Teaching Children Respect: Lack of respect shouldn't be acceptable

2006-05-19 08:03

Respect between two individuals, whether parent and child, student and teacher, etc., cannot be demanded nor legislated; it must be earned.

My daughters are 5 and 7 years old and while they are well-behaved children, they have moments where they simply don't respect my husband or me at all. What are we doing as parents that gives them the impression lack of respect is acceptable?

All of us, regardless of our age, truly want to be respected. Respect can be defined as consideration or appreciation of another person and many people associate the term with a sense of authority. Respect between two individuals - whether parent and child, student and teacher, etc. - cannot be demanded nor legislated; it must be earned. For most families, respect among members is certainly an integral part of family structure. There are many different ways to look at respect in family relationships, but perhaps approaching it from two viewpoints will be enough to get parents motivated to discuss the subject between themselves.

First, children must be respected by their parents and perhaps even more importantly they must feel they are respected. Even 3-year-olds respond to being considered as an important individual. Parents should listen to their children, talk with them, pay attention to what they are saying and give credence to the child's opinion and viewpoint. Even if they don't necessarily agree, they may have to proceed in a fashion differently from what the child wishes. Most of the time, if you are having to promote a difficult rule your children don't like, they are more likely to be accepting if it has been discussed with them ahead of time and their viewpoint has been considered. Once the child understands and feels he is respected as an individual and respected by his parents, he is much more likely to show respect for his parents and his siblings and understand the parents' role in discipline and family rules.

The other element in maintaining respect within a family is for parents to respect each other. Each parent must show respect for the other and in no way should they belittle, criticize or disregard their spouse in front of their children. This may require a fair amount of discussion between two parents regarding family issues and how they feel and wish to approach these issues. These discussions should take place when the children are not present. Parents need to present their children with a firm consensus in regard to family values and discipline.

If children see that parents respect each other, they are much more likely to be respectful of their parents and each parent's role in the family structure. Children more often repeat the actions they see in adults, rather than behave the way they are told. Children almost always respond better to example than to verbal instructions. Perhaps a good family rule is that all family members must show respect for each other which means there will be no belittling, criticizing, etc. from the children or the parents.

This is certainly not a comprehensive discussion of respect. Parents can also gain insight into this topic by discussing it among themselves and perhaps approaching their minister or a respected family member or counselor. You can also talk to your pediatrician about the subject, and they can advise you of pertinent reading material and other resources.

Released by Arkansas Children's Hospital

This page is updated on March 15, 2013

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