, smell, sight, sound and taste.  As adults, we guide and support them through their innate curiosities and discoveries with respect, trust and connection. To help children to feel confident and safe to engage in challenges of the day, we tend to this need by consistently providing a safe space for them to experience themselves in their raw and authentic form as they discover who they are. 

How can you do this as a parent?  It all starts and ends with us! As adults, we often wonder how we can engage so children can express their authentic selves. A bigger question on top of this would be – How am I showing up today? What is my emotional state and how can I make sure that I am the most centred and open version of myself? While this inner work is not always easy, making the effort will not only support your child’s growth, but will also bring you face-to-face with areas that you might like to sprinkle with some tender love and compassion.  This journey of self-exploration begins when we are children and one of the most powerful learning tools for them is observing the models in our immediate environment. A big question we can ask ourselves when it comes to guiding children is, “How am I showing up in the world?”  Here are a few starter tips!

1. Practice following through – Are your words matching your actions? Are you holding yourself to the same standards you ask of them? Do you follow through with the things you say you’re going to do? What are your reactions when challenges present themselves? How do you communicate with other adults and children? Even when your child is demonstrating undesirable communication with you or another child – can you take active steps to stay consistent with your tone, energy and speech? This action of following through can create a deeper sense of reciprocal trust between you both.

2. Demonstrate true empathy with your child – The times when children consistently act out we may end up feeling triggered and react in undesirable ways. If you find yourself stuck in a pattern of dysregulation with your child at home, you can take a step back. Really FEEL into your child in the moment. What might be happening for them in their life? What is their environment like? What is happening within the family unit? What is their world like? And really GO THERE. You might like to write down your experience from the point of view of your child. This exercise can be a powerful perspective shift, point of reconnection and offer deeper understanding.

3. Make Space for Emotions and Acknowledge Feelings – As adults, we can have BIG emotions. Children’s emotions can seem even bigger since they are learning to regulate themselves by allowing the full process of expression and release. While we might do all we can to stop children from ‘feeling bad’ or ‘throwing a tantrum’ because we want them to feel good again, or behave – we are in fact denying them the opportunity to regulate themselves. This reminds us and them that all things pass which can be incredibly helpful and healing. Letting emotions run their course for us and our child is one of the kindest things we can do. They learn to trust you to support them through the difficult times and feel validated and acknowledged as whole and worthy human beings.

“One of the most ironically counterintuitive twists of parenting is this: the more we welcome our children’s displeasure, the happier everyone in our household will be, there is no greater gift to our children and ourselves than complete acceptance of their negative feelings.  (Notice I did not say ‘behaviors’.)” - Janet Lansbury

The more we make space for our own inner child to express itself, be seen and held – we build our capacity to model this behavior for our children.  Treating ourselves with kindness, unconditional love and compassion, directly supports children as they develop better self-understanding and emotional awareness. Taking these small steps towards doing our own inner work creates more integrated, confident, and self-aware global citizens.

Positive behaviour guidance

Very often when our children behave in ways that upset us, we try to change their behaviour by telling them that what they are doing is wrong. It is a natural reaction we have as adults, but we often end up missing out on why the child behaved the way they did and how we can help them with their emotional needs. Positive behaviour guidance is something that can help us understand our children’s behaviour and find out why they behave the way they did. This helps guide their behaviour with understanding and compassion. 

What does positive behaviour guidance look like? Positive behaviour guidance can have a whole array of strategies, but essentially it is about calmly analysing children’s behaviour by pausing, reflecting and then choosing how we respond. When our children react in a way that we find undesirable or challenging, it is important to ask ourselves “why did my child behave this way?”

By Diane (Hipp) Lee and Barbara Clark

Children are often unaware of how to deal with certain situations due to a lack of life experience. ‘Kelso’s choices’ is a great tool to help children understand what choices they have in different social situations and is a great way to encourage them to be independent problem solvers. It is something that is used in many schools and home settings throughout the world and helps educators and as well families with positively guiding their children’s behaviour in challenging situations. 

Sometimes children are not entirely sure what are the things they are feeling and how to talk about them. ‘Zones of regulation’ is another good tool to help children develop useful strategies in communicating their emotions. This can also go hand in hand with Kelso’s choices, where children can think about what zone they are in, and what they can do to move from that zone back to the green zone. 

By Leah M. Kuypers

It is important to note that positive behaviour guidance strategies need consistency and modelling from adults. We want to make sure that our strategies are consistent to avoid confusion and misunderstanding. Modelling is important because children imitate behaviours not only by listening but also by watching adults. This is sometimes referred to as “observational learning” and is an important aspect of children’s learning. 

By guiding our children with different positive behaviour strategies, understanding the “why” behind their behaviour through calm parenting and by providing them with choices, we help our children feel understood and in control of their lives. 

As a Wellbeing Team, we urge parents to always remember that Respectful Parenting is a journey. Respectful parenting takes time and requires parents to first and foremost, be kind to themselves, take care of themselves and find ways to honour their own pathway because you are human too. It is okay to have a hard day and it is okay for your child to see/feel/hear these challenges as this will offer incredibly powerful dialogue between parent and child. Self reflecting with honesty, trust and compassion as we all aim to be respected while navigating the complexities of life one day at a time.

Useful Articles/Tools for Parents

Interesting video highlighting the importance of parent-child interactions and connections

Molly Wright, a student from Queensland, Australia, is a passionate advocate for early childhood development. At just seven years old, she's one of the youngest people ever to give a TED Talk. Molly Wright: How every child can thrive by five

Recommended Books for Parents:
Additional References:

Australian Childhood Foundation Professionals. 2021. Bringing Up Great Kids - Australian Childhood Foundation Professionals. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 14 October 2021].

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