What Is Respectful Parenting? Principles, Benefits & Critics

By Paula McLaren •  Updated: 02/22/22 •  11 min read  •  Baby » Baby Parenting Advice

Respectful parenting is a parenting ethos gaining traction across the world.

Based on the fundamentals of treating our children as we wish to be treated. So…

Let’s get into it!

L R Knost who is the founder of the children’s rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, says…

“Connection, Communication, and Cooperation. These three elements, when interwoven with threads of understanding, respect, and love, are what combine to create the beautiful tapestry of a peaceful, happy home.” 

As much as I try to find a better way to word it, Knost’s statement explains perfectly what respectful parenting is all about…

Respectful parenting encourages us to treat our children as individuals from the moment they are born and revolves around respecting and listening to our children in the same way that we would want to be acknowledged, respected and listened to. 

The 10 Respectful Parenting Principles

There are 10 main principles behind the respectful parenting ethos. 

Some of them you may feel are too radical, but I think all parents can learn a lot from bearing these principles in mind when dealing with our little ones on a daily basis.

10 Respectful Parenting Principles

1. Treat Children Like People

For me, treating your children like people goes without saying. 

Children are born with all the emotions and personality traits of adults yet they are just beginning their life and do not yet know how to deal with all these emotions and experiences.

So, it is up to us to help guide them through this journey and show them how to navigate life in a healthy, happy way.

2. Have Open Communication

Even before children can talk, they are able to comprehend a great deal from our tone of voice and body language. 

And as they grow, their comprehension far outweighs their ability to speak. 

So when practising respectful parenting, parents are encouraged to talk their children through what they are doing or about to do.

Even as babies when you need to change their diaper, respectful parents are encouraged to tell their baby what they are about to do and why. 

Some parents may find this strange or even awkward… but getting into the habit of talking your child through your actions and their day, can lay important foundations for the way you communicate with your child as they grow. 

It also has the added benefit of establishing strong language skills too!

3. Acknowledge Their Feelings

Another important respectful parenting principle is to put yourself in your little one’s shoes and acknowledge their feelings. 

Telling your toddler that everything is alright and that they should not be upset, belittles their emotions and does not help them learn how to process them. 

The best way to help your little one understand anger, frustration and disappointment, is to say that you understand they are feeling that way and guide them through it. 

4. Have Empathy

Being empathetic as your child navigates their way through the whole range of human emotions is very empowering. 

Feeling heard and listened to is hugely important to young children and if they feel understood they have more time and emotional energy to deal with how they are feeling. 

Giving this acknowledgement and walking them through the experience can help with their problem-solving skills too!

5. Encourage Independence

Some parents get caught up in how they think their children should be, look and act.

Although you may think this is only an issue for older children, very young children can also express very definite preferences, especially about what they would like to wear. 

Allowing your child the freedom to not conform is an important aspect of respectful parenting. 

For example, if your toddler wants to wear wellington boots on a summer’s day or not wear a jumper on a cold day, rather than insist they change, try the following:

6. Work Together 

Respectful parenting encourages you and your children to work together. 

After all, a family is a team and successful teams work together!

When a problem or disagreement arises, show your children how to handle these situations in a well-mannered by taking everyone’s feelings into consideration. 

You need to show your children how to be kind, empathetic and respectful of people’s boundaries and the best way to do this is to work with them, not against them.

7. Lead By Example

The best way to practice respectful parenting is to lead by example

All those qualities that you wish to see in your child are learnt by watching you so if they experience you being respectful towards them, they are more likely to follow your lead.

8. Be Honest

Respectful parenting advocates honesty. 

There is no need to lie to our children and this principle of respectful parenting requires you to explain to your children what is going on and why (except for those extreme cases when it would prove too traumatic).

Of course, you have to take into account what is age-appropriate, but for young children, it is perfectly acceptable to be honest about things, even if it means they will feel disappointed or sad. 

It is then your job to help them deal with whatever emotion they may be feeling as a result.

9. Give Your Children Freedom

Respectful parenting also means giving your children as much freedom as possible in their day to day lives.

At its peak, respectful parenting can go as far as offering children the freedom of deciding when they go to bed or when and what they eat. 

10. Allow Natural Consequences

Allowing your children to learn from consequences can be hard for many parents, but monitoring your children closely and allowing them to learn from their mistakes is a vital lesson.

Obviously, you would not let your children get into extreme danger…

But with respectful parenting, watching carefully and allowing little mishaps to happen will prove to be a more helpful life lesson than simply explaining what ‘could’ happen.

What Is NOT Respectful Parenting?

There are certain aspects of more traditional parenting that respectful parenting rejects such as:

What is NOT respectful parenting

1. Hard and fast rules

Respectful parenting does not involve laying down hard and fast rules that have to be obeyed at all costs. 

Respectful parenting advocates discussing with our children about why we might need to behave or do things in a certain way.

2. Punishments and rewards

Respectful parenting does not believe in punishment or rewards in response to ‘good’ or ‘bad’ behaviour. 

Respectful parents believe that their children should be motivated to do the right thing rather than doing it to avoid punishment or receive a reward. 

3. Obedience

Obedience is not the focus of respectful parenting. 

The aim is for children to be protected and nurtured, and not have their personality suppressed by force to suit their parents’ expectations.

This is not to say that there is an absence of guidance or discipline, but rather that there are respectful consequences that are fair, accepted and acknowledged by everyone. 

4. Bribery 

Rather than shaming, blaming or bribing children into expected behaviours with methods like reward charts, respective parenting is about nurturing mutual respect and using that as the motivation to be kind and considerate towards others. 

5. Overly Permissive Or Passive Parenting

Respectful parents are not permissive or passive, but they are definitely not controlling. 

In fact, respectful parenting requires a great deal of effort, planning and patience. 

It is not about taking the easy way out by allowing children to do what they want when they want…. but rather taking time to guide, encourage and nurture. 

6. Smacking

You will never find a respective parent smacking or hitting their child. 

Hitting is not OK and is not respectful in any circumstance.

How Can Respectful Parenting Benefit Your Family?

A family unit that is built around mutual respect creates an environment where all members feel heard and can consequently thrive. 

The wonderful thing about respect is that it works both ways so if you are kind and respectful to your children, they are more likely to be kind and respectful back!

Parenting your children in a respectful manner will also result in fewer showdowns yet… create more cooperation and understanding between family members.

Of course, this style of parenting does not mean that your children will never become frustrated or angry, but it is how you deal with that frustration and anger that will make the biggest difference to your family life.

Common Respectful Parenting Criticisms

Respectful parenting is not without its critics and many parents may feel that this style of parenting is too permissive and lacking in boundaries…

In its maximum form, respectful parenting permits ‘back chat’ and allows children to choose their own bedtimes and mealtimes.

Time outs are frowned upon and rewards used as a motivation towards good behaviour are not advocated either. 

For many parents, the freedoms advocated by respectful parenting are too loose and undefined and many feel that the children of respectful parents are wild and allowed to do exactly as they please.

Personally, I feel that (as with all parenting advice) you need to take from it what works for you and your family. 

For example, allowing young children to make decisions that are not age-appropriate, especially when it comes to food and sleep may not be beneficial to their overall development… 

However, there are many benefits from treating our children in a respectful manner, and the fundamental basis of respectful parenting and its advantages to the health and wellbeing of our children and the family cannot be denied.

Books To Read About Respectful Parenting

If you would like to read more about respectful parenting, Janet Lansbury’s Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting is a great place to start.

It is inspired by the pioneering parenting philosophy of Magda Gerber, where Janet encourages parents and child care professionals to perceive babies as unique, capable human beings with natural abilities to learn without being taught.

Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting
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Final Note About Respectful Parenting

Having respect for one another and treating each other kindly and considerately should be at the very foundation of our parenting if we wish to raise well rounded human beings.

We spend a lot of time in this modern age putting emphasis on success in the wrong areas, (such as academic success and the desire to get the best job) and too little time focusing on ensuring that we teach our children how to be good people.

Respectful parenting ensures that the focus is on the child, their relationships and their ever-evolving understanding of the world around them and the people in it…

Rather than producing a ‘well behaved’ child who always does as they are told regardless of how they feel.

Magda Gerber’s RIE parenting principles are regarded by many to be the foundation of respectful parenting and she puts it best when she states that this style of parenting:

“Helps adults raise children who are competent, confident, curious, attentive, exploring, cooperative, secure, peaceful, focused, self-initiating, resourceful, involved, inner-directed, aware and interested”.

And what parent could want more than that?

I hope you enjoyed this post about respectful parenting and if you have any further questions, feel free to email me at [email protected] and ask! I love answering your queries!

As always, thank you for reading and until next time, with love and support, Happy Parenting!

Paula McLaren

Paul Mclaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and has been in the child care industry as a Norland Nanny since 1982. Since then, her mission has been to help parents become the best they can possibly be. And each year, she continues to help more families understand their child's development, the trials and joys of parenting and of course, how to care for their little ones.

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