I hear a lot about needing to teach kids respect, both in conversation, and online. There seems to be a lot of agreement that kids aren’t being “put in their place” properly, like they used to be. The complaints of the older generation about the younger goes back to ancient Greeks though, so thinking that kids are not like they were in your childhood has a long history, which makes me doubt kids today as a group are any worse than they were in the past.
People seem to have respect confused with fear though. They think that if children are spanked or yelled at or punished more, they will show respect. Being afraid to express your opinions to someone who will hurt you, either emotionally or physically, is not respect. It is fear.
Think of the people you respect. What made them earn your respect and admiration? Was it the threat of physical harm or the loss of something valuable to you? While adults may also find themselves in a situation where someone has power over them, forcing them to act “respectful”, that is not the same as truly respecting someone, whether it is for their hard work, their kindness, their helpfulness, or many other admirable qualities.
Why would it be different for a child than an adult? If you want a child to be respectful of you, be someone they can respect. Instead of trying to intimidate them into doing what you want, consider their point of view. They may be small, but they are people too. If there really isn’t a good reason to do things the way you wanted to, be willing to reconsider. If you don’t make everything a battle of wills, then it isn’t one, so there is no “giving in”, which so many adults seem to find offensive.
Given how ingrained being in charge of children is in our society, it is hard to remember to do things another way. There are times when I am struggling to get my children to cooperate, and then I realize that I started the whole problem with insisting on doing things my way. There really was no reason why they couldn’t brush their teeth before their bath, instead of after, other than I had decided to do it the other way. Usually this happens when I am tired and stressed out myself. When my approach is of trying to work together with them to get something done, things usually go much better.
I have also observed my children’s interactions with other adults. The adults that they have the best time with are the ones that treat them like people, and that are respectful of them. They don’t always get what they want, but if they are being told no, they are allowed to be upset about it. The people that have very rigid expectations of behavior tend to get into personality clashes with them, and since a child is supposed to always do what an adult asks, then the child is in trouble, even if the adult provokes them.
Phrasing of requests makes a huge difference too. When they are told to go do something, it makes them very resistant to doing it. I can’t really fault them because I don’t enjoy being ordered around either. A polite request, especially when accompanied by an explanation of why it would be helpful to you goes a lot farther. My oldest likes to empty the dishwasher, but if he is in the middle of something, I don’t expect him to come running. I try to let him know when I am running it, so he expects to have to do it at some point later in the day, and then when it is done, I tell him to get to it as soon as he can, with appropriate reminders.
It comes down the fact that teaching children respect is like teaching them anything else: it is best done through example, not through simply telling them. Your children are watching you and learning from you, so any behavior you would like them to have is one you should be modeling yourself. If you treat people badly, or are rude to other people, that is what they will see as normal. If you treat others kindly and respectfully, then that is what your children will want to be like. They may not always be able to when they are young and still learning to control their emotions, but it will be something they want to work toward.
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