The Gentle/Respectful Parenting Movement: Raising Emotionally Intelligent Children

by Sep 6, 2023Parenting Tips

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Parenting is a journey of love, learning, and growth for both parents and children. In recent years, a new shift in parenting philosophy has gained momentum. It emphasizes empathy, communication, and mutual respect between parents and their offspring. This movement has been popularized as “gentle parenting,” although this term can sometimes be confused with passive, lenient, or overly permissive approaches. Because of this common misunderstanding, many parents have replaced the term with “respectful parenting,” emphasizing the value of mutual respect and maintaining our positions of authority as parents (keeping in mind that authority does not mean authoritative). In this blog, we will explore what the respectful parenting movement is, its principles, and how it is changing the landscape of modern parenting.


Respectful parenting is an approach that prioritizes the emotional and physical well-being of both parents and children. It’s a philosophy built on the belief that children deserve respect and understanding, just like adults, and that parenting should be rooted in love, empathy, and patience. The key principles of this philosophy are:


  1. Respect for Individuality: Gentle and respectful parents recognize that each child is unique, with their own needs, strengths, and challenges. They honor and support their children’s individuality rather than trying to mold them into a preconceived notion of who they “should” be. 


  1. Empathy and Understanding: These parents make an effort to understand their child’s perspective, feelings, and needs. They validate their emotions and offer comfort and support during challenging times. Children have big feelings, and might react strongly to seemingly small things. Remember, we are adults and they are children, and what we think of as distressing is very different for us vs. them. 


  1. Positive Discipline: Children are children- they are not going to do everything perfectly. Gentle and respectful parents focus on teaching, rather than punishing. They employ positive discipline techniques that promote learning and growth rather than fear or shame. For example, if your child spills a glass of milk (either by accident or “on purpose”), help them problem-solve. Teach them how to clean up the spill. They probably won’t do it perfectly, and you may have to clean up the rest, but the point is that they did their best as children. They’ll get better at things over time!


  1. Open Communication: Effective communication is at the heart of this parenting philosophy. Parents encourage their children to express themselves and listen attentively without judgment. Ask your kids how they are feeling, and what they want and need. You do the same, expressing your feelings vulnerably and modeling honest communication.


  1. Boundaries with Empathy: Setting boundaries is essential, and respectful parenting does so with empathy and understanding. Parents explain the reasons behind rules and involve children in discussions about family rules and consequences. When children ask “why,” have an answer besides “because I said so”. This is a part of earning their respect instead of teaching them to blindly listen to adults.


  1. Modeling Behavior: Respectful parents model the behavior they want to see in their children. They strive to be respectful, empathetic, and patient in their interactions with others, including their spouses and children.


So, what are the benefits of respectful parenting? Why is this approach more effective than strict, authoritative, or permissive parenting? For one, you might find that your relationship with your child becomes much stronger. This approach fosters trust and connection between parents and children, meaning that they aren’t afraid to be vulnerable and honest with you. Children raised with respectful parenting will also grow to be more emotionally intelligent, with better emotional regulation and higher empathy for others.


You may also notice fewer behavioral problems, at home and at school. Positive discipline techniques can lead to fewer behavioral issues in children, as they learn how to make better choices through guidance and support, rather than acting out again for short-term attention/recognition from an adult. 


You might notice more confidence and independence as they grow. When children are respected and supported in their autonomy, they become more self-confident and capable of making the right decisions for themselves. They will make these decisions from a place of empathy and self-care. 


Finally, parents also hugely benefit from this approach. In the long term, it reduces stress and parental burnout, promotes a more harmonious family life, and fosters more inner peace and wellbeing. You’ll also find that your children respect you because you’ve earned their respect, not because you’ve demanded it from them. It works like any other healthy relationship- you show them respect, and they show you respect.


Here’s the big contingency to respectful parenting: you need to be doing the work too. It’s difficult to teach your children emotional regulation, communication, or boundaries if you’re unable to model that yourself. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to be perfect. In fact, you only have to get it right about 60% of the time for it to be effective. In the times that you don’t get it right, show yourself the same grace you show your children. Apologize for your mistakes, ask your children how they felt about your slip up, and do things differently next time. Take time for self-care so that you have a full cup to pour from. You and your children are growing alongside each other– that’s the beautiful thing about respectful parenting. 


The respectful parenting movement represents a shift in the way we view and practice parenting. By embracing these principles, parents can create nurturing environments where children can thrive emotionally, socially, and intellectually. We can stop cycles of intergenerational trauma and toxic parenting that we may have grown up with, which is so healing for ourselves as parents. As this movement continues to grow, it offers hope for a future where parenting is synonymous with love, respect, and meaningful connections between generations, shaping a brighter world for our children and generations to come.


If you’re interested in seeing respectful parenting in action, here are a couple of social media accounts that have great examples to model:


Photo by Alexander Dummer on Unsplash


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