How to Practice Respectful Parenting


I have long admired the work of parenting expert, Janet Lansbury. She’s somewhat of an idol to me—a calm, grounded, yet authoritative voice on supporting and enabling the growth of children. Her books and podcasts center on the theme of “Respectful Parenting” and RIE parenting philosophies.  To over-simplify, RIE involves treating even the smallest of children as capable human beings deserving of respect and independence. 

When I was invited to hear Janet speak at an event in San Francisco this October, you would have thought I’d just been given backstage tickets to see Madonna! The upcoming event is an interactive Q&A session co-hosted by Darcy Campbell, Cow Hollow School Head, and The COLLABORATORY founder. 

I’m looking forward to the ideas and practical theories they’ll share on how to raise toddlers and preschoolers with respect and authenticity, and how to nurture their developing sense of confidence, independence, self-worth, and joy. Unfortunately, it’s already sold out, so I thought I’d share here some of the top lessons I’ve learned, having read and listened to Janet Lansbury for the past five years and having witnessed Darcy Campbell in action every day at my sons’ preschool. 

Note, these are my words and interpretations of Janet’s and Darcy’s teachings. No doubt they would say things differently, but this is how their lessons resonate to me:

Parenting is not about educating children.

It’s about growing and developing as adults so we can lovingly and respectfully raise human beings.

We must acknowledge our little ones’ points of view. 

When we try to redirect them or dismiss their feelings, we’re completely missing the point. We’re out of touch with the child’s needs when we dismiss their cry or worry with “Don’t cry; it will be ok. Oh! Look over here! A butterfly!”. By doing so, we miss this chance to really bond with our child by digging into what’s bothering them or what their concern may be. 

We have the opportunity to treat every moment as though it’s the most special moment of the day. 

That spider web in the bedroom corner might annoy us adults, but to a two-foot-tall human being, it is a fascinating work of art. Rather than hurry along, allow time for them to see it, absorb it, even touch it. Sit down next to them and talk about it. Explore together.

Say “Yes.” 

As often as you can, say “yes.”  Yes, you can touch that. Yes, you can play with that. Yes, we can walk over there. Of course, this doesn’t apply to the silverware drawer stocked with steak knives but create a “yes” space in your home where everything is okay to be touched, enjoyed, explored. There may also be a “yes-and” … for example, tonight my almost-5-year old wanted to get out of the bath, directly onto the tile floor rather than stand on the bathmat. Yes, I told him, that’s ok, as long as you wipe up any water that drips on the floor. He did, and we were both happy.

Kids have the best BS detectors in the world! 

As the grown-ups of our children, we need to parent with authenticity and truthfulness, believe in our words, calmly follow our words with action, and not waver.  In a word, we need to be “Unruffled.” 

No time-outs. 

Time-ins instead.  When a child is having one of those meltdown moments, be with them to experience their emotions together. It’s tempting to send them to their room or have them sit on the steps for two minutes to calm down, and yes, I am guilty of doing both on occasion. But the better method is to sit with the child and support them through the difficult emotion they’re experiencing.

When we can’t keep it together (and let’s face it, we all have those grown-up meltdown moments!), we should take a time-in, too. 

Practice what we preach. For me, sometimes this involves walking into another room or even stepping out onto the deck for a few moments to take a couple deep breaths.  

If you want to learn more about Janet Lansbury’s approach, I plan to do a post-event recap with new information, strategies and parenting skills I learn at Janet’s talk.  Look for this to come in a few weeks, and check out her books and podcasts.

Let me know if I’ll see you at the event!


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