What is respect ?

When we first came across the work that has been inspiring us as parents (that of Emmi Pikler, Janusz Korczak, Alfie Kohn and Magda Gerber – to name a few) the thing that drew us most towards this kind of approach to a child was the ever-present sense of respect. And throughout our writing here on these pages, we will be talking about respect, and about children’s right to respect. It might then be worth defining what we mean.

What is respect?

What respect is, is essentially a difficult philosophical question. What we mean when we talk about respecting another person is not always clear, nor is it always used with the same meaning.When we (Nadine & Anna) use respect on our website, we talk about respect in the very basic sense – respect we all deserve just by virtue of being human. When we talk about respect we don’t mean it as referring to any kind of value or moral judgment (like respecting someone for what they do, or what they have accomplished, or the kinds of things they stand for), but the feeling towards another human being that values their dignity. A very basic response to another person, which, we believe, everyone has a right to from birth. Babies are whole people no matter what needs we have to take care of for a few weeks, months or years. Babies are people with every smile and every giggle as well as every cry and every woken night. And it goes on. Infants, Toddlers – they’re all people that deserve respect. In every phase of their lives.

We also believe that there should essentially be no difference in respecting babies, children, toddlers, boys, girls, men, women, adults or elderly, since respect is something we all have a right to. Nor should there be any difference in our expressions of respect.

How do we see babies?

When we go a few generations back children were seen as unfinished people that needed to develop into full human beings. To achieve that, it was thought, they needed to be disciplined. Praised and punished. Very often hit, and silenced. (In a number of countries babies are still regularly hit and punished physically, have a look here -http://www.endcorporalpunishment.org/ and here http://www.corpun.com/). They were told what to do when and how to do it. Boys different than girls.Men different than women.We now live in a time that (finally) has come to an understanding that babies and children are capable of much more than people used to assume (a wonderful TED talk by Alison Gopnik about how babies think can be found here -http://www.ted.com/talks/alison_gopnik_what_do_babies_think.html). They are young personalities with strengths and weaknesses. And this is the difficult part. Because when we talk about respecting children it means accepting all of those strengths as well as all of those weaknesses. With the same loving care we do for our partners, friends and other family members. And with the same loving kindness we should have for ourselves (because, apparently, if you’re not kind to yourself, you cannot be kind to others).

An interesting thought that encompasses a lot of it was once expressed by Janusz Korczak: ‘There are no children’ he wrote ‘ only people’. What does this mean to you?

What does respect mean to you?

We asked some of our friends to finish this sentence: ‘To respect another person means to…’. Since we asked them in an e-mail, some opted out. Before you continue reading, try and finish this sentence for yourself. It’s not so easy, so take your time…

To respect another person means to…

Here are some of the most common responses we got, and we wonder if you can relate, agree or maybe have other ones:

… treat another person like we would like to be treated
… try to understand their feelings and take them into account
… accept who he is
… allow him to be who he is
… not manipulate them

Respecting children is something that is said quite easily but in practice not the easiest thing to live. Since we strongly feel our babies deserve respect, let’s have a look at those ‘meanings of respect’ in relation to babies (or more generally – children). What does it really mean to respect another person, and how can we practice respect in dealing with babies?

Respecting their needs

As mentioned before, respecting children begins on day one. From the first moment on we can trust babies sleep pattern and feeding time. Of course day- and nighttimes are something they still have to get used to. But they do. On their own.In their own time.

All we really have to do is to fulfill their basic needs. This sounds reasonable, but it obviously isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Because picking up or feeding a crying baby is not always what is meant by fulfilling basic needs. Respecting a baby means to carefully figure out what the reason is behind the crying. To listen to the crying.To try and understand it. To allow yourself the understanding and respect for their needs, before fulfilling them. Waiting and trying to understand is then respectful because only in this way we can try to understand their feelings and take them into account.

This will not only help you understand your baby from the beginning and beyond words. It will give your child the ability to communicate with you – to understand the different responses behind his actions. These are wonderful first steps to learn how to express various emotions and needs – something most of us adults are lacking (beyond thirty and we can safely say that we’re still learning that one!)

Respecting their physical and emotional integrity

Besides the great amount of trust it’s a huge amount of respect you show your child by letting him develop – mentally as well as motorically – on his own and in his own time. Not sitting him up before he can do it himself and by not walking him holding your hands. For his mental and emotional development this means “I can do this. Even if I take a little longer than others.”It means we allow them to own their own success (a lovely post about walking babies by Janet Lansbury can be found here – http://www.janetlansbury.com/2011/03/9-reasons-not-to-walk-babies/)

As far as their motor development goes, letting your child develop in their own time means allowing them to get to know their own body and movement within. A child that has mastered every step of his gross motor development himself is not just happy and free but also knows his own limits and respects for himself what he can or cannot do.

You can read more of our thoughts on movement in various guises if you’re interested.
For posts from Anna go here: http://www.everymomentisright.blogspot.com/search/label/movement,
and from Nadine go here: http://www.piklerexperience.blogspot.com/

Respecting their pace, their ways, their view of the world

Our children are not us. Yes, simple truth, but so hard to live with, wouldn’t you agree? It means their view of the world is different, but not only in a developmental way – they are simply different people. Sometimes they will disagree with you (our sons are still toddlers, but we fear that moment ;)). Sometimes even – they will be right. And we won’t. And that’s ok too… we think.

Another important base for a respectful foundation is the allowance of free play. And this was a great eye opener for us. Instead of entertaining our boys the minute they woke up we tried to watch them, carefully observe and try to follow what they are focusing on. This was better and much more entertaining than any movie we may have missed throughout those first months. To be part of their world rather than making them part of ours was so wonderful and touching. Priceless moments we’re forever grateful for. Still now – just days after our boys turned two – we have ideas and expectations of play and “fun” that they simply aren’t interested in at all. So we try to respect that.

We let them run off with the ball instead of teaching them how to kick it back and forth. We don’t build high towers or exquisite architecture with their building blocks when they prefer to sort their toy cars in lanes. But how wonderful is it, on the other hand, to be invited to a game, and learn new rules we didn’t know existed (yeah, ok, sometimes we don’t quite understand the rules, but we’re trying ;)).

We simply let them be. We try to accept…allow…and not manipulate.

Another great way to show respect to your child is to let him “lead” the daily routine. Allow him to play as he wants, choose his own toys, and respect his choices (we tend to offer the choices we can live with, but not interrupt in the play times). But also – be sensitive to their schedule.

Yes, it may be tough those first few months, but there is the joy of a peaceful child, whose needs are met, and who is at peace with the world around him. Again though – we tend to say: within your own limits. Because apart from respect for all the other beings around you, the one necessary step is to start with respect for yourself!

We have been talking a lot about respecting our children over the years. We will try and share our thoughts with you in the coming months, and hope that you will be sharing your thoughts with us. But to get the conversation started, we would like to invite you to talk about something else – something perhaps where this discussion needs to start. In talking about respecting others, we have come to understand something a lot of you maybe already know. That we need to respect ourselves first. Do you agree? Hmmm… Easier said than done, most likely. So, here is where we would like you all to join in the discussion – tell us, how you can show respect for yourself. Maybe how you can respect yourself in the daily struggles, on a daily basis? Or maybe you have some special way of practising respect for yourself? And why do you think it is so important?? We can’t wait to hear from you!


5 thoughts on “What is respect ?

  1. Hi Ladies, I just discovered your blog by clicking through from Janet Lansbury’s, and I just love the tone of this post. It’s so interesting to hear from someone else working through the everyday challenges of adjusting our minds to REI parenting. My son is 7 months old and I did quite a bit of reading about the REI approach before he was born. The idea of respect and communication really resonated with me, and does even more now that he’s here. And it’s very freeing to hear that the only thing I need to do to help him develop is to be there for him when he needs me, and let him be. What a burden it must be to believe that your baby’s development hinges on your keeping him stimulated in just the right way, all of the time!

    It’s interesting to me how challenging it is sometimes to just let him be without directing or entertaining him, and that it’s not challenging for the reasons I would have expected. As I examine why I want so badly to interrupt and engage him, I realize it’s for *me*! I want to cuddle and kiss him, make him giggle and grin – not because I think he needs entertainment, but because it feels so good to me. Recognizing that makes it easier to put my needs on the back burner and let him lead. But it’s still hard sometimes :).

    I look forward to hearing more from both of you on the blog.

    • Hi Amy,

      Thanks for stopping by and reading – and it is great to hear from you.

      What an amazing yet scary reflection to have, isn’t it – what I am doing for my child, I am actually doing for me. Very powerful to realize that, and I’m sure everyone has felt like this more often than we dare to admit. But like you said – only realizing and admitting this allows us to let go and put our kids’ needs first. Still, though – we have our needs too, so I often think that while I am trying to put my son’s needs before mine, it would not be healthy to completely forget about my needs. And YES – this kind of philosophy is indeed a huge relief. Once you realize you don’t need to entertain, teach or help develop, the relationship changes, doesn’t it?

      Hope to hear from you again!!


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  4. i loved it so much it helped me out big time with my family. i didn’t respect my family until i read this. so thank you for the help.

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