Teaching respect to our children
The title of this blog is somewhat misleading. We do not truly teach respect. We actually earn it. I am contacted regularly by parents who say, “My kids do not respect me!” My first question tends to be, “Do you respect them?” This is a difficult question. Mrs. Elmira put it bluntly, “I expect respect, I put food on the table ... I am the mother. I expect to be respected.”
In fact, behavior counts more than words. Your children watch you closely. They pick up most of their social cues from you (until high school). One parent told me the following story:
I walked into the living room. My three girls were playing with their dolls. I paused at the door and watched. My eleven year old was running the play household. Every few seconds she had the mommy doll complain and hit the other dolls. Not hard hits, just constant hits. She kept saying, “Let's go honey, mommy is in a hurry,” or, “hurry, you’re making mommy late!” The part that hurt the most was that my daughter was using my words with a tone of hate. She sounded so put out by the children dolls. I asked the children over dinner about the game, and my eleven year old said, with an innocent smile, “I got to be you, I bossed everyone around and clobbered them for not listening.”
This parent was astonished to discover how she sounded through the ears of her children. She never thought that she “clobbered” her children. What she learned was that her children did not feel respected by her. What she thought was prodding, the tapping, motivating pushing behavior of her own childhood, was a regular example of disrespect.
We, as parents, need to model respectful behavior. This is easier said than done. Our children are around us 24 hours a day. Fortunately for us, teaching respectful behavior is a slow process. It only takes a few long years for a child to learn to read, but it takes many more for a child to internalize self respect and exhibit it outwardly.
We teach respect by using “please,” “thank you,” “I don’t know,” and “I'm sorry” on a regular basis. We exhibit respect by not shrieking or over powering our children with words. We share the love of respect by talking at eye level to a young child. We respect by directing children to do versus not do. A child feels respected when a parent directs him away from misbehavior versus telling him to stop doing the misbehavior.
“Billy, stop bothering the cat!” or “Billy, will you help me in the kitchen?”
“Sally, I told you not to tease your sister!” or “Sally, please let the dog out.”
“What are you up to, put that hammer back!” or “What do you need a hammer for?”
Children will “test” behaviors out on their parents that they see others doing. Mrs. Story was upset,
Carl (age 14) walked into the house and plopped himself on the sofa putting his shoes on the coffee table. I was shocked. “What are you doing young man?” I asked him. He told me to, “@$#$%^ off.” I couldn’t believe he would talk to me like that. My husband and I don’t use such language.
Carl was practicing what he saw at his new friend’s home. To Carl's surprise, his parents’ reaction was not the same as his friend’s parents. Carl was trying out behaviors “modeled” in another’s home. This is normal. Children will try behaviors seen elsewhere. Even two dimensional TV and movies are influential in your child’s life.
We need to use clear messages when a new behavior is not acceptable. When there is no character assassination, kids tend to make quality choices. For example, a few years ago a movie showed the tough gang bangers sucking on baby pacifiers and reprimanding their parents. Lots of kids in my area started carrying pacifiers around. The fad lasted a few weeks then ran its course. (I guess the idea sucked.) Many parents had to learn how to support their children during this fad.
Judging: What are you, a baby?
Advocating: You can suck on a pacifier if you need to, but I'm not comfortable with you sucking it around me. Please put it in your pocket.
Judging: If you talk to me like that again I'll wash your mouth out with soap!
Advocating: I do not allow such language from my children. Please respect my wishes.
Teaching respect is a long process. Mrs. Columbia called to thank me about a family session almost two weeks prior.
Dr. Phil, I just want to let you know that Bethany is trying. She asked me if I had time to fix her jeans. She was polite. She said, “Mamma, would you be able to fix my jeans? I would appreciate your help.”
This is nice, she usually says, “Fix this, I need them after school.”
As parents we need to demand respect while we show respect. This way we can teach our children that some behaviors are acceptable while others are not. This is not only in our home. I have received appropriate respect from rude acting children and adults alike by firmly stating, “I do not allow people to talk to me like that. How can I help you?” This firm but respectful statement has avoided many uncomfortable situations.