Respectful Parenting – What Is It, And Does It Work? – Hope 103.2

Respectful Parenting – What Is It, And Does It Work?

There’s a new buzzword in parenting circles: "respectful parenting". And it's not the light-touch approach that it sounds like, says Dr Justin Coulson.

By Clare BruceWednesday 23 Mar 2016Hope MorningsParentingReading Time: 4 minutes

Listen: Dr Justin Coulson explains ‘respectful parenting’ to Emma Mullings

There’s a new style of parenting that’s become a buzzword among mums, dads and the media of late: ‘respectful parenting’. Some call it ‘gentle parenting’.

At first glance, it may sound like a light-touch, permissive approach in which kids have free reign. But it’s quite different to that, according to parenting expert Dr Justin Coulson. He’s an advocate of the trend, saying that it’s scientifically shown to be a more effective way to raise children.

In a nutshell, the approach balances limits and boundaries, with collaboration and discussion.

“Rather than imposing limits on our children, we collaborate with them,” Dr Coulson said. “Rather than telling them how it’s going to be, we ask them how they think it should be, and then we work with them to come up with solutions that work for everybody in the family.

“It’s a problem-solving approach rather than an authoritarian, “I’m-the-parent-so-you-do-as-I-say” kind of approach. A respectful or gentle parent, or an autonomy-supportive parent, pretty much just looks at the kids and says “we’ve got a bit of a challenge here, how can we work this out together?””


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What Does ‘Respect’ Really Look Like?

Dad and Daughter in discussion

In a conflict situation, advocates of respectful parenting approach their children in a similar way that they would adults. They see the child as a person, not as a problem.

“Rather than doing things to them and demanding, correcting and directing them, we respect them,” Dr Coulson said. “We spend time listening to them and understanding where they’re coming from. And then we work on respectful, mutually agreeable solutions together.”

He makes the point that parents who “demand respect” from their children often do so in an authoritarian, disrespectful way. A better tack, he says, is to treat the situation like a work or family conflict.

“Spend time listening and understanding where they’re coming from…work on respectful solutions together.”

Imagine, for example, that you make a mistake at work or offend an adult friend or partner. Then translate the way you respond in that scenario, to your interactions with children.

“Imagine if your employee or partner looked at you and said, “You got that wrong, I want you to go to your room or office and think about what you’ve done”,” Dr Coulson posed.

“We’d be thinking, “I’ve got to get a new boss or a new relationship”. It’s not a respectful way to treat adults.”

What If Kids Abuse The System?

Mum talking to teenager daughter

The obvious question about the respectful parenting style is—what happens when a child asks for something that’s unhelpful, unhealthy, unreasonable or downright dangerous?

How does a “respectulf” parent respond to a child’s immature or selfish requests? If a teenager wants to start drinking alcohol at age 15, or a three-year-old wants to travel without a seatbelt, does the parent have to give thoughtful consideration to their suggestions?

No, according to Dr Coulson. He says the secret is in offering alternatives.

“Sometimes the kids might say, “I think I should have ice cream for breakfast”,” he said. “We can say, “well that would be great wouldn’t it—but what do you think would be the healthier way? What other options can you see?”

“Sometimes our children will want things that are simply not appropriate. While we need to be respectful, it doesn’t mean we let them do whatever they want. As parents, we still need to be able to say no. I’m not suggesting that kids should run riot.”

A Respectful Way To Say ‘No’

Mum talking to her toddler in supermarket aisle

While respectful parenting makes room for saying no, the difference is in the delivery.

“When we say no, we explain really clearly why the answer is no,” said Dr Coulson, “and we spend time with them, helping them to get it, so that they’re not going to have tantrums and carry on.

“Every now and again, we still have to be the parent and say “this is not okay and I need to make specific demands”. We do need to lay down the law from time to time. But there’s a difference in the way we do it. We can do it respectfully, or disrespectfully.”

A Simple Name For A Scientific Method

Respectful parenting is closely aligned to what scientists call “autonomy-supportive parenting”, the approach Dr Coulson uses in his book 21 Days To A Happier Family.

He says it’s in contrast to more traditional parenting styles from previous generations.

“Traditionally, parents have taken the approach “I’m the parent, you do as I say”,” Dr Coulson said. “And most people are reasonably satisfied with the way that they were raised. But we’re all trying to do a little bit better.”

About Dr Justin Coulson

Dr Justin Coulson is a parenting author, speaker and researcher, and founder of the website