Respectfully parenting requires long term vision. You may not elicite perfect behavior today or even tomorrow. It’s a journey, and if we’re being truthful we’re all still learning - even as adults. Your guidance today slowly teaches expectations and guides development in a positive way.
Through experience children can learn how to self-regulate, manage emotions and problem solve. They can learn that without shame or punitive consequences. But not without guidance, boundaries, limits and some consequences. How do you find a balance?
How do we guide children’s behaviors in a way that models respect and kindness while still eliciting cooperative compliance? How do we hold limits and teach children without punishment? How do we balance respectful parenting while not letting children get away with “bad” behavior?
Here’s how guiding children respectfully may sound in the moment:
(Child J - Age 4)
Me- If you'd like me to wash your clothes tonight so you have footed pjs tomorrow, please put your dirty clothes in a basket so I can bring them downstairs. (J quickly did)
Me- Thanks. I'll go wash them right now for you. (Walks downstairs)
J- (several minutes later comes downstairs) Did you already put all the clothes in the washer? (Looking around)
Me- Yes, why?
J- (bursts into tears!!) I wanted to help put them in.
Me- I'm sorry I already did it. You can help me put them in the dryer later and you can help me sort socks now if you want.
J- (stomping his foot still crying) But I wanted to help put the clothes in.
Me- I'm sorry, I didn't know you wanted to help. You can put daddy's socks in if you want (dad always has a small pile accumulating near the washer, today it was just socks)
J- (cries harder and starts kicking the washer)
Me- (my hand blocking his foot from kicking the washer) I see you're really upset. It's ok to be mad. It's not ok to kick the washer. How can I help you right now?
J- (still crying but stopped kicking) You can stop the washer.
Me- Ok (I did). Then what though?
J- Now take the clothes out so I can put them in.
Me- Can you come here so we can talk about this (I put my arms out for a hug which he accepted, and I lifted him on to the washer.)
I see you're really sad because you wanted to help and I already did it. I can stop the washer but I won't take the clothes out. You can help me put them in the dryer when they're done or you can add daddy's socks now.
J- (Whiney but not crying) But I wanted to put kids clothes in and they're all in and there's none left for me.
Me- Well you could take the clothes off you wore today and put them in if you want.
J- (with a smirk) But then I'd be naked...
Me- That's ok. You can take a bath when we’re done and put some PJs on.
J- That would be silly. (Jumps down and starts undressing) I'm going to be silly.
J- (adds his clothes to washer) Can I put the cup with the stuff in it?
Me- I already put the soap in (rethinking as I say it) but you can add a tiny bit more if you want.
J- Ok (adds soap) Hey mom do you still have socks I can match for you?
Yes he kicked the washer.
Yes he "pitched a fit".
Yes there was no punishment for his behavior- Just firm boundaries and reminders of expectations.
Yes he still got to put clothes in the washer despite his initial reaction.
But when his dad came in he exclaimed, "Dad, look I'm naked. I was so so soooo mad and cried and cried but I came up with a silly solution with mom and now I'm naked, we folded your clothes too!"
So yes he also took away from it that sometimes things are already done, sometimes we can't do exactly what we wanted but we can still be helpful, sometimes it's ok to be mad but it's not ok to kick things, and we can ALWAYS come up with a solution together if we take a minute to talk about it... And I think that's a win...