What Is Respectful Parenting?

Dr. Nanika Coor, host of the brand new Project Parenthood podcast, explains respectful parenting - the parenting philosophy that will create peace, open the lines of communication, decrease conflict, and improve your family life.

Nanika Coor, Psy. D.
5-minute read
Episode #633
The Quick And Dirty

Respectful parenting is an approach to child-rearing which focuses on collaboration rather than authority, respect rather than punishment. 

Hi parents! I’m so excited to welcome you to the first episode of the Project Parenthood podcast. I’m Dr. Nanika Coor, a clinical psychologist and respectful parenting therapist. This podcast is for parents wanting to experience more peace, flexibility, ease and fun with their kids, with less conflict and struggle in their relationships with their children - no matter how old they are.

I have over a decade of experience helping families improve their connection and communication. Every week on the Project Parenthood show, I’ll share insights about raising kids I learned in clinical settings, in my private practice, and in my own parenting journey. Project Parenthood will offer actionable strategies for increasing cooperation, collaboration, and meeting both children’s and parents’ needs. I’ll answer parent questions and troubleshoot real-life problems I see in my practice. When using the word “parents,” I’m referencing an amalgamation of biological and nonbiological caregivers and caregiving issues I’ve come across over the years.

Besides weekly parenting advice, Project Parenthood will also feature conversations with my colleagues, experts in child development, to help shed light on how systemic oppression, intergenerational trauma, adverse childhood experiences, brain development, wounds and wisdom we hold in our bodies, and our capacities to be mindful and to regulate our nervous systems, all impact the parent-child relationship.

The parenting philosophy I encourage is called respectful parenting because I believe in seeing and treating children as whole humans right from birth.

You’ll get tips for building more self-awareness, self-compassion, inner calm and confidence in your parenting. I can’t wait for you to join me! Simply click ‘Subscribe’ wherever you listen to podcasts and join the Project Parenthood community.

The parenting philosophy I encourage is called respectful parenting because I believe in seeing and treating children as whole humans right from birth.  To achieve this, we must see children realistically and positively, as inexperienced humans with still-developing brains, whose every action is a strategy for trying to get their needs met. Those strategies can be benign or frustrating, unskilled or destructive. So we hold firm and developmentally appropriate limits with consistency, kindness and confidence, without using punishments or rewards. When persistent problems arise, we work together to find win-win solutions that work for them and for us.

When children express big feelings in challenging ways, we stay calm and allow them to experience and express their authentic feelings, and we offer empathy, validation, comfort, and co-regulation in response. We show children the same respect we’d give to another adult, and we share power with our child rather than wield it over them. We wouldn’t force a child to experience adversity now, in preparation for future challenges, because life will have plenty of suffering without us providing it. Instead, we model resilience in the face of adversity, and are our child’s consistently safe place to bring all of their emotions, mistakes, and fears. Humans are fallible though, and we’ll repeatedly fall short of our parenting ideals. So, we practice self-compassion, we repair the disconnection with our child, we reconnect, we try again.

We can’t parent skillfully when we are emotionally depleted or still hurting from our own upbringing. The goal of mutual respect is mostly about parents working through our own emotional blocks and childhood issues to avoid unintentionally continuing to pass down dysfunctional relationship patterns.

We can’t parent skillfully when we are emotionally depleted or still hurting from our own upbringing.

Here’s an example of respectful parenting in action:

A parent I know, John, who gave me permission to share his story, once asked me how to approach his daughter’s new babysitter - who had a background in early childhood education - after learning of some concerning interactions between the babysitter, Rita, and his strong-willed toddler, Pearl, who was having  intense tantrums and difficulties with transitions. John found that waiting out tantrums with calm yielded better results. He realized that anger and punishments only amplified conflicts.

John once came home to find Rita in an agitated state. Turns out that Rita had tried to put Pearl in the stroller for an outing and Pearl had a huge tantrum. Rita punished Pearl for resisting by not allowing her out of the stroller to play at the playground and telling Pearl she wouldn’t speak to her until she displayed better behavior. Naturally this only escalated Pearl’s upset. John wondered: was he too lenient with Pearl? Did Rita have the right idea? 

Here’s my advice for John (and any grown-up struggling with toddler resistance):

It’s possible to be warm while holding firm limits. Punishment is unnecessary, unsustainable as kids get older, and damaging to relationships between caregivers and children.

It’s overly firm to use stroller-confinement or the silent treatment as punishments. Tantrums are not misbehavior. They’re the expression of overwhelming emotions. John had the right idea all along: When a tantrum storm is raging, just wait it out. Keep people and property safe, offer hugs when Pearl is ready, but otherwise - no need to talk. Staying present with a compassionate silence and empathetic gaze is enough.

And as for Pearl’s refusal to get into her stroller? Allow extra time beforehand. Pearl might feel rushed or have a difficult time transitioning to new activities. Before getting-in-the-stroller time, get down to her eye level, gently touch her hand, arm, or shoulder and wait until you have eye contact.  Then clearly say that in a few minutes it will be time to get in the stroller. Engage in whatever activity she’s doing and, if possible, try to get her talking to you about what she’s playing or doing - this slowly transitions her out of it. And then, when it's time, you can say something like: "It's time to get in the stroller, do you want to get in yourself or do you need my help?" Wait silently for up to 30 seconds for a response - toddlers process much slower than adults do.

If you don’t get a response by that point you can say: "Looks like you need my help - I'm going to pick you up now." Wait a beat or two for Pearl to take in that it’s about to happen, then into the stroller she goes. You might be instantly faced with angry screaming or crying. That's okay. Take a deep breath and say:"I know - you really didn't want to get in the stroller. I hear you! You're so upset about this!" And, carry on doing what needs to be done.

I sent this advice to John in an email which he gave Rita to read. She was reluctant, but after sticking with this approach, noticed that conflicts with Pearl decreased significantly. With punishment off the table and a more respectful mode of interacting with Pearl, Rita was able to form a much more positive connection with her. 

Punishment is unnecessary, unsustainable as kids get older, and damaging to relationships between caregivers and children.

This is just one of hundreds of examples of how respectful parenting works.

Project Parenthood will provide caregivers with tools for navigating everyday questions and challenges, as well as long-standing unresolved issues that are impacting their ability to meet their own needs, which in turn gets in their way of meeting their children’s needs for stability, autonomy, and nurturing. I hope you’ll join us.

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Nanika Coor, Psy. D.

Dr. Nanika Coor is a New York-based clinical psychologist and respectful parenting therapist. She helps overwhelmed parents hear a kinder inner voice and experience more mutually-respectful interactions with their children. Find out more about her work at www.brooklynparenttherapy.com.

Got a question that you'd like Dr. Coor to answer on Project Parenthood? Leave her a message at (646) 926-3243 or send an email to parenthood@quickanddirtytips.com