Respectful Parenting: What Does It Mean?


Do you ever ask yourself, “Do I like the way I parent?” or “If I was my son, what would I think of my mother?” Not very often do we stop and consider whether we are doing things the way we had hoped. It is a common assumption that we are often so busy in our everyday routines that we forget to ask ourselves questions which require some kind of reflection. Questions like these call for action, but also time.

To me, respectful parenting isn’t very complicated. I treat my children the way I expect to be treated by others. That means I am neither more nor less than them – we are equal as human beings. Of course, I am the adult and their mother, which means I carry a huge responsibility on my shoulders, and which I treasure to the greatest extent.

I put an effort into being a parent, one whom my children can look up to and who always tries to be a good example as to how respect, empathy and love are transformed into daily deeds – I know they mirror and watch me all the time.

One fantastic way to teach respect and to foster empathy is by being respectful and empathetic ourselves. We are our children’s first teachers and they will mirror us in our every move. Our actions become their guidance.

Another way is how we speak and use our language. The words we use, or the stories we tell about others, are essential for teaching our children how to be able to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. If we focus on their growth, embrace their feelings, empathize with their positive intentions, instead of judging or labeling them negatively, it will make a huge impact on how they learn to love and respect themselves. At the end it will influence how they respect us as their parents and also how they will respect themselves.

Our language use is a choice. When children are arguing or having a melt down – and we want to help out, we should do that by pointing out to them the emotions of others or by helping them verbalize their own – “Oh? Why are you crying?” – and then get down to their level to show them we see them. “I see you are upset. What are you upset about? … Because she took your toy? She is just a little baby. I don’t think she did it on purpose, do you?” When we talk about other children in front of our own kids, it is important to point out good characteristics like “that was very helpful of her,” “what she did was nice,” etc.  Words like these are actually laying the groundwork for seeing the good in others as a default setting in the future.

There aren’t always good reasons for a child’s emotions – sometimes they just come from out of the blue – and there aren’t easy solutions for them either, which can make it difficult to handle sometimes. If we acknowledge our children’s feelings and try not to judge them, we show them what respect, care and love look like. Imagine if adults’ emotional states were constantly disregarded as ridiculous, unnecessary, or wrong and we were told how to feel instead. That wouldn’t be nice. Respect goes both ways. You have to give it to receive it.


ibenIben Sandahl is the best-selling author of The Danish Way of Parenting: What the Happiest People in the World Know About Raising Confident, Capable Kids and Play The Danish Way – A Guide to Raising Balanced, Resilient and Healthy Children through Play. She is a Danish parenting expert, narrative psychotherapist MPF, teacher and speaker. She has more than 20 years of experienced insight into child psychology and education, which in a most natural way anchor the Danish way of practicing parenthood. Her book is translated into 18 languages. You can visit Iben’s Facebook page or follow her on Instagram for more inspiration about parenting.

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