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R – E – S – P – E – C – T: Four Tips For Teaching Your Child Respect
One of the most important things you can teach your child is respect. Teaching a child to be respectful is not as difficult as it seems. The best way to teach respect is to show respect. But first, we need to understand what it means to show respect.
Respect is an attitude. It is a response to others that can be verbal and non-verbal. Respect is the attitude of admiration or esteem – to esteem or consider well-regarded – to others, to oneself and to one’s possessions. A respectful child takes care of possessions and responsibilities, and a respectful child gets along with peers, parents, and authority figures.
Respect, unlike math or grammar, is an abstract concept. There is no step-by-step model to apply to teaching a child respect. Just as the best way to teach a child how to love is to show love, the best way to teach respect is to show respect. Children model the behavior of the adults in their lives. Remember the saying “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
When a child experiences respect, they know what it feels like and begin to understand how important it is. Start early – start teaching your children as soon as they understand what you are telling them. It is always much more difficult to show and teach respect to a teenager who has not really been in charge.
As your child learns respectful behavior patterns, it is essential to modify inappropriate behavior. If your child is doing something that is not respectful, take time to point out, in calm and non-threatening ways, that their behavior toward others or you is not respectful. Always start that dialogue in a safe way for them and build on their strengths. Be sure to offer them alternate ways in which the situation might have been handled better.
Let’s take a peak:
Four-year-old Chloe is on a school trip to the aquarium. Her mother is one of the parent chaperones for the trip. The outing has Chloe’s mother feeling a bit uneasy about Chloe’s outbursts in most situations. Mom is afraid that Chloe will have a tantrum in front of her teachers and show how little control she has over Chloe.
The trip goes smoothly until Chloe discovers the gift shop. She looks up at a huge blue dolphin that she declares will have to come sleep with her tonight. Chloe’s mother continues to explain to Chloe that the dolphin is very expensive and she will have to choose something less expensive.
At this point Chloe starts calling her mother names such as stupid, and dumb. Chloe’s mother is often uncomfortable confronting her daughter when she shows disrespect to others. Not knowing what to do, and being caught between embarrassment in front of teachers and her feelings towards her daughter, she takes Chloe by the hand and leads her to the lobby.
The response to Chloe’s behavior is crucial in successfully modifying inappropriate behavior. The scene can be played in one of two ways:
Accepting inappropriate behavior: If mom is not aware of the ways to deal with disrespectful behavior, Chloe will most likely be spoken to in a harsh manner: threatening her future freedom (“If you don’t stop now, you’ll never go on another excursion again) or bargaining in an attempt to stop the incident (“If you stop calling me stupid, I’ll buy you the dolphin”).Neither answer will teach Chloe the respect she will need when she encounters similar situations in her life. If the parent responds in a way that shows the child that their behavior is acceptable, the child will not modify their behavior and continue to act inappropriately.
Modifying inappropriate behavior: If mom is comfortable confronting her daughter and has dealt with these types of behaviors in the past with Chloe, she will calmly lead Chloe to the lobby and seat her in a safe space. She will review the trip and tell her what behaviors Chloe displayed today that were exemplary, and then discuss the behaviors that were less than acceptable. Chloe’s mother will then discuss ways in which Chloe has been able to handle her feelings in a more positive way. The discussion ends with a gentle reminder that respect needs to be a part of how they treat each other and that Chloe will have the opportunity to have a new toy or treat on her next positive behavioral display. No threats, no bargains…just an honest discussion about how the child behaved appropriately and what actions were not appropriate.
1) Early Introduction: Introduce the concept of respect early (as soon as the child is able to understand when he is spoken to) by identifying positive and negative behavioral patterns.
2) Model: Show your children how to respect by interacting respectfully with your spouse and with others.
3) Awareness: Talk to your child at those times when they are showing less respectful behavior. Showing them in the moment is most useful.
4) Build Strengths: In discussions with your child, begin by building on the strengths they have shown, the positive behaviors they have engaged in, and how to improve the unwanted behaviors.
Always ask for help when unsure of how to proceed.
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