Respectful parenting can be like running a marathon. We need determination, consistent effort, confidence, and commitment to stay the course. Of course, if we were actual marathon runners, we might be inspired at regular intervals by cheering fans applauding our efforts and encouraging us to push on. As parents practicing respectful care, while we can’t generally count on applause from enthusiastic spectators, we will be encouraged by our baby.
This might happen at just a few weeks old when in response to, “I’m going to pick you up,” our infant locks eyes with us and we see her ever so subtly tense her body in preparation to be lifted. In that moment, what might previously have felt like a one-way dialogue (and perhaps a bit silly) proves to be actual person-to-person communication. She’s been listening all along.
All she needed was to be spoken to directly and respectfully.
Or it might happen on the changing table when we offer (as we regularly do), “Would you like to put your hand through this hole in this sleeve?” and our 4 month old attempts and achieves this for the very first time.
All she needed was to be invited to participate.
We might be encouraged the first time our 6-month-old relaxes contentedly in our arms after a long cry. We calmed ourselves enough to be able to receive it and just listen, while intermittently acknowledging, “I hear you… Yes, that’s so hard… There was so much commotion in our house today… That must be exhausting for you.”
All she needed was to know it was okay to share and vent.
We might be inspired and bit shocked when our 12-month-old demonstrates that she completely comprehends and can even follow our directions. (As a self-respecting toddler, she might not always choose to follow them, but that’s another post.)
All she needed was for us to speak to her honestly, clearly, as we would with any other intelligent person (albeit a bit more slowly), and believe in her as capable.
And sometimes encouragement appears through far more dramatic or urgent situations, like the one Allison faced with her toddler:
Good morning Janet,
I just wanted to quickly drop you an email to say thank you for providing all the resources, inspiration, and practical advice on respectful parenting. I have found time and time again that if I “listen to my inner Janet” life is a lot smoother with my 2.5 year old daughter and 6 month old son. One piece of respectful parenting that has always rung true to me is the idea that kids (and adults) want to know what is going to happen to them, and as such, we always try to tell our 2 year old daughter “the plan.” Be it for the day (if someone is going to come over) or how to prepare her for something she hasn’t done before (like going on an airplane), we always talk through the plan and the details of what is going to come. Anyway, I share this because of an incident that happened earlier on this week:
My daughter was swinging in the backyard, and the swing broke and she fell and hit her head on the concrete. Scary stuff. We ended up in the ER where they recommended a CT scan. It was a bit of a chaotic evening, and when she started throwing up because of the concussion, they tried to give her Zofran for the nausea (which was a little white pill that dissolves on the tongue). Well, my daughter was just upset and disoriented enough that she absolutely refused to take the pill, and (I am ashamed to admit) momentarily, we tried to hold her and poke it into the side of her mouth (which she promptly either spit out or put on the end of her tongue and stuck out her mouth). She would not take that pill. When you are in a hospital situation where things are happening quickly and you feel out of control, it can be too easy to get sucked into a “panic mentality” and revert to trying to get a result rather than trusting that your child is a full participant in the situation. I think that mentality just made the situation worse. After trying to force her to take the pill, I had to stop for a moment, take a deep breath, and remember that she responds so well when I respect her and trust her rather than try to force her to comply. I stopped, looked her in the eye, and explained the little white pill would make her stomach feel better, and I needed her to take it so that she would stop throwing up and then we could give her some water (which she had been crying for). She looked at me for a second, and then opened her mouth and we popped the pill in.
About that time, the nurse started prepping me that my daughter would need a CT scan. She warned me that most kids get freaked out about the machine and can’t hold still, so it was probable that we would need to medicate her to get the scan done. Emboldened by the pill incident, I started immediately to tell my daughter “the plan”: That the doctors needed to take pictures of her brain, and she would need to hold still for them to get a good picture. We talked through the table she had to lie on and the large donut shaped tube that the bed would move in and out of. Telling her what to expect and then trusting her to understand how important it was to hold still was truly the key.
We were able to do the CT scan shortly afterwards, and she was able to hold perfectly still for the 2 minutes it took to take the scan, and both the nurse as well as the techs mentioned that she was one of the best 2-year-olds they had ever taken pictures of.
I guess I relay the story to say thank you for continuing to give me confidence to trust that my 2-year-old can do/comprehend/participate at a higher level than sometimes I give her credit for. By trusting her to be able to participate fully and treating her with the respect that comes from that trust, she ended up having a more peaceful hospital experience (if that is possible) and hopefully she won’t be scared of the hospital if she ever needs to go back.
All she needed was direct, honest communication, rather than distractions, coaxing, or trickery.
All she needed was to be allowed to actively participate, rather than having procedures done to her.
All she needed were parents who believed in her, nurtured her with respect, and empowered her with the truth.
Thank you, Allison, for allowing me to share your story!
For more, please check out my books:
I also recommend The Secret To Turning A Toddler’s “No!” Into A “Yes!” and What To Say Instead Of “NO!” – Six Ways To Gain Your Child’s Co-operation by Lisa Sunbury, Regarding Baby
And for respectful care from the source:
Your Self–Confident Baby by Magda Gerber and Allison Johnson
Dear Parent: Caring for Infants With Respect by Magda Gerber
Pikler Bulletin #14 by Dr. Emmi Pikler