Dealing With Parenting Differences Among Friends, Family And Kind Strangers

Those of us lucky enough to have discovered child care methods that resonate with us (like Attachment Parenting or Magda Gerber’s RIE Approach) often find ourselves in awkward situations with well-intentioned grandparents, friends or kind strangers who engage with our children differently than we’d like. Of course, it’s not their fault – they aren’t on ‘the program’ –and it always comes down to, “do I step in and risk offense, or do I stuff my parenting beliefs and bite my lip?”

This subject keeps coming up in my world — with parents in my classes, in comments here and in email and Facebook messages. If I had any easy solutions, I would gladly offer them.  But I don’t, so I’m counting on your feedback!  In the meantime, here are some general suggestions (that you are welcome to disagree with) based on what I’ve learned through trial and (mostly) error.

Don’t preach or teach. This includes informing the parent whose toddler’s toy has just been snatched away by ours that 2 year olds don’t understand the concept of sharing; warning a grandparent that our child is safer when he isn’t helped up the climbing structure; or mentioning the far more creative choices our baby makes when he doesn’t have toys waved in his face. It’s really hard not to offend others with even the most tactful lesson or correction about child care – if you haven’t noticed already, it’s a prickly subject. (I share my mega mistake in this regard in Accepting Grandparents’ Good Intentions).

In fact, don’t say anything if you can help it. When speaking with a couple of longtime RIE instructors who had recently become grandmothers, we joked about the 12 step program for new grandparents. All 12 steps are the same pronouncement: “Don’t say anything”.

Do admit you are different. I’ve always it found it best to acknowledge, especially with close friends, family members, and any caregiver I employed that I knew the approach I’d adopted was unusual and might seem weird to them, and then ask if they would please bear with me, because I was excited about what I was learning and experiencing with my child. This was the simple truth, and it was far less threatening to others than being a know-it-all.

Do discuss childrearing philosophies later, when it’s feels less threatening. Long before or after any uncomfortable incidents occur are good times to share about the child care approach that you are excited about and has helped you so much.

Do model your approach. It is easiest to appreciate a parenting style when we see an organic, spontaneous demonstration. Be a positive model of respectful care. You’ll be surprised how much others notice, if they are even a little bit open-minded.  Strangers have approached me to say how much they enjoyed watching me interact with my toddler. The majority of RIE Parent/Infant Guidance Class referrals come from people who have admired their friends’ children, or the quality of the relationship they have with them. You can also model a respectful intervention in the moment. For instance, saying to the person reaching for your child, “Let’s ask him if he’d be okay with you holding him,” and then waiting for your child to indicate, “Yes.”

Do use the occasional white lie to protect your child (or your sanity). I believe in honesty, especially around children, but if there is any time to white lie, it’s when someone wants to do something with our baby that makes us a little uncomfortable.… The ones I’ve used most are, “Thanks, but she might not like that” (being picked up by another person, walked, pulled in a wagon or pushed down a slide, etc.). Or, “She’s just getting over something, so please don’t touch her. I can’t risk exposing her while her resistance is low.”  Afterwards, I might briefly explain to my child that I sometimes say things that aren’t quite true to not hurt feelings.

Do acknowledge unusual situations for your child.  Babies learn very quickly who does what and how. They can adapt to the subtle differences between the way daddy, mommy and grandpa hold them, bathe them, behave at the park, etc. But when they’ve had a new or unusual interaction with someone, even if they don’t give you that look afterwards, it helps the child to process the situation when we explain simply, i.e., “You looked startled when Uncle Joe took you on a piggy back ride. He should have asked you first. I’m so sorry I wasn’t able to stop him in time.”

Do form playgroups with like-minded parents (even just one other family).  We all need time to relax and refuel with parents who share our child care values.

Do know that diverse parenting styles become less apparent after the infant and toddler years. There will be fewer child care disagreements and awkward moments with friends and family after the baby years have passed. Except for those occasions when, for example, your 8 year old is invited to a PG-13 movie birthday party and you have to politely decline, but feel annoyed enough to want to give the host parent a good long lecture (ugh…don’t get me started!).

Don’t worry. A child’s primary caregivers have a far greater influence on his or her development than anyone else. It’s the “steady diet” of care that makes a difference — the relationship we are building with our child that matters most.

Obviously, each scenario and relationship we have is unique. Some situations bring out the mother (or father) bear in us more than others, and there are people we might not mind offending if it is in the best interest of our child. So, please share your ideas and specific experiences. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

 

 

57 Comments

Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. I appreciate this post, and the suggestions because so many new parents face this dilemma ,there are no easy answers, and this is one of those ‘hot button’ topics.

    As a caregiver, I have an easy time in public with strangers. I see my job as being the child’s protector and advocate, and I have no qualms about kindly, but firmly asking other adults to cease and desist if they are being intrusive, or interacting in a disrespectful way with a child I am caring for. It’s my job. I get paid to put this child’s needs front and center, and if someone is offended, or doesn’t like me, because I stand up for the child, it’s fine with me.

    Which is not to say I go out of my way to offend anyone. I have found in almost all cases, modeling, and sportscasting are two of my greatest allies.

    I have been in situations where it was the child’s relatives who were forcing a child to “take one more bite(of food)” when the child was clearly saying she was done eating for example , or when an Aunt scooped a baby up, and smothered him in kisses, without a warning.

    It’s hard for me to see this, but it’s not my place to intervene. What I do do if possible is to narrate, or sportscast for the child, because I feel like this at least lets the child know what is happening, and that they aren’t alone: “Your Auntie was so excited to see you, she just scooped you up and kissed you all over. Were you surprised?”

    “You are saying you don’t want to take a bite of the cheese, but your Grandma really wants you to eat a little more before you go to play.” Or simply, “I hear you saying you want to get down.”

    These statements are made directly to the baby, and aren’t critical of the adult, they are simply acknowledging the baby’s point of view.

    I’ll admit, I’ve also told the occasional white lie to “protect” a child without offending another adult, but I have very mixed feelings about this, because honesty and authenticity are values I want to model for the children I care for, and I feel like I’m not being a good model when I lie and then try to explain it by saying I didn’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings.

    I wonder if maybe it wouldn’t be better to have the guts to be honest and authentic, and say, “I’d rather you not pick the baby up without asking/telling her first,” and leave it at that, instead of saying, “Oh, she’s getting over a cold, and I don’t want you to catch it?”

    Another example, “I know you’d love for your child to share his bike with my child, and I appreciate it, but your son is making it clear he doesn’t want to to that, and that’s fine. I’ve asked my son to choose something else to play with.”

    I don’t know, I’m just playing devil’s advocate here, and I do realize there are so many different situations…

    1. Lisa, thank you for your thoughtful feedback. I agree about the importance of modeling honesty. White lies are definitely not the ideal way to handle anything (and I meant expressing concern about the baby catching germs, not the adult, who might say, “Oh, I don’t mind!”) But I’m also very sensitive to people feeling shamed, even a tiny bit. Maybe that’s just my personal issue (or gutlessness! :)) but I tend to shy away from direct confrontations that might be insulting if the person seems at all nice. If someone was really persistent and annoying, I would have no problem being direct and simply saying, “Thanks, but no.”

      I’m glad you brought up narrating and sportscasting. I agree that narrating the situation for the child is really important because it helps her to know that her point of view is understood and valid and helps her to process everything. BUT, I think it is best either done out of earshot of the other person involved, or done very judiciously, because it can be disrespectful, in my opinion. I try to place myself in the grandparent’s shoes, for example (which is getting easier these days…can’t imagine why!) and I would feel like you were talking to me (and criticizing me) through the child. I’d “get it” and be insulted, wouldn’t you? If you disagreed with what I was doing, I would rather we discussed it in a more general way later…

      1. I shy away from confrontation and usually say a white lie, or blame it on my doctor if my parents do something I’m uncomfortable with. “My doctor said that he should/n’t…” But my sister-in-law took the honest approach and flat out told my parents, “Don’t put your fingers in my newborns mouth.” My parents were so offended they immediately left, and to this day still talk about it, and have not seen their grandson since (2 mos. ago). I think it depends on the audience. You have to cater your feedback to the sensitivity of the person you’re talking to. In my case, it’s better to white lie (and explain later to my child in private) then be honest with my parents.

        1. avatar Michelle Tucker says:

          You’re sister was very courageous to be authentic and definitively place a boundary with your parents…. if they took offense, over another’s child’s parent protecting them, that is on them….
          A simple apology, for overstepping, would be a lot more mature than allowing this to offend them so! They have bruised egos and haven’t resolved something that just takes a little humility… your sister had every right to speak plainly and protect her child and it’s sad ANYONE would be so offended over a MOTHER placing a boundary…

  2. I don’t have any advice, but I am taking it all in… In fact I really needed to hear this part “Don’t worry. A child’s primary caregivers have a far greater influence on his or her development than anyone else…”

    It’s been one of my concerns lately. My in-laws seem to contradict my every parenting instinct (from electronic toys and TV watching to not accepting when my son doesn’t want to give them a kiss hello – ugh!). I’m unable to confront them for family reasons, so I had convinced myself to stay calm about it because ultimately I hope to have far more influence than they will. I’m glad to see someone else affirm that.

  3. Hi,

    I am a diploma qualified educator in a long day care service. Yesterday while at the supermaket, a parent of a child who attends the centre approached me for a social chat. (I used to look after her son in the Kinder room). Her son has autism and she is currently going through the process of getting an aide for him etc. She told me that she attended a birthday party on the weekend and that her son bit another child due to a disagreement over a toy. She heard her son crying, so went to investigate, which is when she was told by one of the Dad’s. “Oh he is crying because he bit another child, but it’s ok I smacked him, and that’s why he is crying”.
    She was in shock that someone had hit her child. She didn’t say anything, as she was unsure how to. What advice would you give her?

    1. Wow. I would be in shock, too. I would be concerned about my boy and not afraid of offending that dad, for sure, but it would be hard to compose myself to respond to him…and probably pointless. I would focus on my child and say something like, “It’s not okay for you to bite, but it was very wrong of that dad to hit you. Grown-ups do wrong things sometimes. I’m so sorry I wasn’t there to help.” I’d comfort my boy and then make a polite, but hasty exit.

      1. Totally agree…but I too would have a hard time not engaging the offending dad. A child bites another child and then that child’s dad goes and smacks the offending child…what statement does that make to a child or to anyone for that matter?

      2. I would be shocked and horrified and would certainly give that Dad a piece of my mind! (In private or course!) I am also a caregiver (toddlers) at a program that incorporates many RIE approaches, and additionally the parent of a young child with autism. Many autism parents know that events like birthday parties are very stressful on our kiddos. All the social interactions as well as the sensory overload stress them out. I am nearly always within arms reach of my daughter in such events because I know she may have a meltdown at any moment and I need to be there to help her. I don’t want her to not have the experience of going to peers’ parties. She really looks forward to it. But she can only handle so much. I say this all because I guess I just hope this mom can get to a point in the future where she can recognize these types of red flag situations that are hard for our kids with autism and perhaps linger a bit closer so that she can observe his behavior for signs of sensory overload. I don’t want to be the hovering parent and often I feel that way. I don’t let me daughter go to birthday parties or play dates without a parent, which is starting to become a thing at her age (nearly 5). I’ve had to invite myself along to several “drop-off” style birthday parties because I know this would be too much for her to handle without an attuned, supportive adult to help her in the moments when she needs help. I try to stay out of her way and let her do her thing, and stand on the sidelines observing her periodically for signs that she might need a break with me in a quiet spot. Birthday parties are really hard for kids with autism to handle. I hope no one thinks I am writing this as an indictment of the mom in any way because that is not how it is intended. It just made me a little sad to read this, because the boy was likely biting because he was stressed out and overstimulated by the situation (even if he appeared to be having fun), and a short break in a quiet spot with a caring adult was probably what he needed right then, and how hard is that for him that his communication “I need help” (ie his biting behavior) was met with such a heinous and insensitive response. Honestly, the more I learn about the way children with autism are treated in our society the more 1)disgusted I am with society and 2) strong I am in my belief that all children deserve to be treated with respect regardless of ability. Kids who exhibit challenging behavior often get treated the least respectfully by adults, and often they are the ones who need sensitive, respectful, supportive care the most.

    2. “I hear my son bit your child, how is your child? My child has autism so doesn’t always react like other kids. I’m sorry I was not around to help him as he was getting upset with your child but I’m really not ok with your approach. You used violence to show him how angry you were at him using violence. Hitting a disabled child will not help him learn to regulate his anger. Violence is very upsetting fir everybody, especially when it is an adult doing the hitting. When you feel calmer it would be amazing if you could apologise to my son. It really isn’t ok to hit other people’s kids.” Is what I hoped
      I could have said….

  4. This is a wonderful topic, thank you for posting Janet.

    Before my first child was born I had the most wonderful relationship with my mother in law. Some might have called it unusual as we honestly thought of each other as friends. My mother in law was a career mother, that is to say, she took (and still does) take the joyful responsibility of raising children very seriously. That combined with being an LLL leader meant she had many MANY deep feelings regarding how to raise children.
    I admired and respected this until I delivered my daughter and found that I needed to set boundaries in order to maintain my mental health – yes – I found that her seemingly well intentioned opinions were causing me so much internal conflict that I was slipping into depression.

    This is not just a question of how to tactfully deal with differing values regarding child raising, it’s also about how to we navigate lovingly with integrity and courage through our role as mother, wife, daughter in law etc. This has been my greatest challenge in life so far.

    My once close ally and admired mother in law, (in my mind) turned into a judgmental queen bee who was trying to impart HER way of child rearing without any regard or respect to my approach. If it was different it was BAD, therefor i felt she was saying I was a bad mother – and oh did my momma bear anger rage!!!!!!!

    Since the arrival of my second child, my son, as well as moving further away and having a very difficult but necessary talk with my husband asking him to mediate when he feels she is not showing respect for our joint child raising decisions, I have become much more able to step back and see that we all have a valid approach. That said I believe it is vital to our health as mothers to tactfully express our expectations regarding such things as safety and whatever we feel are non negotiable approaches. This is difficult but it is a very liberating path. One worth teaching through example. Ultimately teaching our children how to love and respect their own beliefs as well as holding a space for others opinions that differ from their own.

    I wish us all to find peace and joy in our journey as mothers, daughters, wives and yes even as daughters in law.

    -Teresa

    1. Teresa, I so admire the way you handled this challenging experience. Thanks for sharing, and inspiring us.

  5. Some of our best friends here have a very different approach to parenting than we do. We’re all very good about not trying to parent the other persons children and nobody is preaching to anybody else so as far as our relationship with the other parents are concerned it’s not a big problem.
    The issue is appearing as our children get older. Specifically my daughter I can tell gets really confused and a little upset when she sees her friends parents hit her when she does something “wrong” and they both don’t seem to understand why rules applying to one don’t always apply to the other (for example, our friends child has to put shoes on before she goes outside but if our daughter says she doesn’t want shoes I see no reason why in the safe grass yard she can’t go barefoot). Most of the differences aren’t big, but I don’t always know how to explain to my daughter what’s going on or why things are so different between our house and her friends.

    1. Jenna,

      May I offer something I learned from a very dear friend, and one of my mentors in the RIE program (who also happens to be a mother of twins)?

      From very early on, when her children started to notice differences, she would kindly and simply respond: “Yes, we do it this way in our family, and (child’s name) does it that way in his/her family. There are lots of different ways of doing things, and every family has their own way.”

      Seems like a very respectful way to acknowledge differences in a way children can understand, and I’ve adopted the same practice when talking with children about differences, as well.

  6. This article, along with your article on Grandparents, inspired me. I think I will write a thank you letter to my MIL after my shower (I’m pregnant with my first), including a few lines about how I know my approach to parenting is different and how I appreciate her understanding and cooperating. I will invite her to never hesitate to ask questions to learn more about why I make the choices that I make. I’m sure a lot of it just wont make sense to her, but I’d be more than happy to discuss everything. Especially knowing that she would never, ever judge me.

    Thanks!

  7. Thank you so much for this discussion. I feel like I’m in a difficult situation with my in-law family. They parent in a very different way than I do, and I find it hard to express my point of view as I have learned that it won’t be taken well regardless of how gently I say it. My response has been to back away because I haven’t wanted their influence to affect my child. However, after reading this discussion, I think my best bet is to engage more fully so that I can have more opportunities to model our parenting strategies. Perhaps it’s better to move through this tough stuff to get to a better place as a family in the end instead of trying to avoid it.

  8. I learn so much from this blog! My daughter just turned one and I am relatively new to RIE. My “dilemma” on top of the above mentioned topic is that I am not a native English speaker so I talk in a different language to my daughter. I always feel like I not only have this different philosophy I feel strongly about but also can’t really model it or might even look more strange for example to my in-law-family who doesn’t understand my language (unfortunately on many levels) or other parents at the playground. I am afraid that my insecurity transfers to my daughter and am so much more comfortable with her when we are at home or with likeminded parents.

  9. I was in complete sleep-deprived meltdown mode yesterday and lectured a stranger who pulled my son off the monkey bars. I felt foolish afterwards because he looked at me like I had three heads and it really wasn’t that big of a deal (although I do dislike it when strangers do things that I’ve specifically asked them not to). But my son did ask for help. And I was far away . . . because I’d seen him climb down himself a hundred times.

    But I digress . . . in most cases, I find it’s better to use those opportunities to model graciousness and understanding, since there will never be a time when the entire world agrees with what you do. 🙂

    Great post, Janet. Thank you!

    1. “model graciousness and understanding, since there will never be a time when the entire world agrees with what you do.”

      This is so true!! Thank you.

  10. This is something I’m worried about with my in-laws. My SIL and her husband have been permissive with their kids and I don’t want them to set a bad example for my son.

    On the other hand, my MIL is more strict and sometimes punitive (eg has threatened to send my nephew to the room he uses when he stays at her house). She also lacks empathy when a child is misbehaving (ie doesn’t consider the feelings behind the behaviour or acknowledge upset when limits are set).

    My husband and I plan to do things differently to both with our son (now 8mos) and I am worrying in advance about how all of them will respond when he gets to the age of discipline and they see our approach.

    I feel particularly uncomfortable about leaving my son with my MIL after he reaches that age. We have left him with her a few times already, but I have felt a bit more comfortable about that, because I know there are no discipline issues to deal with right now. I know she expects to continue babysitting and I want to set those boundaries with her – just wondering about the best way to do that?

    1. Hmmm… I’m thinking that if you and your husband provide reasonable behavior boundaries for your boy this will not be a problem, because I don’t think he will act out with your MIL. I don’t think he’ll feel safe to, and he’ll save his misbehavior for his parents. And your more permissive family members will not have any negative effect either, because they are not his primary caregivers. You and your husband have by far the most influence, so I wouldn’t worry!

  11. avatar stephanie says:

    It’s amazing that after doing RIE classes now with two children, i STILL have trouble with this issue of how to handle friendly people doing things like tickling. Just yesterday, i decided to swallow what was irking me like crazy; a very sweet woman i just met (friend of my MIL) was tickling my 14 month old as i held him, and saying, let me hold you. i didn’t stop the tickling, (which bugs me to no end), but did NOT pass my child over to her, a complete stranger. My child also gave her a very perplexed look at her behavior, which made it easier to say, “he’s not ready yet to be held by you, he doesn’t know you.” what i wanted to do was what Liz Memel related to us in class one time: a father started tickling the tickler back. Naturally, the tickler (also a stranger) was put off, even offended. When she balked, the father asked, “what’s the problem? You are doing the same to my child.” The fact that children, especially babies who can’t protect themselves, are considered community property really became clear. there is a difference between greeting and being sweet to an infant, and treating them like a play doll. And not to digress too much, but it seems a very good lesson to teach children from early on that it is not ok for anyone, let alone complete strangers to simply touch them in any way that makes them uncomfortable.

  12. This is the very issue I have with my 3 yo son’s teacher. We’ve started preschool last month, and from the beginning, I knew the teacher doesn’t practice attachment parenting nor does she agree with it. My son is usually very friendly and outgoing, but he was unhappy there and I’m pulling him out after attending school just 4 times. I’m worried that I’ll never find a school that uses the positive method 🙁

    1. Kristen, I’m sorry to hear that the school wasn’t a comfortable fit for your son. Perhaps you can find a place that doesn’t necessarily follow Attachment Parenting, but is compatible enough to make for an positive experience and easier transition. I always recommend sitting in and observing the school (without your child) for as long as the center will allow. Even if their philosophy sounds “right”, you may not agree with the implementation. Good luck with your search…I don’t doubt you’ll find something!

  13. avatar Cynthia Schaeffer says:

    I must say the suggestions are great. I may have to start using some of them. In the past year every time a family member or friend has come over to our house I announce who is over and tell my son that if he wants to be held or kissed or played with to let us know. Everyone immediately stops and asks, “How can he tell us at such a young age?” I then proceed to explain the RIE philosophy. I don’t have to do this as often as I did before, but occasionally I have to remind an aunt or two to respect Joshua. There have been times that my parents come over and simply run to him as he is playing in his play area and startle him. I calmly explain to Joshua that his grandparents are so excited to see him they couldn’t even wait to tell him they were going to interrupt him at work. This literally stops them in their tracks and they slow right down. My modo is “my house, my rules” and “your house, my son, therefore my rules apply”. If family and friends don’t respect our method then we just don’t make a point of accepting invites etc. We don’t preach our method. We act our method and people notice the difference in my son. Some people even ask us why we tell him everything or why we don’t play with him all the time etc. I take it as a compliment to have someone ask me these questions. This just verifies that our decision to raise Joshua in a respectful loving manner is truly the best decision we have ever made.

  14. Thank you for this article. I haven’t read the comments yet as I have a toddler playing happily in the yard and I want to go and observe this!
    My main drive to comment is that I feel it is really really important to recognise, from day one, that there are different ways of doing almost everything and that different is not necessarily bad. I mean recognising this verbally and sharing this with your child.
    The way I parent is the best way for me, and mine, and throw in a lot of specific strategies for an Autistic child with some Sensory Processing difficulties as well and I am completely with Janet’s comment of ‘Do accept that you are different …’
    Often I differ from other parents in a way that is not necessarily ‘They are Wrong’ but more ‘They are further along to one extreme than I am’ and I don’t want my children to judge other people’s methods as being ‘wrong’ because Mummy doesn’t handle things that way.
    I am, of course, very happy to discuss with my children or interested open-minded friends why I choose to use the strategies that I do … but I don’t want my junior dictator (we’re working on this!) telling other parents how they should be parenting their own child!
    And as a parent of an Autistic child it is very important to me that both of my children, and anyone connected with us, recognises that ‘different’ is not necessarily ‘wrong’.

    1. avatar Erin Larned says:

      I really appreciate what you are saying about not judging. I often fall into think what I’m doing is right in an attempt to validate myself but I think what you said about being right for me and mine is a different connotation that is important. Thank you for reminding me of that 🙂

  15. I have to say that in my experience, not saying anything is a huge mistake. If the person is only around for a day at the absolute most, fine, otherwise my children would be very upset about the treatment and interaction they received at their grandparents. They are almost three and it is at the point that they be one incredibly frustrated, irritable and uncooperative after about a day. And frankly, if your children don’t see you standing up for them, how will they know they are worth standing up for? How will they stand up for themselves? It is my job to protect them and if that means offending someone, then so be it.

  16. Hi Janet,

    I appreciate this post so much. I google searched ‘ how to deal with parenting crisicism+ Janet Lansbury” hoping you’d have some advice!

    My son is 14 months old. He is my first. My husband and I love the RIE approach.
    My issue is with some family members that are a bit ‘old fashioned.’ Not grandparents in particular, but few family members that have children, and approach ‘discipline’ and ‘intervene’ the old fashioned way. We were recently at a family function and my son was rearranging CD’s on an entertainment enter, not causing them harm, not banging to mark up the furniture, only playing as a 14 month should. A family member who was watching blatantly said ” if that was my stuff he’d learn the phrase NO real quick.”
    This didn’t sit well with me, and I often feel as though people think I am being a neglegent parent instead of being an observent, parent that is respecting my kid’s childhood. There was another instance where my cousins son and my son were playing. ( he is 2 my son is 14 months) and my cousin was constantly telling Her son to ‘share with the baby’ ‘be careful’ ‘don’t take things from him.’ When my son tried to take a toy from my cousins son, i sat back to see what happened, and my cousins son got angry and tried to take it back but my cousin quickly distracted her son with something else.
    Again, I feel as though not saying anything and letting the kids work it out would have been ideal, but i also feel that by my not saying anything- it made me look as though i was letting my kid be a ‘bully’ or that i was teaching him not to share. I know bottom line I shouldn’t care what others think or say, I know I’m doing what’s best for my son however, the criticism is hard to swallow.

    1. Hello, If my child did something that made another child unhappy, I would step in to help him interpret and name what was happening to the other child and suggest a proportionate response. “Can you see how X is very upset? Do you think we could cheer him up by giving the toy back?I know you want the toy too but shall we go find something else to play with?” Could be one approach. I must admit,
      I would be uncomfortable with a toddler rearranging breakable things that did not belong to them. If you want to take a hands off approach to your toddler doing this be prepared for other people having different boundaries than you and getting cross. That is not a fun position to put yourself or your child in, let alone other people. It might help your child in the long run to expereience being shown that some things, while interesting are out of bounds even if the reasons don not make sense to them. I worry we at times look to the needs of our children while being a bit blind to the needs of fellow adults and children if we are too hands off but it is nice to read of people wanting to do things in a gentle way.

  17. I enjoyed the article and know tricky dealing with these issues. However, modeling white lies I am not sure is the wsy to go. In a child’s world there is truth and there are lies. There is is no ambiguous grey area for them. I think it is better to be gentle, yet direct. I would prefer my daughter grow up and not be afraid of conflict—which is very different from being conflict oriented.

    I also teach her that she is solely responsible for her own feelings, that no one else can “make” her feel a certain way. With that in mind, while we do value courtesy and manners, we are not overly concerned with how another person “chooses” to feel after being asked gently not to touch, intervene, etc with our daughter.

    For me personally, I dont like the concept of white lies or teaching children that dishonesty is acceptable. The truth is not always convenient or comfortable, but that is exactly why it is so highly valued.

    1. Yes! These are my thoughts too. I do not think it’s beneficial to model lying or not speak our truth because we are afraid of conflict or hurting someone’s feelings. Each person chooses the way they will handle any given situation….grown adults especially. Avoiding conflict in certain situations can be appropriate by simply walking away and then discussing that choice with the child.

      I have found myself in several conversations with other people over the last year (my daughter just turned 3) while in the boundary pushing phase where I’ve had to reinforce these ideas of gentle parenting and acknowledge my style as different. It’s incredibly frustrating especially when the criticism is coming from people without children. And ultimately, my belief in this parenting style was built firmer and has helped me to feel more grounded and confident in my ability to parent my children.

      Thank you, Janet for all of your wisdom.

  18. I am a grandma of a 2 year old girl and a 10 month boy who my daughter is rearing in a beautiful respectful manner, RIE and although it’s not how I reared my children I love learning about it and seek out information so I can support my daughter . Love all your articles Janet

    1. I have the greatest admiration for open-minded people like you, Bron. Thanks for your kind words!

  19. Thank you so much. I have become a nightmare to be around because of that… to the point where it can cost me my marriage. I have some antennas standing for every word being said around my child. I admit I really have a problem.
    Thank you for the advice and most important for the perfect timing

  20. Thank you for all that you do. I find myself sharing things you post almost daily, and this post, along with the others really helps me, as a father, be much more effective as a parent. I wish more men would read and practice the things you talk about with regard to parenting. I am working hard to make that happen and many of the principles you talk about are so simple and can often be implemented with very little effort.

    Anyway, thank you for this one, as I have a very different parenting style than my mother did (she passed last year), and we clashed many times when it came to raising my kids. In hindsight, much of the advice you and the people who commented above gave here are great, and I could’ve probably used them instead. Oh well, lesson learned. Emotions definitely drive behavior in adults too, and many many adults could use some help regulating and acting appropriately when situations like this come into play. Maybe then we wouldn’t need to worry so much about offending an adult.

    I can dream, can’t i?

    1. Yes, you certainly can dream, Ryan! Thank you for your supportive words and kinship

  21. I love the idea about tickling people who tickle your child without asking. But does your doing this set a negative example for the child? Or is it more: if someone tickles you, they must want to be tickled too! And keep it fun?

  22. I am lucky to have found out about non punitive parenting when my DD was a baby. I am lucky to have found a pre-school that never do time-out.

    That doesn’t mean that all the parents I know are like me. Many use time-out and force their kids to lend toys. I don’t approve of that but I can’t impose my view.

    Like MamaEve, I am particularly uncomfortable when other kids are forced to “share” with my DD. I have once tried to tell one of my friends not to bother, but she insisted it was important to her to teach her son to “share”.

  23. Thank you for this post. I’m wondering, though, how I should handle things when the person in question is the co-parent? My husband was raised in a very, very traditional household, and thinks that the RIE approach I’ve adopted with our son is silly and hippie-dippie. When he sees how it works (like how my son does better when I change his diaper) he just says that I’m “better” at doing the thing in question, so I should do it, not him. Or when he distracts our son and he stops crying, he says his way “works better.” I try to educate him, but he doesn’t listen to research (he thinks he knows better) and I feel like all my work is constantly being undone by him. I know he loves our son very much. Any advice?

  24. avatar Emily Lahm says:

    I’m so excited about finding you. As a new grandparent I am anxious to be the very best caregiver I can be!

  25. I am really struggling with this issue at the moment. My closest friend had her first 3 months before I had mine. I was so excited, thinking that having children together would be fabulous. Our little ones are now 23 and 20 months old and I find that I am avoiding her due to the very different ideas we have on parenting. Her son cannot even look at the toy my daughter is playing with with out her/her husband jumping on him about sharing and telling him no and using slightly raised and definitely aggressive voices. When he says, “Mine.” they scold him for being a bully. I gently tried saying, “Yes, you are right. It is yours.” That did not go over very well; his parents want the word wiped from his vocabulary. Now, when playing with him, my daughter becomes possessive and upset when he even approaches her; she is mirroring his parents’ behavior. It becomes uncomfortable when I know that they are looking to me, waiting for me to correct my daughter for behaviors that I find completely acceptable and healthy. I have tried talking to my friend, in light conversation, about my ideas of letting the kids work things out but she is adamant that her son has to learn to share and that the way that that will be accomplished is certainly not by trusting the kids to work it out or by giving them any breathing space whatsoever. She believes her job as a parent is to consistently, continually direct all of his behavior. More than worrying about my daughter (whom I know is benefitting from my trust), I leave our encounters sad for their son and in no hurry to organize another get-together. Also, my friend and I do not spend any time actually catching up because her constant hovering and correcting of the play. I am feeling really disheartened at the moment. I really wish my friend could see how amazingly well your principals are working for us – I can honestly say that nearly every moment I spend with my daughter fills me with absolute joy. And I believe that so much of our harmony is due to the fact that I allow her the chance to be who she is, a capable, thoughtful individual.

  26. Thank you for this post. I am pregnant at the moment and have been reading up on RIE and am completely in love with it. It is however, quite different from how I was raised in that my mother has no problems shaming children or ‘correcting’ them so they do not become or are called out if they are ‘spoilt brats’. I can already predict that I do not want any shaming words to be used on my children ever no matter by whom but would be unsure of how to address it without lighting the house on fire as it were. To be honest it would trigger stuff in me as well. What should we do in cases like that? Should we confront the adult or only explain to the child after??

    I am also concerned that my family members would not take to the idea of actually asking my child before scooping her up or kissing and hugging her. I understand that often these are loving behaviours and don’t want to overreact but where do we draw the line and intervene to protect the child?

  27. This is exactly what I needed to wake up to..

    I have written to you multiple times whining about how my in-laws make my daughter sit, carry her in a pram…etc etc…

    This blogpost does give answers to a few questions in my head. I am constantly doing a bargain of situations where I need to speak up and situations where I choose to remain silent and later explain to my daughter and just say sorry, I couldn’t change the situation for you…

  28. Love this!

    How about when someone in your family consistently parents your child for you while you are right there with your child, implying that they think they need to step in because you’re not doing enough?

    I don’t want to create conflict with this person, but their self-righteous and judgemental attitude makes me second guess myself sometimes….

  29. avatar Sophia Christen says:

    I believe it is our job as the parent to protect our children until they can defend themselves. I have heard of in-laws overstepping boundaries and not following our parenting style and I feel that if one cannot step-up for one’s child who will and how will s/he do so one day ?

    I believe we should stand up for our beliefs on this type of parenting style. The WHO has come out with an action plan for Europe for 2015-2020 because there are too many cases of abuse, up to 30% of emotional abuse with severe consequences that can no longer be ignored. I believe it comes from the misconception that children are, for a lot of French and Swiss people, a burden i.e. the opposite of what RIE says. I read somewhere that a poll showed that 40% of the Swiss population still spank their kids. How does a spanking relate to the wrongdoing ? What does it teach a child ? To use violence to get what you want ? I will not get into parents who slap their child across the face.

    I think we should be the first ones to spread the word on this type of parenting because, from the bottom of my heart, I believe it is the best way to parent: it gives children what they most need: understanding and acknowledgement of what they feel and ultimately of who they are. It shows them Respect. I think passing on the work of Magda Gerber and yours, Janet, starts at home and with the people close to us. I believe that we can each make a difference and make this a better world. Our children are the future and making this a better world begins with this type of parenting.

  30. Hi Janet, Came back to this great post. Do you happen to have guidance for situations in which other family or friends over-intervene (according to my threshold)? For instance, a minor conflict takes place during play and the other quickly jump in to direct the children or try and engineer a solution (“You play with this one, you play with that one…” “Your turn and then his turn…” “Let me go get another train so you each have one…” ? I don’t want to intervene myself, but then it feels like I’m being passive and I’m uncomfortable / annoyed with how things transpire. I sometimes say to the children, “I know you two can work this out.” But that feels passive aggressive (it’s really me telling the other parent to butt out) and not effective. I’ve also seen that this sort of over-intervention seems to encourage the children to tattle or look to us more to intervene, because they’ve seen it happen before, too :-/

  31. Hi Janet, I’m a big fan of your blog and have been practising RIE since my baby was ard 7 months old; he is going to be 1 in a couple of weeks. Reading all ur blog posts and e success stories have really kept me going. As much as I wish I can share a success story, it saddens and baffles me that I can’t. I live with my in laws and they do everything opposite of RIE: distraction, directing, disrespecting my baby by throwing things on e floor beside him when it’s meant for him, etc. Although I was e main caregiver from my baby’s birth till he was 10months old – I recently went back to work – my baby started making it very clear he prefers everyone else at home (who do not practise RIE) by crawling to them and wanting their attention. Many a time, I feel invisible to my baby. Reading the success stories on your blog and Facebook makes me wonder what I am doing wrong and why I don’t seem to be able to cultivate e intimate relationship many parents who do practise RIE share with their babies. It seems to me that my baby loves being entertained so much that my relaxed observation of him during independent play doesn’t seem to cut it. Is this possible? Sorry for the long post and thank you for taking the time to read it. Thank you for all that you do, Janet.

  32. avatar Erin Larned says:

    I lived with my in laws for three months while my husband was away. This was a HUGE struggle for me particularly because I was living in their home and felt like I was in their space and their rules. They have mentioned on more than one occasion that they think I’m amazing with my girls (2.5 and 8 months) and I tried every day to model my RIE ideas and talked to my in laws about them when they asked. My father in law was the biggest culprite for doing things that fell outside of my opinion as appropriate RIE parenting. One instance in particular was really hard for me and I ended up saying something to him later. I walked into the living room and he had propped but my 7 month out at the time to a sitting position with pillows around her. I had seen her sit up on her own once before but never saw it again and saw her struggling to do it on her own. I wanted to badly for her to have this accomplishment on her own it made me mad to see him putting her in this position. I called my husband and talked to him about it and he encouraged me to say something to my father in law. Later at dinner my father in law said how great K was doing and how she can almost stay sitting up on her own and she’s getting so strong. I saw this as my opportunity and said I’d really like give her the chance to develop all those muscles on her own and sit up when she’s able to do it on her own and that I thought she’d have less of a Chance falling over if she developed the muscles to sit up first and she might be more stable that way. He reluctantly agreed and I never saw him do it again. Thankfully they’ve been very loving and supportive of me and the girls, he is just somewhat old school and does necessarily agree with me on everything but is respectful when I mention things. Helping my oldest down the stairs was another battle but I just choose to model this one and not say anything. They always told her to hold on tight to the railing or hold their hand when going down stairs. When I was going down the stairs with her and she’s ask to go up or hold my hand I would look at her and say I think you can do it all by your self. You can go down the stairs however you feel most stable, forwards, sideways, backwards, on your bottom and she usually went down the stairs a different way every time and was excited and would tell me Hannah go backwards or Hannah go on bottom. I thought it was cool and her excitement of doing something on her own is really fun.

  33. The section “Don’t worry. A child’s primary caregivers have a far greater influence on his or her development than anyone else…” is what scares me about this. We have 2 lovely daughters aged 3.5 and 8 months. I will be going back to work part time next year and my mother in law will be looking after our girls for 2 long days each week. This is how it was after my eldest and has been incredibly helpful for me going back and reeucing childcare costs etc. However, it was never a “choice” we made. My MIL is a health visitor and believes she knows best how to bring up the girls. Her ways are to constantly make noises and shake toys at the baby and my husband and i find it increasingly irritating. My eldest was often taken for 5 or 6 activities in a day (to “tire her out”) when she was just 2. If we do things our way she and my FIL suggest we aren’t good parents and are neglectful. I could deal with this if it were just seeing them for a few hours a week but i am increasingly gettingbworried and upset about the fact she will be one of their primary carers again soon. I have really been trying to encourage independent play, less tv and eating as she chooses (not having food pushed in her mouth!) while I’ve been on maternity leave but feel it will be undone/repeated with my youngest. Any suggestions to do things either get ignored or ahe tries them then tells me it doesn’t work (the baby doesn’t like finger food…) do you have any suggestions for me as to how to deal with this? We have considered other childcare and could afford it but it would likely result in my husband being disowned. I know she means well.

  34. I’m afraid I don’t have an inspiring story to share. Before my son turned two, I had the worst conflicts with my dad over what to feed my son, how to feed him and what to do when he was crying. I couldn’t let things go as my dad lives with us, so all these things happened on a daily basis. He gave copious amounts of biscuits and would have given MSG-laden snacks too if I hadn’t stop him. I didn’t think it was right for him to bribe my son with biscuits to get him to stop crying. He also insisted on feeding my son so that he wouldn’t make a mess when I preferred for my son to learn to feed himself.

    The conflicts were particularly bad because I couldn’t tell myself that my dad knew better. As soon as I was born, my parents handed me to a nanny whom I lived with for almost 10 years of my childhood. I could not stomach it that my parents had relied so heavily on external help when I was a child, yet my dad was trying to dictate how I should parent . The arguments got so bad that we had to see a counsellor to sort things out.

    My in laws on the other hand love sharing YouTube videos with my son. But it was much easier for me to be tactful as they only see my son once a week.

    Things are better now at home after my son turned two and I became more relaxed. I have also found that it helps to think of each situation not as one of my dad trying to control my parenting, but more of one where he’s at a loss for what to do. He gets really flustered when my son cries, hence resorts to quick fixes to get him to stop. Thinking of it this way helps me to understand where he’s coming from.

  35. Hi Janet,

    I love this post in so many ways thank you. My daughter is almost 6 months old and I accidentally found this approach which makes totally sense to me. But I do have a little bit of frustration because my sister visits me from Germany, and Stays at our house for 2 to 3 months. It is very hard to Parent if somebody doesn’t agree with you and chime in or has a facial expression that you can read very well . Should I keep cool and relax if she does something for example entertaining (singing, playing etc)? I think I would be totally relax if she would come for one or two weeks but I already have a little bit of anxiety when I think of the time she will be here As I can not talk to her because I guess she’s my older sister. She will get really upset. I’m not sure what to do …
    thank you in advance !

    1. Hi D! Thanks for your kind words. Hmm… that’s a tough one to navigate. I find it works best to share your journey from time to time (but not when the person is doing the thing you don’t really want), rather than correcting them. For example, as you are getting ready to set your baby down to play, you calmly share: “I’m trying all these new things and the results are very interesting to me. I’ve noticed that when I hold back on engaging with my daughter on my terms and, instead, let her show me what she’s doing, it’s much more fun and less tiring. The other day, I noticed that she was fascinated by the shadows on the rug for the longest time! You could see the wheels turning in her mind. I never thought of babies having a long attention span, but I guess they do when they are choosing themselves what to pay attention to.”

      But mostly, for your own sanity, I would try to let this go. Nothing you describe your sister doing will be harmful to your baby. Expect your sister to do as she does and then be happily surprised if she is at all influenced by you. Enjoy! 🙂

  36. Thank you so much for all your wonderful posts, information and advice, Janet. I’ve really been struggling with my parents and my in laws. I’ve re-read this post a few times when they have become too much. My parents listen when I explain our methods while chatting on the phone but when they see their grandchild they get excited and everything goes out the window… Plus old habits die hard. My partner isn’t communicative with his family and I find it hard to get a word in. Surfise to say, they all have very different ideas of how to raise a baby. I keep trying to model for them but they’re all very loud and outspoken so no one listens long enough for this to work. I’m finding myself getting more and more frustrated and not putting much effort into organising to see them.

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