Respect Your Child – Positive Parenting

Respecting our children is the heart of positive parenting, but how do you maintain that respect through challenging behavior?

I received an email from a kind mother asking how she should handle her child’s sudden upset during bath time. Her toddler developed a sudden aversion to bath time, crying and fighting to avoid getting in. Her husband, on the other hand, insisted on forcing baths, which resulted in a major power struggle in her household.

Some might agree with the father in this situation, arguing that “giving in” would simply give the child the impression that she was in charge. Empathizing with your child’s distress, however strange it may appear to you, demonstrates to her that she is important and that her feelings are acceptable and understood.

It’s both respectful to her and important for your relationship that you consider baths from her perspective and recognize that she has strong feelings about them. She does, however, require cleaning. I would recommend experimenting with a few different options. Perhaps she’d prefer a shower, or even just being wiped down while standing in or beside the tub. Mission accomplished as long as she cleans up.

I can assure you that it will not give her the impression that she rules the roost, nor that she will never bathe again. Perhaps she is afraid of going down the drain. Maybe she got water in her eyes the last time, and it hurt. Try to understand her fear, discover where it came from, and assist her in working through it. This will pass in time. In the meantime, she’ll understand how important her emotions are.

Our culture is so caught up in control

Parents have to be in control! We’re in charge! We’re so afraid of raising the kind of child that our culture so openly disdains. Spoiled. Bratty. Disrespectful. Frankly, we’re more worried about our own shame we’d face than about what our kids are feeling. We are a culture terrified of permissiveness. Alfie Kohn says, “The problem is not permissiveness, but our fear of permissiveness.I agree with Alfie. I certainly don’t see much “permissiveness” where I live. Quite the contrary, in fact. However, when ditching the old paradigm of control and fear, it can be easy to fall into permissiveness, but don’t be mistaken. Positive parenting is not about a lack of limits. It’s not about not disciplining children. It’s not about respecting them to the extreme degree that we never tell them “no.” That isn’t healthy for the child either.

Alfie also says this –  “The most popular false dichotomy in parenting runs as follows: “We need to take a hard line with kids and stop letting them do anything they feel like.” In effect, traditional discipline is contrasted with permissiveness. Either I punish my child or else I let her “get away with” whatever she did. Either I take a hard line or I draw no line at all.”

How often do I hear this?! If we don’t draw a hard line, people think we draw no lines at all, and that is simply not true. If there is one thing that I wish people would understand about positive parenting is that, as a whole, we are not permissive parents! Sure, there are a few in the bunch, but they don’t represent what we stand for as a whole.

How do you respect your child without being a pushover?

You empathize and stick to your limits. Dr. Laura Markham has written a host of fabulous articles on this subject. Respecting your child doesn’t mean she always gets her way. That would, at times, be disrespectful to her if what she wants is dangerous or unhealthy! Rather, it means you take her feelings, her personhood, into regard when you interact with her. When you have to say no, you don’t have to draw a hard line. You don’t have to shout her down in order to assert yourself. Respect, by definition, means this: A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements. Even when you have to set your foot down, remember your deep admiration for her. When you have to say “no” to more candy or “can I stay up later pleeeease,” or to that party he was invited to, remember your deep admiration; remember your love, and then come to him with your assertion, with your “no” from that place of love. “I understand that you really want more candy, but too much is not healthy. Would you like an apple instead?”

“I realize all your friends will be at that party. You must feel very disappointed that you cannot go.”

Will they automatically accept your limit because you were nice about it? Maybe or maybe not. They may very well still be very upset with you, and that’s okay. Be respectful in your interactions, even if they’re not. They’re watching your example.

The message I want to convey is that parenting has so little to do with punishments and so much to do with relationships. How well we attach and bond, how well we set boundaries, how well we listen, how well we love, that is what shapes us! For generations, parents have shaped “fine” but deeply restless human beings. We may know “how to act” but we’re losing sight of how to love, how to bond, how to have healthy relationships. This is evident in our broken homes, the rise in depression and mental illness, suicide rates, and so forth. We have to teach them more than just “how to act.” We have to teach them how to love, how to bond, how to deal with their emotions, how to have healthy relationships, and how to get out of relationships that aren’t healthy. Our relationship with them is the one they will come to base all relationships on, so let’s not base it on control and fear.

 “People grow close not through monitoring one another’s behavior but by working together, talking together, celebrating together, weeping together. Relationships develop when people are there for each other – and that’s as true for parents and children as it is for anyone else.”- Sally Clarkson, The Mission of Motherhood

“Rules rarely keep us in line. Love does a much better job of keeping us moral.” – Dr. Henry Cloud

Leave a Comment