If you’re asking, “What is respectful parenting?” you may also wonder, “Does it work?”
In parenting, there are two schools of thought. Either “Respect is not given, it’ is earned” or “To get respect you have to give it.”
Decades of research support the latter. Plain and simple: Kids repeat what they know.
This post will delve further into the truth about gentle discipline and ten key ways to set boundaries with compassion.
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What is Respectful Parenting?
Respectful parenting is a style of childrearing and discipline that focuses on fostering an emotional connection between adult and child.
Respectful parenting is rooted in the belief that all humans, regardless of age, deserve to be treated with empathy and compassion. Consequently, respectful parents validate and affirm their children’s feelings, use peaceful problem-solving strategies, and set boundaries from a place of unconditional love.
Commonly referred to as “gentle parenting” or “positive parenting,” respectful parenting involves setting limits for children without resorting to punishment, yelling, or fear-based tactics.
Parents can help children develop essential social-emotional skills by validating big emotions, actively listening, and building connections. They can also collaborate with their kids to solve problems peacefully.
The Four Main Parenting Styles
Parenting styles are the strategies parents use to discipline their children and teach desired behaviors or skills.
There are four main parenting styles:
Authoritarian parenting relies on strict rules and expectations with no wiggle room. Parents may yell, use threats/fear, or corporal punishment to elicit desired behaviors. They tell their children exactly how to solve problems through demands.
Permissive parenting uses few rules/limits and tons of decision-making opportunities for children. While permissive parents may provide lots of love to their kids, they fall short of the structure and guidance children need to learn boundaries and build social-emotional skills (e.g., self-control).
Uninvolved/neglectful parenting is a lack of physical involvement and loving presence in a child’s life. Children may be left to fend for themselves to manage food/hygiene, decision-making, and problem-solving.
Authoritative (Respectful) Parenting
Lastly, authoritative parenting uses clear expectations and boundaries while providing emotional support for the child. Authoritative parenting is commonly referred to as respectful parenting, positive parenting, gentle parenting, or conscious parenting, to name a few.
Authoritative parents believe that the parent-child connection is the foundation for peaceful, collaborative problem-solving and emotional intelligence.
Respectful Parenting Books
Books are a great place to dive deep into positive, authoritative parenting. Many well-researched books guide caregivers on how to be respectful parents and find an approach that works for their families.
As a Certified Positive Discipline Parent Educator, here are three insightful parenting books I wholeheartedly trust:
10 Key Ways to Discipline with Love as a Respectful Parent
Respectful parents must know how to discipline with love. Let’s discuss ten key ways to set limits while fostering an emotional connection with your child.
#1: Set realistic and developmentally appropriate expectations.
Strengthening your knowledge of child development, particularly social-emotional development, can be a game-changer in the shift to respectful parenting.
When our expectations align with what our kids are capable of, frustration levels can go way down! As a result, it becomes easier to parent in a way that feels good.
If you’d like to learn more about your child’s developing brain, I highly recommend The Whole Brain Child by Dr. Daniel J. Siegel and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson.
#2: Avoid disciplining in the heat of the moment.
If you hold authoritative goals, but your behavior does not always align with these values, you are not alone.
First, know that every parent has parented in a way they weren’t proud of at one time or another. However, we all can and should continue to strive for better.
Perhaps the most impactful change parents can make to steer clear of authoritative parenting habits is to stop disciplining in the heat of the moment.
When emotions run high, respectful parenting can feel difficult, if not impossible. Furthermore, upset children are not mentally available for listening or collaborative problem-solving.
Allowing time for a cool-off period can make a world of difference. When parents and kids are both calm, they are much more likely to come together and revisit boundaries or identify solutions peacefully.
#3: Listen more than you lecture.
In the wise words of Dr. Jane Nelson, “Children will listen to you after they feel listened to.”
While respectful parents do not always agree with their children’s perspectives, they actively listen.
Developmentally, it’s much harder for children to exercise the self-control necessary to wait their turn. If denied the chance to speak, kids’ listening ears may shut off completely.
Hear them out first. It’s a beautiful chance to model keeping an open mind and how to conduct oneself when you don’t see eye to eye with someone.
Be direct and concise when it’s your turn to revisit boundaries. Long lectures are ineffective!
#4: Validate all emotions regardless of behavior.
Letting our children know that we accept them and all of their feelings is one of the most powerful impactful parenting tools. It’s also where respectful parenting stands out from a fear-based, authoritarian parenting style in a big way.
Rather than defaulting to, “It’s okay!” or “There’s no reason to be upset,” try an affirmation statement such as:
- “It’s okay to feel….”
- “You really wanted…”
- “I understand why you’re feeling…”
- “You didn’t want…”
- “It makes sense to feel…”
#5: Set clear boundaries.
Respectful parents do set limits and boundaries for their children to ensure their safety, health, and ability to learn and grow.
While children are often better equipped to receive boundaries after they feel listened to and affirmed, sometimes they will still be upset. Big feelings are okay!
It is okay for your child to be upset about your boundaries.
#6: Create opportunities for “voice and choice” within your limits.
While respectful parents set limits for their kids, they find key opportunities for their child to exercise their voice and make choices within those boundaries.
When kids feel like they have a stake in the game, they can better collaborate and exercise self-control.
#7: Collaborate with your child to solve problems.
After a difficult moment, we often want to quickly wrap things up with a bow (also known as an instant apology) and move on with the day.
Unfortunately, if a child isn’t yet on board with that apology (or other act for resolution), this does little to build genuine empathy or key problem-solving skills.
Instead, respectful parents ask open-ended, restorative questions to help children process what happened, identify the impact of their actions, and brainstorm the next steps.
#8: Apologize when you stray from respectful parenting.
No parent is perfect. There will be missteps in every positive parenting journey.
Do not sweep those mistakes under the rug. Instead, use them to create a teachable moment.
Model for your child what to do when you lose your cool:
- Own up to what happened.
- Offer a sincere apology.
- Say what you will do moving forward.
Remember, our actions speak louder than words.
#9: Opt for natural consequences over punishments.
Typically the most challenging change for families new to positive parenting is the shift away from the punishment mindset.
Positive parenting honors the true definition of discipline, meaning “to teach.”
Although society has engrained in us that wrongdoings require punishment, punitive consequences do little to change future behavior.
Natural consequences occur all of their own, as long as we step aside and let them unfold. For example, if a child breaks her sister’s toy, her sister will likely be upset for a while and not want to play with her.
These feelings are valid. It is okay to let that play out.
#10: Heal your inner child.
If you’ve been reading this post thinking, “Wow, this is not the way I was raised!”, you are not alone. It is likely safe to say that most adults today did not grow up with a tried-and-true respectful parenting style.
Respectful parents practice a conscious approach to caregiving and discipline. In other words, they are self-aware of their tendencies, patterns, and beliefs engrained during childhood and how those can influence parenting.
When an obstacle arises, respectful parents first look inward to solve the problem. They don’t view or treat their child as “the problem.”
Children are so quick to pick up on our energy. They do what we say and not what we do. Respectful discipline recognizes it is more about us as parents than our kids.
The Last Thing You Need to Know about Respectful Parenting
The shift to respectful parenting cannot happen overnight. It’s a journey that never ends.
There is always more we can learn and improve upon as parents. Each day brings new opportunities to connect with our kids, nurture their unique selves, and model kindness.
I suggest starting small. One simple change each day can add up!
I invite you to join the thousands of parents from around the world that have built a foundation in positive parenting through Such a Little While’s FREE 30-Day positive parenting challenge:
Learn Positive Parenting for FREE!
You’ve got this!