Respectful Parenting: Healthy Transitions Begin at Birth
RESPECT, FROM THE START
You may have heard of various parenting approaches like respectful parenting, RIE, or mindful parenting. One thing many of these modern styles have in common is that parents are encouraged to call out transitions with children as early as birth.
This is to help babies grow up feeling respected as whole, capable people, not treated as mere props or accessories.
This means “giving notice” before handling your baby in a new way, changing locations, or engaging in care practices like feeding, bathing, or diapering. Think of it this way: how would you feel if, with no warning or explanation, someone picked you up and started undressing you? In this way, we can treat the children with a similar level of respect that we would expect (or hope) to receive.
RESPECTFUL PARENTING TRANSITIONS IN ACTION
For instance, your baby is cheerfully playing on their back in their crib. In this approach, you would make eye contact and say, “Hi baby, it’s time for your diaper change! I’m going to pick you up and carry you to the changing table.” Then you would follow through. Once on the table, you might say, “I’m going to pull these pants down now, and remove your diaper,” just before you start undressing them. And so on.
It might seem silly at first, speaking so maturely to a brand new baby who can’t even focus their eyes yet—but you’d be surprised at how early on they will start recognizing these patterns and even begin to assist you! For example, when they hear you say, “I’m going to pick you up now,” many infants will learn to raise their arms or arch their back to help you. Babies are often far more capable than we give them credit for.
RESPECTFUL TRANSITIONS BEYOND INFANCY
As your child grows, this same approach applies, and can be a terrific toddler meltdown avoidance method! By giving your child ample warning before a transition—a 5-minute countdown, for example—and then offering a simple choice, many hard-headed arguments can be avoided. Try, “Our 5 minutes are up, and it’s time to leave. Would you like to put your own shoes on, or would you like my help?” Offering a choice between two things that lead to the same desired outcome (shoes on) often prevents the child from flat-out refusing, and allows them to feel like they have a sense of agency over the next step in the transition.
Even into adolescence, this type of respect not only helps your child develop their own healthy transition routines, but it deepens your bond because your little one feels understood, respected, and capable to participate in their own wellbeing.
One of our team members recently shared that their 6-year old was having a hard time transitioning between the excitement of school pickup to the quiet of a car, so they created a new routine. Each day, they jump down each stair outside the school, taking deep breaths before each jump. At the bottom, they turn back and say “bye bye, school, see you tomorrow!” and that simple, 1-minute shift helps calm her daughter's energy enough to get in the car quickly and quietly.
What routines might best support you and your child in transitions so that everyone feels respected, prepared, and ready for the next part of the day?