By: Jenna Somich, Movement Specialist, BIRTHFIT Coach, RIE Foundations Student

When it comes to child care practices and philosophies, there is a lot out there. Many times following particular principles can feel overwhelming. Today, I would like to explore Respectful Child Care practices and discuss a few ways that you can put them into action.

Respectful Child Care is based on the idea that each child is born a complete, whole, and aware human, who is deserving of not only love, but also trust and respect. We seek to demonstrate our respect for each individual child with every interaction. Also, we acknowledge that each individual child is intelligent and knows himself or herself better than anyone else – including us! We learn about the child through sensitive observation and communication. It is a deep and intimate partnership that is ever growing! So where do we begin?

Provided below are some ways to put Respectful Child Care into action:

Respecting the Body:

  • Slow Down: Then, slow down even more! Before you complete a caregiving activity, first ask the child if they are ready for that said task. Let the child know what you plan to do before you do it. Welcome their feedback regarding tasks, but remain firm in completing necessary caregiving activities in a calm and engaging manner. This allows the child to be an active participant in their care and sets the stage for independence in the future.

Example: “I see that your diaper needs a change. May we change it? I see that you are playing, but I would like to change your diaper now. I am going to pick you up.”

  • Words Matter: Always use correct language and terminology for the body. Using correct and precise language leads to body awareness and sets the stage for autonomy, healthy boundaries, and consent.

Example: “I am going to take off your old diaper. Now, I will wipe your butt with this wipe (show the child). It may be cool. Are you ready? Let’s put a fresh diaper on you. Can you pick up your legs? Thank you for helping!”

  • Movement Ownership: Remain mindful of innate movement development and cognitive development. Trust that each child is unique and will develop at their own pace and at their own time. Offer free movement opportunities on the floor or outside. When children are able to move freely and are not “taught” how to move, they move with grace, quality, and self-confidence!

Something to note: Placing children in a seated or standing position before they can achieve it on their own trains compensatory movement patterns, versus functional movement patterns. This would include holding them in that position or using equipment such as a bumbo seat, exersaucer, or walker. If you would like to learn more about this, I recommend the following article: On Their Own: How To Stop Interfering With Your Child’s Development

Respecting the Mind:

  • Communicate Authentically: I touched on this a bit above, but I wanted to expand further. With Respectful Child Care, we believe that words are words and language is language. We don’t speak differently to newborns, infants, or toddlers. Also, we acknowledge that children deserve the truth. If we consider each child to be a whole human, our language and communication ought to demonstrate this as well. Using authentic language and honesty not only exposes children to a larger, more diverse vocabulary, it also feels freeing as the caregiver.

Example: “I can tell that you would like to pull my hair. I do not like how that feels. Can you please open your hand? It seems that you are having a hard time with this. I am going to help you open your hand. I am not going to let you pull my hair.”

  • Observe and Trust: Allow the children to guide their own play. Children are born learners. When we allow them to self-initiate play, we will see that they are actually much more engaged in their activities. This builds intrinsic motivation. Support their passions and interests without projecting your wishes, wants, or fears on them.

Example: “I see that you are climbing the bench! I am going to stay close while you explore. You did it!”

  • Consider Your Own Lenses: Remain mindful of the lenses that we bring into each situation and acknowledge that our personal experiences do not equal universal truths for all. A great tool that parents and caregivers can utilize to avoid placing their thoughts and experiences on children is “sensitive observation” and “sportscasting.”

Example: “I see that you would like the toy that your friend has. It seems that they are still playing with it and would like to play alone. Perhaps you could find another toy.”

Respecting the Spirit:

  • Children Have A Voice: All humans deserve to be heard. Age does not inform this right. Openly invite, encourage, and acknowledge all feelings. Ask for clarification if you are unsure of how the child is feeling. Acknowledge when you are feeling unsure and let them know that you will do your best to support them. The key here is that support doesn’t mean “fix.” If we wish for our children to come to us with big challenges later in life, we must show them that their emotions and struggles are welcome, even at a young age and even if it feels like a small challenge to us. It is not small to them. Trust that they are doing their best with the tools they have and the stage of development that they are in.

Example: “I see that you are having a tough time with this. It seems you are very frustrated. I am not sure how to support you best, but I am here with you. What do you feel may help?”

  • Learning Love Through Boundaries: Recognize your own boundaries so that you can help support your children in developing theirs. Children learn self-love and self-care by seeing it modeled to them throughout their lives via their parents and caregivers. Having healthy boundaries for yourself and those in your life teaches children that this is to be expected and honored.

Example: “I am having a tough time right now. I need a break. I am going to sit and be quiet and take 10 deep breaths.”

  • Choose Empathy and Kindness: Openly and honestly say,  “I am sorry” to children. This opens the door for our children to say “I am sorry” to others and understand that being “right” is not as important as showing up with empathy and kindness.

Example: “It seems that when I raised my voice that I really caught you off guard. I can’t imagine what that felt like for you. I am so sorry. Are you OK?”

In essence, Respectful Child Care practices are truly about adhering to the golden rule: treat all people, regardless of age, how you may wish to be treated. In many ways, you are not just parenting the children in your care, you are also parenting or re-parenting yourself and perhaps being that role model that you needed when you were young. It is not always an easy task and sometimes requires a leap of faith, but I believe it can change our world!

Here are some of my favorite resources on Respectful Childcare:


For more from Jenna Somich follow @jennasomich on Instagram!