“We don’t yet know, above all, what the world might be like if children were to grow up without being subjected to humiliation, if parents would respect them and take them seriously as people.” -Alice Miller
But I want to know. Don’t you?
It’s up to us to change detrimental mainstream parenting patterns. To stop them being passed on to the next generation.
We can do that, at least in our own families. We can choose respectful parenting.
All we need is to be committed and conscious. Instead of parenting on autopilot, we need to deliberately create new habits. A way of being with children that honors them as whole people.
15 Habits of Respectful Parents
1. They value equality
Respectful parents seek to have a relationship with their children based on equality, where every family member is important and worthy of consideration. There is no age hierarchy or power struggles. We actively commit to eliminating childism in our homes and work together as equals to meet everyone’s needs.
“Children are not the people of tomorrow, but people today. They are entitled to be taken seriously. They have a right to be treated by adults with tenderness and respect, as equals.” -Janusz Korczak
2. They seek consent
Respectful parenting is consensual parenting. Parents do not make decisions on their child’s behalf without their consent (except in cases of immediate danger). Children deserve complete bodily autonomy. When needs don’t align, we problem-solve together rather than overriding someone’s wishes.
3. They live by principles, not rules
Respectful parents don’t seek to rule over their children as authority figures decreeing right and wrong and dishing out punishments to those who don’t toe the line. They don’t want their children simply to follow rules for no other reason than because someone told them to. They would rather children develop their own internal compass for right and wrong and be intrinsically motivated to do what’s ‘right’, instead of just being afraid of being in trouble for doing the wrong thing. So, there are no rules, only principles. This is a great post about what that looks like.
“Raising children with an emphasis on intrinsic rewards is not a technique, a method or a trick to get them to do what the parent wants them to by subtler means, but a way of life, a way of living with children with real respect for their intelligence and for their being.” -Mary Van Doren
4. They take kids seriously
Respectful parents don’t trivialise their children’s wants, needs, feelings, opinions, likes, dislikes, or anything else. It is not for us to judge what is or isn’t important to another person. Adults with more life experience sometimes behave dismissively towards things that are seen as ‘childish’. Respectful parents try to see things from their child’s perspective. What’s important to them is important to us.
5. They hear needs, not personal attacks
Children are still in the process of learning how to communicate their needs and wants effectively and politely. It takes time! So you will hear ‘get me a drink!’, ‘where is my dinner?’, and ‘you did it all wrong!’ Instead of taking this as a personal attack, respectful parents hear the feelings and needs behind the words and respond to them, instead of the delivery. We may express our feelings and remind them how we prefer to be spoken to, but we don’t punish children for immature communication skills.
6. They don’t want obedience
Obedience is not a character trait respectful parents are trying to foster. They’re interested in working together to meet everyone’s needs instead. They value empathy, cooperation, and problem solving over obedience.
7. They acknowledge feelings
Respectful parents get comfortable with their children expressing emotion, because they know that it’s super important for their development. They acknowledge their children’s feelings and empathise with them.
“When we, as parents, try to control a child’s emotions, we strip her of who she is in that moment and require that she push her emotions down rather than allowing the feelings to flow.” -Teresa Graham Brett
8. They identify triggers
Respectful parents aren’t trying to change their children, they work on themselves instead. When they have an overwhelming negative response to their child, respectful parents know it’s not about the child, but about their own past experiences and unmet needs. They identify their triggers, and work to overcome them.
9. They focus on connection
Connection and respectful parenting go hand in hand. Parenting is not a job, but a relationship. When you are connected, everything becomes much easier. Respectful parents build deep connections with their children. It’s their number one goal.
“The level of cooperation parents get from their children is usually equal to the level of connection children feel with their parents.” – Pam Leo
10. They tell the truth
Respectful parents don’t rely on convenient white lies. They model honesty with their children and tell the truth.
11. They explain themselves
You won’t hear ‘because I said so’ or ‘that’s just the way it is’. Respectful parents are committed to explaining themselves, having legitimate reasons for their actions, and hearing opposing opinions. Children deserve an explanation just like adults do.
12. They expect the best
Respectful parents know children innately want to do the right thing, and be safe and healthy. They are not out to cause trouble. Instead of expecting the worst, we give them the benefit of the doubt and approach situations with trust.
“We have a cultural notion that if children were not engineered, if we did not manipulate them, they would grow up as beasts in the field. This is the wildest fallacy in the world.” -Joseph Chilton Pearce
13. They uphold personal boundaries
Mainstream parenting is so focused on dishing out arbitrary boundaries that kids apparently ‘need’ so that parents can remain in control. Instead of imposing boundaries on other people, respectful parents concentrate on upholding their own personal limits and empathising with their child’s feelings about that. In this way they ensure their needs are still being met and model for their children self-care and assertiveness. For example, instead of having an arbitrary adult imposed bedtime, respectful parents discuss their needs with their children and listen to theirs, this can change from day to day. Personal boundaries are meaningful and so children are also more likely to respect them.
14. They apologise for mistakes
When they get it wrong, when they fall back into old patterns, when they respond in ways that aren’t ideal, respectful parents apologise. They don’t buy into the ‘holding your ground’ and ‘parents must win’ beliefs. So when they do the wrong thing, they model the right response: apologising and empathising.
15. They keep going
Mistakes happen. We don’t always get it right. Respectful parents are committed to trying again. They don’t give up or settle for ‘everyone else is doing it so it’s not that bad’. It’s hard changing ingrained patterns and setbacks happen, but we’re committed to this path. Respectful parenting isn’t about perfection, it’s about intention.
How does something become a habit? With repetition. The more you choose respect, the more it becomes your default way of interacting with people. So just start. Choose respectful parenting, empathy, kindness, understanding, equality, and trust, every moment you can. Eventually, it will come naturally to you, and your children, and their children.
Change starts with you.
“It is hard to swim against the current and risk the negative judgments of parenting peers. Yet, some do, and if enough begin to swim upstream, the river may change its flow.” -Peter Gray