Respect: Will you Kids Know What This Word Means?

When I was little, my  grandfather used to sing a song from an old musical that went something like this: “Kids, what’s the matter with kids today? La da dee da… Kids, disrespectful, disobedient oafs!” Well, if that’s how kids were in his day, how do we even begin on the subject of respect today? I’m trying hard to instill it into own darling five year old, but she’s still has her moments– issuing ultimatums, disregarding “pleases” and “thank you’s,” and being rude to neighbors– kids and parents alike.  Don’t get me wrong, she can be sweet and polite when she wants to be, but how do we change that to being polite and respectful all the time?

Nicole Caccavo Kear ( The Return of Respect) writes:  “Respect. Thanks to Aretha, we all know how to spell it. But sadly, in today’s world (where rudeness is so pervasive that even our president gets heckled while making a speech), we no longer expect that everyone will show respect for others. The good news is that we can teach our kids this critical value — and in doing so, we’ll end up imparting crucial lessons in kindness, consideration, honesty, open-mindedness, and gratitude as well.”

Victoria Kindle Hodson, coauthor of Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids, says that the most effective way to teach kids respectful behavior is to model it yourself. This means that as tired and frustrated as we are, we cannot resort to shouting, name-calling, sarcasm, or rudeness with our kids. Stay calm, explain why their behavior is unacceptable, and issue consequences when necessary.

In addition to being a role model, here are some other guidelines for teaching respect and good manners.

Demand Good Manners

Even if young kids are just going through the motions of acting polite (saying “please” and “thank you” on cue, etc) they will grow up to learn that acting polite isn’t merely a formality. Teach them when to say “excuse me” and “I’m sorry,” greeting others properly with a “hello” or “goodbye,” and how to act in special situations (ie: library, restaurant, toy store). With time, this type of proper behavior will become second nature. Reinforce good manners with praise and note why their acts of consideration matter: “Thank you for including Sam in your game. It makes him happy to be included.”

Don’t Tolerate Rudeness

Back talk and other bratty behavior are so common these days that it’s easier to just ignore it than deal with it.  But a child who’s allowed to speak rudely to his family will also think it’s okay to sass others; therefore you must respond immediately.  When your child is upset, help him express himself by making “I” statements (as in “I feel frustrated!”) rather than ones that start with “You” (as in “You are stupid!”). Encourage your kids to talk about their feelings (“You seem very angry. Do you want to tell me what happened?”) Giving your child a positive way to express his emotions, while letting him know that it’s not OK to insult others or scream at them. You may find that it takes a lot of work to help your young child get a handle on her temper, but keep on reminding and instructing.

Don’t forget to lead the way by being a good example: You too should apologizige when it’s appropriate, and urge your kids to do the same.

Teach Listening Skills

Showing respect means giving others your time and attention. Important rules your kids should learn about being a good listener are: Removing distractions and making eye contact, waiting their turn to speak and not interrupting, and of course being courteous. So teach your child to look up from their games and focus on you when you’re talking. Practice role-playing different types of conversations. They’ll catch on!

Establishing Rules

House rules teach kids that the world doesn’t revolve around them and that they’ve got to be considerate of others. It also helps them adjust to school and beyond, where they must follow certain rules. Instilling a regard for authority in your little ones starts at home.

First off, sit down and explain the house rules to them. Write them up (or draw pictures) and post them on the fridge. Explain why these rules matter. (“It’s important to go to bed on time because your body needs enough sleep to be happy and healthy the next day!”) Then let them know what will happen if the rules are broken, and be prepared to follow through with those consequences if necessary.

Encourage Open-mindedness; Embrace Diversity

We all know kids who will make fun of those who are different than they. Teaching kids to be open-minded means understanding that everyone is differerent but still worthy of our respect. Even if we don’t hit it off with someone immediate, we should taking the time to get to know them and see where they’re coming from. People who may seem totally different at first may turn out to have many things in common with us! (“Rhonda wears a headscarf, but she loves to draw just like you! David prays in a synagogue on Saturdays, but he enjoys rollerblading too!”)  And, even if they don’t like someone else, it’s not OK to be rude or unkind. This will open up their futures in terms of meeting exciting people, experiencing interesting things, and learning new things.  It also shows them that sometimes it’s OK to “agree to disagree” and go on with our own lives peaceably.

Respect Stuff, Too!

Kids to who learn to treat belongings with respect are also developing the values of consideration and responsibility. Some ways to drive the point home:

Explain value. Let kids understand why things are worth what they are. If he tramples the neighbor’s flower garden, don’t just scold or punish, explain how much time and effort she put into planing, watering, and tending her plants, and how they beautify our surroundings.

Less is more. Kids don’t need tons of toys. The more they have, the less they will appreciate when they get something new. Instead, let them work towards earning something they like (for example, making a point chart) or find new ways of playing with things they already have.

Make it clear. If you let them play with something valuable, spell out the rules first. My daughter loves to snap pictures with our camera, but I tell her she must hold it with two hands, stand in one place, etc…

Adapted from Original article published in the November 2010 issue of Parents magazine. Read the complete article here.

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