Parenting a Healthier Generation

The most common similarity among the many parents I engage with is a heightened awareness about parenting, especially the hour-by-hour cause and effect of our interactions with infants and toddlers. If the wonderful success stories I’ve heard are any indication, it’s clear to me that informed, thoughtful child care practices pay off.  

My own experience as a parent has been one of constantly marveling at my kids’ evolving social intelligence and emotional health. I’m often struck by how much more self-confident, secure, centered and at peace with themselves they are than I have ever been, and perhaps ever will be. They perceive social situations with a level of clarity that astounds me, and I’m forever impressed by the healthy personal boundaries they’ve developed (which also means they respect those of others).

Yes, I’m gushing (and will continue below), because I believe parents need to know that our diligence and dedication is worthwhile.  My children are my “proof” and the best evidence I can share.   Here are a few of the signs I’ve found notable and surprising:

Not buckling under peer pressure

One of my most gratifying moments as a parent happened several years ago while picking up my son from preschool. We were outside getting ready to leave when my son and his dear buddy (who’s still his best friend nine years later) were horsing around. I heard his buddy whisper a little too loudly, “I’m going to tell you something, but you can’t tell your mom”.  My 3-year-old boy immediately replied, “Then don’t tell me.”

I’ve never sensed my kids have felt (as I did) that they had to “dumb themselves down”, be people pleasers or anything different than what they are to be accepted by peers. This becomes particularly critical during their teen years when going with the crowd can have negative consequences. I’m happy to report that our kids can navigate this difficult time relatively unscathed, even if we didn’t.  Mine have proven that self-confidence, authenticity and healthy personal boundaries — not lectures, threats and restrictions — are the best defenses against early sex, drug and alcohol use and social media abuse.

Strong sense of self, comfort in one’s skin

My almost sixteen-year-old daughter wears no make-up, studies German (which schools in our area don’t even offer), took Mandarin Chinese for “fun” after school and wants to learn Arabic. Her older sister, a college sophomore, socializes comfortably with friends of both sexes straight from the shower with a towel wrapped around her head. She bucked the prevailing trend at her university to choose a “cool” major in science and technology and is going for the humanities.

One of the things that pleases me most about my kids is the comfort they have just being themselves. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, considering they’ve been wholly accepted “as is” from the time they were born. They’ve always been provided with consistent, non-punitive behavior boundaries but otherwise trusted to learn and develop in their way and time. They’ve been encouraged to feel their feelings and direct their play, so they know themselves intimately.

Trust

My twenty- year- old tells me the kinds of things I would never have dreamed of sharing with my own parents. My almost sixteen-year-old confides in me less, but I’m holding out hope she’ll come around once she’s past the mid-teen years, which was my eldest’s pattern. My little guy knows we’re always there to listen while he shares his sometimes irrational worries.  We make it a point to not judge.

We’ve never punished our kids, and we seldom seem to need to give limits anymore — that was mostly way back in the toddler years, and they’ve since internalized the basic behavior code and values we tried to teach and model (and continue to teach and model).  Although a couple of situations threw us for a bit of a loop, we haven’t experienced big teenage transitions.

Since we’ve provided our children clear boundaries without hurting, shaming or “guilting” them with punitive or emotional responses, they continue to like themselves and trust us. Boundary setting is the aspect of child care that parents struggle with most, but once we get it down, it becomes almost a non-issue.

Meeting new situations confidently

Last summer my son, one of my two daughters and I had the rare pleasure of visiting a Caribbean island. But even in paradise my son (then ten) was itching for a soccer game, so we asked around (and around and around) until we finally found a team of local players several years older. They generously allowed my little guy to join their training session.  He jumped in with ease and not the slightest hesitation (which would certainly not have been me).

Clarity

Two memorable experiences, one with each of my daughters, proved to me that my children possess a level of emotional clarity that has so far eluded me.

A couple of years ago, a parent from one of my classes sent me a scathing note about the way I handled a situation with another parent.  This parent called my actions “inappropriate” and then proceeded to unload a litany of complaints she’d apparently been grinding on for several weeks.  Even though I knew objectively that she was out of line (and I continued to have a very positive relationship with the other parents involved), I bought into the letter and allowed it to rock my world.  Several days later, still reeling, I described the situation to my eldest daughter.  Her reaction: “This was an attack. You should be angry.”

Stunned for a moment, I thanked her, welling up with tears of relief. Unable to identify my “right” to anger, I needed my daughter to give me permission to stop blaming and questioning myself.

The second experience concerned another scathing letter (don’t you love email?), this time from a longtime associate who was deeply offended because I failed to do something for her that she thought I should have done, even though she’d never asked me to do it.  How dare I?

It wasn’t the first time I’d been through the mill with the writer of this intensely bitter, hostile letter. I was weary. I was done. I needed to disengage from her. As I began writing what I intended to be a firm let-go-with-love response, my then 14-year-old middle daughter passed by and noticed that I was ruminating, so I shared about it with her. She then glanced at the first few words I’d written.  “Don’t say you’re sorry!“ she commanded me.  And she was right. I wasn’t sorry. I had no reason to be sorry or apologize.  I was doing something good — taking care of me.

So this parenting thing is starting to come full circle – I’m learning from my children.  Inspired by my centered, confident, authentic kids, I’m becoming healthier myself.

***

I share more about this respectful parenting approach in my book:

Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting

32 Comments

Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. Hi Janet,

    Isn’t it grand to learn from our grown children’s wisdom? My sons are 35 and 31 now and due to all this respectful parenting stuff we rarely clashed in their growing years and are certainly reaping the benefits of enjoying their company and knowledge as adults!

    On occasion in their teens they called ‘a family meeting’ to discuss whatever they wanted. They still brag that they never had a curfew! They told us where they were going and with whom and when they expected to be home. Happily, they are still out late singing and harmonizing with their friends, and then go home to their own apartments!

    I too feel I have proof that respectful parenting works. Clear thinking, passionate, empathetic and altruistic adults will indeed make our world a better place. My sons constantly amaze me!

    1. Hi Helen! I love this wonderful, encouraging report! And from an even longer view than I have. Thank you so much for sharing. We must keep spreading the word that a little bit of focus in the early years can make all the difference.

  2. avatar Elanne Kresseer says:

    I love this piece Janet!
    I have the incredibly good fortune to have been intimately connected with many families as a childcare provider for years before becoming a parent myself. Most of the families practiced what I would call respectful parenting and although none of them had been exposed to RIE, the way they parented shared RIE aspects such as gentle limit setting, respect for their children as individuals and a belief in their children’s capabilities. Every one of the children who was raised in this way has grown into either an adult or a teen much like you describe your kids. I am consistenly blown away by their maturity, thoughtfulness, sensibility, self-respect, awareness and perceptiveness. They are truly remarkable human beings who give me hope for the future. I think it’s part of why I feel so darn passionately about parenting and so greatful for the people doing the work of teaching others!

    1. Thank you, Elanne! It’s good to hear about these inspiring families you’ve worked with…and you’ve nailed three of the major elements of respectful parenting: “gentle limit setting, respect for their children as individuals and a belief in their children’s capabilities”. I feel a lot of hope, too!

  3. My 3-year-old is finally managing his anger better! Yesterday after seeing two neighbor boys fighting, he said “mom they must not know how to use their quiet spots, maybe we should show them”. For almost two years I’ve been trying to offer him soft things to throw or punch, asked him if he wants to stomp his feet, punch his mattress, anything to help him with his temper. I even offered to build a rocket ship out of cardboard for a quiet spot. The famous Pinterest calm jar was hurled at me in a rage. Then it hit me. I needed to show him. Duh! So while I was making lunch and the dog started barking at me I feigned frustration told my son I was feeling frustration coming and I was going to lay down in my quiet spot until it went away. I told him he could check on me in a few minutes. He did! And then he wanted to play this game for about an hour! He’d pretend to get mad and go to his bed and then I had a turn and on and on. The next day a boy at the park wouldn’t let him down the slide and he started to yell at him. I asked him to use a normal voice not a mad voice snd he looked at me and went and sat behind our stroller. I asked him what he was doing and he replies, I’m calming down. Whoaaa! Less than two days and he’s using it. Win!

    1. Kelly, I love the story. And that is great news about your son!

  4. Janet,

    Parenting your children differently than you were parented is a challenge and may seem like a risk, but when you follow your heart and trust your child as RIE has clearly allowed you to do, it always pays off. I’ve seen it in my daughters, too, now 24 and 25.

    I didn’t have RIE but when my oldest was 4 learned similar skills and gained a similar understanding of children from a play therapist, Dr. Garry Landreth, that I now teach to other parents as Language of Listening. I really started to see the difference in late elementary school when peer pressure had very little effect. One of my daughters actually befriended and turned around a school bully, the other did the same with a social outcast.

    In middle school when other kids were asking their parents to invisibly drop them off at the corner, my daughters were inviting me to eat lunch with them at school! We never had the rebellion that people say “just happens” when kids are teens, though we saw it happen all around us. My daughters (and their friends) always came to me with touchy issues knowing they would not be judged. As you said, boundary setting was basically a non-issue. My daughters openly self-censored their music, shows, and websites, flipping stations off when adult themes came on. And, again as you said, in their 20’s, I’ve heard more than I would have ever dreamed of sharing with my mother.

    Like your children, my daughters also have much clearer boundaries than I did, trust their inner guidance more. I am amazed as how they are taking action on their dreams. Both completed college in areas of interest to them. Against all odds, one is an emerging artist in New York city and the other is taking a year off for self-care, supporting herself and hanging out on the beach in Florida, while deciding what she wants to do next. I constantly use the lessons I have learned from them as my guide to a more joyful life.

    I so love that you wrote your success story and are inspiring us to share ours. Parents everywhere need to see that their dreams for parenting are indeed possible when they have the right tools and perspective.

    Thank you again!

    1. I can’t thank you enough for sharing, Sandy. Your beautiful report brings tears to my eyes. (Actually, I’m full-on crying!) Befriending and “turning around” a bully… WOW! You must be so proud.

      I will have to learn more about your Language of Listening. You have a book, don’t you?

      1. Janet,

        Yes! “SAY WHAT YOU SEE for Parents & Teachers: More hugs. More respect. Elegantly simple.” I’ve posted the content free for anyone to read from their PC or MAC on my website: http://www.languageoflistening.com

        It’s also for sale in paperback or ebook from the iBookstore and Amazon.

        Learning how to follow your child’s lead is so valuable, I can’t imagine raising children without it. You do such a fabulous job of making that case and teaching people how in your posts. I truly appreciate your work and share your posts frequently. Thanks for the opportunity to share mine!

  5. Yes, I am glad other people are seeing that the next generation (or at least many representatives thereof) are growing up with greater social-emotional intelligence, and more sophisticated social skills that we had.

  6. My point is that it’s nice to see it from the other side when I’m right in the thick of it. Thanks Janet!

  7. I LOVE this. I see whispers of this in my child (nearly 3). I am forever asking friends who are further down this path of gentle, conscious, respectful parenting what the pay-offs are for them in their family. What do they see that they attribute specifically to this way of bringing children up and into the world? So, I really enjoyed reading this! You and Genevieve (of the Way of the Peaceful Parent) have both made this point, that your kids amaze you with just how emotionally mature, aware and centered your (now big) kids are – more than you personally feel you ever were. This gives me so much hope.

    A post like this is kind of like the anti-dote to all the people who accuse us of being ‘permissive’ (misunderstanding the fact that we are kind and empathic but DO set limits) and say our kids will be spoilt or soft or self-centered or… something.

    Thank you so much for sharing this!!

    Cheers,
    Gauri

    1. Hi Gauri! Yes, since parenting is next to impossible to study scientifically (there are way too many variables), all we really have to go by are the stories we share with each other. And I don’t doubt you’ll have many to share yourself. 🙂

  8. Janet,

    I have been inspired by your posts ever since I found your blog. It has very much changed the interactions I have with my almost two year old son. I live in Anchorage, Alaska, and have been trying unsuccessfully to find an RIE class here. Do you know of any, or could you point me in a direction to finding one? Thanks so much.

    Alivia

    1. Hi Alivia! Thanks for your kind note… We don’t have RIE classes in Alaska at this time, but hopefully in the future. In the meantime, I highly recommend contacting an online associate of mine, Alice Hanscam from Denali Parent Coaching. She has studied the RIE Approach, lives in Alaska (I’m not sure which city) and she is wonderful! http://www.denaliparentcoaching.com/meetalice.htm

  9. avatar Anastasia says:

    I just wanted to pop in and thank you so much for your website. I don’t know that I would’ve come across R.I.E. any other way. I read a few of your blog posts pertaining to infants late in pregnancy, and have recently had the opportunity to explore more entries.

    I’m a new mom with a three month old and initially tried Attachment style parenting. It became clear early on that it wasn’t going to work for us. By five weeks old, my little girl began protesting in the sling. By six weeks she would would cry near hysterics if I picked her up with it on, or if she saw me putting it on. She still preferred to be carried, not cradled, but on my shoulder. She was either in my arms or on my breast, even while sleeping. Needless to say, this became exhausting for me.

    Several things happened that caused me to look further into R.I.E.

    When she was two weeks old, occasionally she wouldn’t latch on properly for feeding. According to the LC at the hospital, I was to gently pull on her chin to open her mouth wide enough. I was never comfortable doing that so instead started saying, “Open open! Ahhhhh….” After a few times of her watching me intently, I heard her quietly murmur, “Ahhhh…” then open her mouth wide. At first, I thought it was a fluke, but she did the same thing any other time I had to prompt her.

    Then, on her two month birthday, my husband, who works long hours everyday except Sunday, commented before leaving for work that he was sad he wouldn’t get to spend time with her that day because she is sleeping when he leaves for work and sleeping when he gets home. So, that night before bath I asked her if she thought she could stay up tonight just a little bit longer so Daddy could visit with her before she went to sleep. After the bath while settling into her night clothes I asked her again. Well, she promptly went to sleep at bed time, but woke up half an hour after he got home. They played for an hour or so and she went right back to sleep.

    Since then she’s started waking up shortly after he does in the morning so they can visit before he showers, and in the last few weeks has started to take a nap after her bath and waking up to visit with him when he gets home.

    What brought me fully on board with the R.I.E. philosophy happened when she was two months old. We’d received yet another baby seat from some friends. I set her in it and strapped her in. She began to fuss but quieted once I snapped the toy bar in place. She sat in that chair staring at the toy bar without making so much as a movement or a peep for over an hour. I started to get a bit concerned as I knew she had to be hungry and would need a diaper change, though I was hesitant to move her because I didn’t want her to get upset and cry.

    Finally, I approached, told her she needed to come out of the chair now to eat and have a diaper change. I unsnapped the toy bar and took her out of the seat and was met with hysterics. High pitched, purple faced, coughing, gagging, hysterics. So, of course, I used some of the 5 S’s, jiggling and shushing her. When she quieted I took her down from my shoulder and our eyes locked. The look on her face was not one of a calm, peaceful baby. She looked confused, and I could even say a bit offended. It was right then that I decided there would be no more. No more bouncy seats, toy bars, swings, slings, non-stop carrying, non-stop nursing…. No more unnecessariness.

    The next day I put her on a blanket on the floor with nothing else and since then she fusses less, naps without any swinging and swaddling, and is an all around much happier person. I had no idea how overstimulated she was and love how much the simplicity of leaving her alone has helped me get to know who she really is. I spend time learning about her, rather than trying to figure out how to stop her from crying. The days with her don’t seem as long anymore. In fact, they are flying by.

    Thank you again, so much, for the wonderful resource you have here!

    1. Wow, Anastasia! Thank you for sharing these enlightening stories. Your awareness is wonderful and remarkable and I’m so glad I could help you with that… And your little one sounds like an amazing teacher! Please keep me posted. 🙂

      1. avatar Anastasia says:

        She is an amazing teacher, indeed!

        This morning I sat watching her play with one of her burp cloths. It was nice to be able to sit observing as her hand became hidden beneath the fabric.

        As she began to fuss, I was able to quietly watch her discover her hand again instead of quickly uncovering it for her. I realized that I don’t know what she knows. Maybe she did know where her hand was and was struggling with finding it again for herself. Or maybe she was engaged in something else entirely that I couldn’t even begin to guess at.

        I do have a couple questions.

        My husband isn’t home a lot. Sundays are his only day off so his exposure to R.I.E. is minimal. I’ve read a couple of Magda’s books, but it isn’t something I anticipate him finding time for. I’d like to purchase one of the DVDs that might help demonstrate the basics. Seeing Babies With New Eyes seems like a great introduction, but I am wondering if On Their Own… might be a better choice. Unfortunately, I cannot purchase the three disc set at this time. I’d appreciate knowing your thoughts on the selection.

        Also, I’d like to find a playgroup or classes in the Oklahoma City / Norman area. If none is available and there are like-minded families in my area without a group, I would be able to host a meetup come springtime.

        Thank you again, so much!

        1. Anastasia, I love your observations about the burp cloth. 🙂 You really do have marvelous instincts and a great understanding of the RIE approach. I would probably most recommend viewing “Seeing Infants With New Eyes”. But for something more brief, you might even show your husband the video of my son at 4 months and then 2 years of age: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kesxCxV32C8&list=UUaICuB_dNMBliDawMmoYaaQ&index=29
          Regarding a playgroup in Oklahoma City, have you checked the community section here? http://janetlansbury.com/community

          1. avatar Anastasia says:

            Hi Janet,

            Thanks for your reply!

            I have actually shown him that video before. Had no idea it was your son. I thought it was fantastic how he noticed he could make a reflection with the bowl. The solitary play with a puzzle at that age is pretty astounding, too, considering that’s when children are thought to be “terrible”.

            I appreciate your recommendation on the video. That’s the selection I was most leaning towards.

            I have visited the forums — lots of great info there as well. I registered but haven’t received a password to log in with yet.

  10. We’re in the same place Janet. My grown and nearly grown kids are confidently and truly themselves, oftentimes providing me an example of living authentically. It has come full circle.

    1. I like being in the same place with you, Laura. And I’m so appreciative of your website. 🙂

  11. What a wonderful family. Thank you for sharing. I can’t imagine how proud you must be.

    I also have to say that I noticed you did not use the word discipline and instead wrote, “They’ve always been provided with consistent, non-punitive behavior boundaries” and honestly that is just what i’ve been talking about…no need to say “discipline” because it is so easily misunderstood to mean punishment…why not instead just say, “consistent, non-punitive behavior boundaries”?

    anyway! i love the stories of your children encouraging you to stick up for yourself. beautiful!

    xo
    jennifer

  12. avatar Veronique says:

    My son is only two (27 months), but I already see the positive effects of using RIE-techiniques. He started saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ without ever being prompted to do so. But what I love most, is that he feels confident enough to tell us ‘no’ when he doesn’t want to be kissed or hugged. Love, love, love that.

  13. Hi Janet,

    I’m in Australia and am very interested in finding out more about RIE (My daughter is 3 months old) but am struggling to find resources. I love reading your blog but I’d really like some basic how-to with some explanation of the underpinning philosophy. Do you have any recommendations? I have no idea where to start or even how to set up a friendly environment.

    With thanks,
    Nat

    1. Hi Nat! My first recommendations would be “Dear Parent-Caring for Infants With Respect” and “Your Self-Confident Baby”, both by Magda Gerber and available at http://RIE.org From there I would check out the “play” section on my blog (by lightly clicking on “parenting” on the toolbar and then going to the dropdown menu… Thanks so much for your interest in learning more.

  14. Good points there … Janet! It was worth mentioning your experiences with your 2 young daughters.
    I really enjoyed reading your experience with childcare!

  15. This is beautifully written. Raising our kids was all about supporting their gifts and embracing who they were (and are). We set some limits, however, never had to deal with too much stuff. We didn’t use guilt trips, no physical punishment, and we also set an example of living a Christian life. Thank you for sharing.

  16. I loved this Janet! Out children are very similar ages, and I too have been marveling how strong and confident they are becoming! After a rough junior year for so many reasons, my middle daughter had an amazing senior year and continues to show us strength, independence and confidence that I wish I had! My oldest and youngest are also “their own people”. As I read more of your work and reflect back on parenting my little ones I have realized that while there were many things I might have done differently, on the whole they were raised with respect and freedom to be themselves. Over the last few years I have used many of the principles of RIE and applied them to my teens and I’m certain that it has helped smooth the path! Thank you!

  17. There seems to be a trapping in taking social advice from bright, confident adolescents… But they are still in the process of learning this stuff too. Instead of “This was an attack. You should be angry”, one could say “this woman is having emotions, which are her own. She is trying to control your behavior, but she has no power over you to do so. She needs you to acknowledge her emotions, and express to her that this is how you conduct yourself in such situations and it is not going to change. She can then decide if it’s working for her or not, in which case she is free to leave your class”.
    The thing is, all of this I learned from reading your writings so I know for a fact that you got this! If only you imagined everybody you deal with as a toddler (just with more words), it may give you a whole lot of clarity.
    I like to think that it may help not feel as bad when under attack, but I’m not sure, since this seems to connect to deep-seated, old feelings of helplessness. I have those too, and would also feel bad for days from a situation like you described (even if I manage to flip to a state of anger, it is still painful). I think that this effect on us implies that deep down we feel like those people do have the right to control us, like we have to fight them in order to resist them (or avoid them, which is the approach I most often take). I’m not sure where this feeling comes from exactly, but I know now that there is a third way between guilt and anger, and it is YOUR way, that you’re describing right here on your blog. Humans are toddlers like toddler are humans. YOU GOT THIS.

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