Once I googled “showing respect to your toddler” or something similar and was surprised that the most of the first page hits were actually about getting toddlers to show respect to us – by demanding good manners, establishing rules, celebrating diversity and not tolerating rudeness. All good things actually, but I wonder if maybe we aren’t going about that the wrong way round…children learn by watching and copying, and being respectful towards then, treating them with positivity, politeness and a sense of importance is surely the best way to show them how to be respectful themselves?
Acknowledging that children are still people who deserve respect the way the adults I interact with each day deserve respect.
So how do we show respect to our children?
Everyday activities like nappy changes we try to explain what we’re doing and allow them to get involved where they can (I normally wipe them up, then get them to help by doing some wiping too, even though everything is clean).
We acknowledge their feelings and seek to give them choices where it’s possible – snack time, do you want an apple or orange with your biscuit?
Talking of food, we don't force them to eat all the food on their plates too.
We treat them the same at night as during the day - so the idea of ignoring them when they want attention or comfort overnight has never been something we've entertained. That may seem obvious but I've seen so many articles about not letting your babies and toddlers manipulate you by ignoring them overnight, leaving them to cry alone that I assume it must be more prevalent that I would've thought.
The boys aren’t forced to give hugs or kisses to people if they don’t want to. You know the classic standoff when you leave someone’s house? They know they can say no, and we offer a high five as an alternative. I remember an aunt who used to come to the house and blow raspberries on my tummy and I genuinely hated it yet it was assumed that a child MUST enjoy this kind of activity and so my protests were ignored! This also requires us to get them to be respectful of others - so when they're wrestling and one has had enough and says no, we make them stop and explain that the other one has had enough and we have to respect that.
Empathy is a big part of the general respect we show each other. When Colin says he’s had a bad day at work, I would never think to turn round and say “I’m sure it wasn’t that bad”, I’d say “Oh no, why, what happened?” and empathise with his story. I listen and I show that I understand how frustrating or difficult it would be. So we try to do that with the boys too.
I must admit, the one area I find a respectful response difficult is when the kids fall or have accidents. I’m very laid back and when they fall I rarely rush or fuss over them, but yet I still regularly do that classic dismissive “Ah, you’re ok. Up you get”. That at face value may seem reasonable enough, but let’s face it if I fell over I’d expect people to rush across and say “Oh my goodness, are you ok? Are you hurt?”. Now, given how often kids fall over, we aren’t going to want make a fuss everytime, but there is a respectful reaction which probably acknowledges how bad the fall is, and what they think, like “Oh, whoops, you fell over. Are you sad/OK?" or "Did you hurt your hand when you fell?”. And normally the times I can work out which body part might hurt and ask about it, the boys tend to say yes, it hurts but then move on pretty quickly. Saying “You’re ok” can often cause more tears! Food for thought for me!