When we enter into the journey of being a parent, we go through a rollercoaster of thoughts, looking a little ahead and worrying about keeping our kids safe. There’s that loop about wanting to be able to provide for them, giving our kids the things we wanted but could not have. But there’s also this nagging worry at the back of our minds about what will happen when our kids become teenagers. Do you remember Kevin and Perry and the moment Kevin turned 13 years old? Kevin went on the spot from this great kid to a monster that talked down to his parents all of the time.
Think back to what you were like as a teenager. Was there a power struggle with your parents or was there mutual respect? The idea of having our kids respect us is usually at the back of our minds while our kids are young. It’s not usually a problem. Outside the occasional tantrums, there are just rainbows and unicorns. Learning about respect is probably less important than learning to tie shoelaces, right? Hell, no!
The reality is that respect is one of the most important values that a young child can learn. It can help build good friendships with other children in the neighborhood and at school. Learning to be a little more tolerant of differences makes them more understanding when people do not act or behave as your kids expect them to. Respect helps children to focus more in class. Most importantly of all, it can build a stronger relationship with the immediate family.
These are all qualities we want for our kids, and they are also the qualities of a leader. Teaching respect to our kids sounds great. But first, what is it and how do we teach children about respect?
What Is Respect?
Respect is a way of recognizing and appreciating the rights, beliefs, practices, and differences of other people. It’s a little more than just being tolerant of other people. It’s a feeling that comes from within about how you should treat other people. It’s about how you should think about yourself, too. More recently, respect has also become more visible with the idea of respecting other people’s personal space due to the pandemic.
When our kids apply respect, they’ll make better decisions and avoid things or people that will hurt them. They are more likely to take care of the gifts that you’ve bought for them. Most importantly, they are more likely to earn respect from their parents as they become teenagers, rather than demanding it.
How Do We Teach Children About Respect?
My personal opinion is that you should not outsource teaching respect to other people. As parents, we have to own this responsibility. Even from a young age, there are a lot of poor influences on our kid’s attitude towards respect, such as terrible role models in the movies like Frozen. In this movie, Elsa takes no responsibility for managing her powers, hurts her sister and kingdom, and avoids demonstrating any respect throughout the story. So, where to start with teaching children about respect?
1. Teach Your Children About Sharing
My earliest memory where I learned respect was at the age of four. I had an incredible red trike. It was epic, has a custom design, has faster wheels, and a decent steering lock. Then, one day, my dad took the trike and handed it over to my nursery. Other children were using it! This was a culture shock as it was one of my favorite things, but now I had to share it. It took a little time, but I was okay with the sharing as my dad rewarded me with cake for sharing.
Sharing is one of the best ways to teach kids about respect. Our kids learn that if we give a little to others, we can sometimes get some of what we want as well. Kids will watch what the parents do. At the dinner table, do they pass things around like the ketchup or share items of food? Or does everyone have their phones out, sit in a silo, and quickly disperse? The dinner table is a great place to learn about sharing, but so are playing games with the kids.
Playing games like Lego is a great way to introduce sharing and respect. You can build a tower together, something simple and fun, and take turns adding pieces onto the building or swapping pieces if you are building your own world instead.
2. Let Your Children Answer for Themselves
My job is as a martial arts coach, which is a fun job, by the way. We’ll get to this in a minute, but I wanted to share a really common observation that we see at the academy.
When children come for their first class, they may be as young as four years old or as old as 12 in our kids’ programs. All the coaches are interested in why the kids want to try a class and what the parents want their child to learn. When we first meet a child, we’ll get down to their height level, as it’s not respectful to tower over the young kids and talk down.
Now we’re at eye level, we’ll smile, greet the child by their name, and ask them a question like “who is your favourite superhero?” so we can build a little rapport before the bigger questions. After only a few seconds, the parents will often step in and answer for them.
This can happen regardless of whether their child is four or 12 years old. To be honest with ourselves, we’ve probably all done this at some time with our kids and even our partners. It’s well-intentioned, but the problem is that when we step in.
We’re not showing our kids respect, as we’re not valuing their opinions. It may be that it just takes them longer to have their say in a new situation. We rescue our kids because we think of them as shy or low in confidence. But if we’re doing this a lot, we’re stopping the flow of respect.
Let them struggle, let them think for themselves, and show them some patience. They won’t always reply, but you’ll be amazed to see that they’ll persevere more often than not to communicate in their preferred way.
The problem is that when we interject for our kids, two things can happen:
- We reinforce that their opinion isn’t valued, and/or;
- We rescue the less socially confident (shy) children from an uncomfortable situation that inhibits them from developing skills for the future.
Instead of jumping in to do things for our kids or answer for them, let them answer, struggle, and think for themselves. You’ll be amazed at how their sense of personal significance will grow. When children are more confident and capable—even in uncomfortable situations—the respect will flow more freely.
The secret is not to make a big deal of it, whether they speak up or not. But let them have a little time to try, then continue if there’s no progress this time. Maybe next time, there will be progress as their confidence grows.
3. The Role Model Soapbox
Of all the ways that we can teach respect, leading by example is the hardest. Let’s face it, we all think that our kids should “just do as I say, not as I do.” But it rarely works like this in life.
I remember taking my daughter out to a pub for lunch when she was of an age that she still used a high chair. We were meeting a friend of mine as he was having a few problems at home and wanted to catch up and chat. Hannah, my daughter, was served first at the pub with her lunch, myself next, and my friend who we’ll call Dave was served last. We were just about to start eating when Dave looked at his food, slapped the plate back at the waitress, and shouted “It’s the wrong order, go fix it now!”
Dave was tired and stressed, it’s why we were meeting up. However, it’s not an excuse to be a lousy role model not having empathy, respect, and self-control in front of Hannah. In this instance, I felt the need to apologize to the waitress and so did Dave.
However, I appreciate that we all have those times in our lives, like Dave, when everything is going wrong. It’s easy to say, “you should stay calm, stay in control and show understanding to others.” But the reality is that the actions we should take are simple to talk about but harder to put into practice. But we have to try and find the energy to show our kids some respect and dig deep for those times that we need the energy to be patient.
Give Your Child a Little Patience
Many times, when our kids are behaving “out of sort,” they’ve just forgotten or missed the cue to show the right behavior. We’ve all been so deep into a task that we’ve missed our name being called or we’ve been tired and replied in a poor way out of instinct. A little patience with our kids is sometimes needed if this is the case. It’s the right way to demonstrate respect to them—asking good questions, especially if they mess up, rather than snapping and demanding that they listen the first time. We’re their parent, after all, they should do as they are told!
You’re going to experience when your child says “I hate you” or “wish you were not my mum or dad.” You may even hear this from your kids when they are as young as four years old. Remember the movie I was talking about? Kids will mimic what they see and hear. It does not mean that they really meant the words they just used. It’s usually just a gut response when angry. You can reply, “what made you feel like this?” They will usually feel better and get a more useful response than when you use “go to your room, now!”
So, leading by example is a little more than being a role model. It’s also showing your kids respect and treating them as a person rather than trying to completely control them and finding patience. This sounds like hard work, so maybe a little outsourcing of teaching children about respect is okay.
A Little Outsourcing May Be a Good Thing
I mentioned that you should not outsource teaching respect, but some activities can make a big difference. Yes, I’m about to contradict myself and talk about martial arts. When you think of martial arts, men in white pajamas bowing to each other, kneeling, and listening patiently to the sensei “teacher” often come to mind.
Many martial arts clubs have moved on to t-shirts and jogging style trousers but kept the rituals that help build respect and character. There are a lot of routines within the martial arts that are great habits for kids to learn, which will guide them in learning about respect.
Training with a partner also helps improve yourself. It teaches your kid about being responsible for their uniform, training equipment, and even the academy. Our students all help clean the mats that they train on, tidy equipment away after each activity, and stand quietly at attention. These are great life lessons that teach your children respect as well.
Only 3 Ways to Teach Respect? Is That All You Have to Do?
We all want to teach our children about respect because we know it’s going to help them be more successful and happier in life. There isn’t an age that’s too early to start the learning. Sharing is an approach that you can start at a young age, but it’s okay to value your child’s needs, too. So, if they have a favorite toy and do not want to share it, this is okay as long as they’re sharing overall.
Next, let your child answer for themselves. To be honest, this is the hardest as the silence can get uncomfortable, but you have to persevere and let them try to answer for themselves. This small activity makes a big difference in the long run and kids get better as they grow in confidence.
Lastly, there’s the “role model soap box.” It’s probably the strongest influence on our kids at an early age as they look up to their parents a lot. Just remember that for those days when you feel cranky and tired, practice a little patience, and if you get something wrong, you may need to apologize.
You can always outsource some of your kids’ learning to a great activity, such as martial arts. If you’re going down this route, look for a club that has a character development program. You’ll find that the lessons on respect are more direct rather than being just implied through traditions and rituals. My final remark on teaching children about respect is that if you have kids that are strong visual and audible learners, try to take advantage of them. Sesame Street has some great video lessons on the topic that can help.
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Featured photo credit: Adrià Crehuet Can via unsplash.com