A little respect, please

Have I ever done anything abusive to you?” I asked my daughter who had just affirmed that I had never smacked her (I didn’t think I had, but needed to check just in case maternal amnesia was causing mummy smugness).

After a bit of a pause, my self-image as gentle mummy was shattered. “Yes, you have,” she said with absolute conviction. “When I was little, if we went out, and I had a dirty face, you would spit on your hanky and wipe it.”

That’s hardly a childhood trauma is it?  Heck, I can remember my Nana, all dressed up in her hat and gloves, dabbing at my own face with a bit of spit on her lacy hanky.

Mind you, I can also remember squirming at the time, and it got me thinking how easy it is to simply do things to small children and babies, without even considering how intrusive or disrespectful it might feel to them. Just for a moment, put yourself in your baby’s bootees: What if somebody was shovelling food into your mouth, for instance, then if they wiped the left overs off your face with as much sensitivity as they would mop up the high chair tray?

How must it feel to have your legs pulled up in the air and your pants peeled off without so much as a ‘please’ or ‘thankyou’? Or, imagine being taken to visit a houseful of people you have never met before and being expected to smile as they hover over you with their beer breath and kisses or pass you around like a tiny parcel from one stranger to another.

Of course, we have to keep babies clean and fed and experiences such as meeting new people are inevitable unless we live in complete isolation, but we can be mindful how we do things to babies.

Respecting babies and little children is about empathy – seeing yourself in your child’s place: you would like to be introduced to visitors you hadn’t met before, wouldn’t you (a baby can’t be expected to take to a group of strangers in a flash, and introductions will give him time to adapt to new surroundings if you are visiting)?  How do you feel about people getting ‘in your face’ when you are happily ‘chilling out’ (think how often people ‘interrupt’ and wave toys in baby’s faces, when they are quite happily amusing themselves)?

And you would certainly like to be asked – or at least given an explanation if you needed to get undressed, wouldn’t you?

If you do need to do something to your baby that isn’t ‘optional’ such as changing a nappy you can tell your little one what you are about to do, rather than just sneaking up on him, and if you want to do something with your baby that isn’t absolutely necessary, such as giving him a massage, ask his consent first.”

You might be thinking, what is the point of asking consent from a baby who can’t understand me, but even very young babies can give clear signals that they want to interact, would prefer to be given a break from play or a situation that is becoming stressful, perhaps because it is over-stimulating for your little one, or if she is tired or hungry.

By watching, waiting and wondering as you interact with your baby, and being respectful to her responses, you will discover her likes and preferences and how she likes to express these. You will be teaching her that she can influence her environment and helping her develop trust in you. You will also be giving her valuable messages that she has choices, that she is important and that she is heard. This is respect.


baby massagegentle parentinginfant cuesPinky McKayreading baby cuesrespecting babies
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  • Anna

    Ha ha! This made me laugh not because I don’t believe in every word. But it made me laugh because I can hear myself saying over and over to my 15 month old daughter “Darling, Mummy needs to change your nappy. Can you please lie down so I can change your nappy?” and my daughter staring me straight in the eye and shaking her head ‘No’. Oh yes, they can understand and communicate very well. Thanks for all the beautiful articles.

  • Ana

    I find it astounding how insensitive people are to children – babies in particular! I don’t understand how they seem to view a baby as something without likes/dislikes, preferences or even feelings. I am constantly checking myself when handling my daughter, trying to be aware of what she might be feeling, both physically and emotionally. To me this is just common sense – it’s a respect I’ve given to other people all my life, regardless of their age.

  • Emit

    One of the things that really irks me (a non parent), is when people push or pull their children into place, or move their heads around in the direction they should look, instead of re-explaining what they want the child to do. My mother used to do this, and it’s incredibly disrespectful and negating of the child’s humanity. I disagree that babies should always give permission before something happens to them (they can’t understand the concepts of urinary tract infections, nappy rash or overtiredness, so can’t really be said to be giving ‘informed consent’ to nappy changes or sleep times), but in no case should children be treated as furniture or toys.

  • Stacie

    This calls to mind my favourite Dr. Seuss quote: ‘A person is a person no matter how small’.

    Another great article Pinky

  • pip

    Sorry but I always treated my children with respect but this is going to far. What ever you say or do your child will come up with some horror story or humiliation you did when they were younger. Bring your child up with all the love you can muster but don’t micro analyse every detail and stress about the what ifs. All you can do is your best, we all get it wrong at times and learn from our mistakes, as do children, childhood prepares you for life and it ain’t sugar coated all of the time. My answer to my children if they complain later on in life is I love you and I did my best, who can ask for more. Parenting a child is about guiding children, talking about what you are doing and why is what most good parents do every day, there are always exceptions where children are abused. But to ask a babies permission is just silly, let’s just stop and think about the fundermentals of parenting are you going to ask your children if they want to go to school, are you going to give them a menu every time they have a meal or do something that is required. As a parent you have to make decisions bas d on what is best for you child, your not a friend you are helping them become strong independent adults. Children will always be given choices when appropriate but they are not mature enough to know what is best for them when they are babies X