Respectful children have respectful parents. These six simple strategies will help you build a culture of respect, cooperation, and safety in your home and family.
Respect is one of the most important traits parents can instill in their children. Simple manners and the ability to show respect are necessary for building healthy relationships as well as cultivating strong self-esteem. Unfortunately, because we live in a multimedia world where a culture of disrespect often dominates, fostering respect in our children can be a challenge.
Is your child disrespectful? Don’t let that bad attitude get you down! These suggestions will help you create a home environment where respect is the rule, not the exception.
Teach respect at home
My strongest parenting belief is that our family’s home provides the foundation for the valuable skills, traits, and lessons we want to teach our kids.
Children, even young toddlers, observe and imitate everything we do. I like to think of home as our child’s first classroom. So, let's take a cue from formal education, where teachers prepare and plan lessons and set academic goals for their students. What do you want your precious kids to learn? Most parents strive to teach their kids how to be caring, honest, reliable, and respectful human beings who will make a positive difference in the world.
A safe, nurturing home environment allows kids to make mistakes (usually plenty!) without the fear of feeling like a failure.
When you create a loving home base for your family, they automatically receive a lifelong gift—a secure sanctuary that protects them and allows them to grow, learn, love, blossom, and gain a healthy sense of self. This safe, nurturing environment also allows them to make mistakes (usually plenty!) without the fear of feeling like a failure. Instead, they can learn from their choices and continue to flourish and grow.
When our kids are surrounded by a consistent dose of love and teachable moments in a nurturing environment, they easily develop a solid understanding of self-respect and respect for others.
Help your child cultivate an awesome sense of self-respect
Respect for others starts with how we feel about ourselves. People who radiate a high self-esteem are strong, healthy, positive beings who embrace life with incredible vim and vigor. Opposite those who have a confident sense-of-self are negative types who regularly project doom and gloom. (We all know our share of Eeyores!)
An easy and important way to teach your child about self-respect is to encourage her to take care of herself. Staying healthy increases our flow of energy, allows us to stay in a more optimistic state-of-mind, and ultimately allows us to see the world and other people in a positive light.
Taking care of ourselves involves eating a nutritious diet and exercise routine, keeping up with personal hygiene and grooming, taking regular time to connect with ourselves by reading, listening to music, unplugging for an hour and chilling with our thoughts, journaling dreams and aspirations—whatever inspires lifelong self-care.
Be your child's safe place
Equally important is to create an emotional safety net for your child. Your actions and how you speak to your child significantly affect your child’s emotional safety. Kids interpret a situation as dangerous when adults raise their voices, label them or name-call, compare one sibling to another, threaten harsh consequences, or lash out with a physical punishment.
Marc Brackett, Ph.D. and author of Permission To Feel, joined me for a candid discussion in my episode How Emotional Intelligence Can Help Your Child Thrive.
Kids interpret a situation as dangerous when adults raise their voices, label them or name-call, compare one sibling to another, threaten harsh consequences, or lash out with a physical punishment.
He discussed that without a deep sense of safety and trust, kids will always be cautious and hesitant about investigating their world. In turn, they are full of self-doubt in the face of opportunities to explore and learn. They're often afraid to ask questions or take risks, and prefer a limited, safe range of strategies for meeting their needs.
Brackett’s remedy is a popular tool he developed known as RULER. RULER teaches the skills of emotional intelligence—those associated with Recognizing, Understanding, Labeling, Expressing, and Regulating emotion. He advocates for parents to teach kids to label their feelings.
When children feel emotionally safe, they are relaxed in their world and begin to build healthy feelings of self-esteem and self-respect.
Teach your child basic social interaction skills
Basic manners may seem old-fashioned, but they're the cornerstone of respect.
My favorite rule is “The Golden Rule”—treat others as you want to be treated. It’s been a staple in our home even before our kids arrived because it was the rule my parents taught me.
In Teaching Your Kids Good Manners, I list six tips on how to instill these important traits in your children.
One of those tips is to teach greetings and introductions.
It can be socially awkward if your children don’t know how to interact with adults in public. Teach them at a very young age how to behave when they meet someone for the first time. For example, your son should know how to say 'My name is Connor, nice to meet you.' You can also teach him to offer his hand in a handshake.
Using basic manners—such as acknowledging a person with eye contact and a smile, and using words like please, thank you, you’re welcome, and I’m sorry—teaches your kids to respect others and acknowledge their impact on other people.
Build a spirit of cooperation
Another facet of respect is the art of cooperation. Cooperation means to co-operate: “co” means “together”; “operate” means “act.” So, “cooperate” means to “act together toward a common goal.”
When kids don’t do what is expected, they are called uncooperative. But labeling a situation like that can easily turn it toward the negative, especially if your find yourself criticizing, arguing, and condemning your child for not doing what you want.
Maybe you've said something to your child like “Your room is a disaster. You’d better clean it up before you go to your friend’s house or you can forget going shopping for new shoes!” Have you then wondered why she didn’t do what she was told? You made an autonomous decision, and she was expected to carry it out according to your expectations.
This attitude, however, fails to consider the child’s point of view. When you don’t bother to consider your child’s thoughts and feelings, and offer solutions to help her get the room cleaned, you risk losing her respect and cooperation.
Engage your child as a partner in a task instead of treating them like a minion.
When we strive to cooperate with our kids, we need to be conscious of how we phrase things as well as how we deliver our message. We want to engage them as a partner in the task, not make them feel like they're our minion.
Let's look at a more cooperative approach. “I know you’re excited to go to Katie’s house, but we did talk about how you’d clean your room. How can we make that happen so you can still enjoy friend time before we head out shopping?”
Learn to speak the language of respect
Psychology Today’s article, The Language of Respect, explains that what we say and how we say it when we talk to others can make or break our desired outcome—particularly if we’re hoping to be respected.
In the article, researchers Hal Holloman and Peggy Yates have studied the topic of respect and how it gets translated through the words we use. Their findings are quite simple.
When we give respect, we get it back in return. When we respect children and teens, they learn to believe in themselves and us. They feel valued and loved. We feel valued and loved. ... Respect is a two-way street where adults are the pace-setter cars.
The article lists 11 ways to build a culture of respect in both the classroom and at home. All were helpful, but the tip I gleaned the most from was:
Words of Accountability: Being respectful means holding everyone accountable. Instead of allowing disrespectful behavior, help young people stay on track. 'How you just behaved was unkind and disrespectful. How could you have handled that differently?'