What is the Respectful Approach?

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  Published on Wednesday, 10 February 2021

What is the Respectful Approach?

Library Home  >  Approaches to Early Childhood EducationEarly Childhood Research
  Published on Wednesday, 10 February 2021
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As parents, we’re always on hand to help our children, and when we see them struggling with a task, there’s a natural temptation to jump in and make things easier.

At toddler age, mums and dads can be quick to stack the fourth block, choose a round shape for the round hole, or help little ones climb out of the sandpit, but new research suggests that we shouldn’t be too hasty to help. 

According to an Edith Cowan University study, it’s better for parents to sit back and watch toddlers explore their world. Young children are capable of solving problems when given the time and space to do so, and this study suggests that a less reactive, more respectful approach isn’t just good for toddlers’ development – it’s good for parents’ mental health, too. 

To learn more about the study and what the Respectful Approach means for mums and dads, we spoke with Mandy Richardson, who conducted the research as part of her parenting-focused PhD. 

Mandy is a mum of three with a Masters in Childhood Studies, a parenting consultancy service called Raise Early Years and lengthy experience working in early childhood education, so she knows a thing or two about under-fives!

Thank you for your time, Mandy. As part of your PhD, you’ve conducted the world’s first data-driven study of parenting classes based on the Respectful Approach. Could you please tell us a bit more about this approach?

With pleasure! The Respectful Approach is based on the Pikler Approach, which was developed by Hungarian paediatrician, Dr Emmi Pikler, and on Resources for Infant Educarers RIE™, which was established by infant specialist, Magda Gerber. 

Six guiding principles form the fundamentals of the Respectful Approach: 

  1. Trust

  2. Mutual respect

  3. Sensitive observation

  4. A prepared environment

  5. Time for uninterrupted play, and 

  6. Consistency.

Through various studies, these principles have been found to increase parent reflection, reduce parent stress, and increase the quality of care-giving. 

Previous research also suggests that children benefit from the Respectful Approach through an increased quality of attachment, development of empathy, and competent motor skills.

For your study, you invited parents to observe their babies or toddlers engaging in uninterrupted play over a period of six weeks. Could you explain how the study worked in practice, and what findings came out of it?

In our study, we conducted small group classes based on the Respectful Approach. Parents attended a 1.5 hour play class with their infant or toddler once a week for six weeks. During this time, they were asked to sit on a cushion in a large circle and observe their children in the prepared play area in the centre of the room. 

A trained facilitator modelled the Respectful Approach principles and supported the children if, and as, needed. At the end of the observation period, parents were asked to: 

  • Share what they had noticed about their child

  • Describe any scenarios they’d seen the facilitator assist with, and 

  • Reflect on how they may have responded. 

The qualitative component of our study found that parents better understood their child by taking the time to sit back and observe them. 

This allowed them to consider their child’s needs and how they could respond, and parents described feeling less pressure and feeling more trusting towards their child as they became aware of how capable they were. 

Our quantitative data showed a reduction in parents’ stress and an overall improvement in parents’ confidence.

What further work are you doing around the Respectful Approach, and what do you hope to achieve going forward? 

In the next phase of this study, we aim to further investigate the way in which parents’ internal narrative regarding their child is altered through this process. 

We will conduct similar group classes with a group of parents and children and follow them from infancy through to three-years-old. 

We aim to gather data on the long-term impact of the Respectful Approach on child development and outcomes, as well as on the parent-child relationship. 

We would love to see these types of classes made available to new parents as a part of the pathway to parenthood. It would be great to have them running for free as part of parent education through hospitals and child health centres. 

The literature suggests that parents are often told positive ways to parent through workshops and appointments, but struggle to apply this advice. 

Our parenting classes differ from those workshops and appointments, because they allow for active learning about a parent’s own child, along with an opportunity to become aware of their own parental tendencies. 

We would love to see parents supported in the toddler years, too, so they can better understand how toddlers develop and how to respond to typical toddler scenarios. 

There are so many behavioural programs aimed to support parents once negative patterns have emerged around the age of three, and our goal is to prevent these negative cycles by offering support between the ages of zero and two. These years are so important to the formation of that child and their relationship with their care-givers. 

The Respectful Approach inspires the work I do with parents every day through Raise Early Years, and I’d love to see as many families as possible enjoying the benefits of this approach. 

Are there any books or resources you recommend to help parents lower their stress levels, gain confidence in their parenting, and better understand their child’s capabilities?

Oh yes! I have a fair amount of favourite resources. 

During pregnancy, I suggest parents-to-be should start with Dear Parent: Caring for Infants with Respect by Magda Gerber. 

For those with a new baby, I suggest Baby Knows Best: Raising a Confident and Resourceful Child, the RIE™ Way by Deborah Carlisle Solomon, and Your Self-confident Baby: How to Encourage Your Child's Natural Abilities – From the Very Start by Magda Gerber

If parents are in the throes of toddlerhood, then I suggest No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame by Janet Lansbury, and The Montessori Toddler: A Parent's Guide to Raising a Curious and Responsible Human Being by Simone Davies

If parents have an older child, then I suggest The Whole-brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind by Tina Payne Bryson and Daniel J. Siegel, as well as Between Parent And Child by Haim G. Ginott.

Of course, I am always happy to support parents through Raise Early Years. You can find more resources here or by following @Raise Early Years on Instagram and Facebook

Thank you, Mandy, this is very helpful and all the best with your ongoing research around the Respectful Approach. 

Further reading

How fewer toys leads to higher quality play

This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Monday, 08 February 2021

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