The power of listening to your child

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Mummy Musings is a fortnightly column where Elisabeth Lee navigates the ups and downs of bringing up her daughter.

Imagine this scenario. It’s 8.30am on a weekday morning. We’d slept late the night before, my partner and I are both bleary eyed with exhaustion, and the coffee has yet to kick in. Somehow, we are running late again for work, appointments, plans and A (who had just entered the terrible twos) is refusing to cooperate. The morning has been a battle of wills – from what to wear to daycare, to what to eat for breakfast and everything in between.

And now it’s time to leave the house and A is having absolutely none of that. She is screaming “NO WANT GO DAYCARE!”. Big salty tears are running down her cheeks. She is hanging on to my leg and refusing to let go, like a baby monkey made of steel. 

I have been angry all morning and I feel like I’m about to snap. It seems A has been this way ever since she turned two and I am at my wits’ end. But then I remember what I read last night and decide to give it a try. I take a breath. I squat down, so I’m at her level. I look her in the eye and say: “You don’t want to go to daycare.”

And it was as simple as that. Simply hearing me validate her point of view took all the force of the tantrum out of A. She stops shouting and struggling, although she is still crying. I repeat myself: “I hear you. You don’t want to go to daycare.”

“No,” she whimpers. “I want to stay home with you, mummy.” My heart breaks inside. Oh, the things we would do if only we didn’t have to work!

I respond: “Yes, I get that. You want to stay home with mummy. I want you to stay home too, but I have to get my work done, so we can play later. Do you want to play with me at the park later?”

“Yes,” she says. She wipes away her tears with a chubby hand.

And somehow, that’s that. I hold her for awhile, breathing in her not-quite-baby smell, savouring the momentary calm. And that’s when I discovered the power of respectful parenting.

I hadn’t heard of respectful parenting when I was pregnant with A. Parents I knew never talked about it. Janet Lansbury and Magda Gerber were not household names, not the way Dr Spock was, or Harvey Karp, author of The Happiest Baby on the Block. But despite its relative obscurity, respectful parenting really works.

Respectful parenting means children deserve the same respect that you’d give any other human being. It is not passive, or permissive. It simply asks that you treat your child with empathy, validating their emotions, and then working together with him or her to find mutually agreeable solutions.

If you think about it, it makes so much sense. Discovering respectful parenting when we were in the throes of the terrible twos and threes was a lifesaver. It turns out, many of A’s tantrums were because she felt unheard and unrecognised. Simply validating her by saying “you don’t want to go to daycare” worked far better than parenting by fiat (“mummy says you have to go to daycare”) or by force (“you are going to daycare whether you like it or not”), or with threats (“do you want a time out for not listening?”).

And now as A is growing up, I’m finding respectful parenting a perfect fit for us as we navigate the social minefields of sharing, play date dynamics, friendships and more. We’ve been respectfully parenting for more than a year now, and I feel that our relationship – both mother-daughter, and together as a family – is stronger than ever.

My hope is that by treating A with respect, we will improve our communication and build a foundation of trust between us, which will prove invaluable when it comes to navigating the trials and tribulations of the teenage years.

So, go on, give it a try.


Elisabeth Lee is proof that it is never too late to consider a second, third or even fourth career, having come to both motherhood and writing late in life. She occasionally freelances and can be reached at

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