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Teaching Your Children Respect

How do you teach your children to respect themselves and others?  The primary method is by modeling respectful behavior.  If you are respectful in your interactions with others (including your children), then your children will learn how to treat others with respect.  They will learn how it feels to be respected, and they will develop the self-confidence to be comfortable giving and receiving respectful treatment.

Other steps you can take to teach your child respect include:

  • Choosing to surround yourself and your children with people who consistently exhibit respectful behavior
  • Explaining to your children what behaviors are considered respectful or disrespectful, based on the circumstances of varying situations
  • Finding age-appropriate teaching opportunities for your children (i.e., encouraging your toddler to say “please” and “thank you” or helping your elementary-aged child gracefully accept the consequences of his/her actions in the classroom)

Defining respect is essential.  There are some universal truths in the definition of respect, but there are many variables as well.  Elements of respect include:  honesty, responsibility, reliability, empathy, politeness, trustworthiness, and fairness.  Self-respect, which is the foundation on which respect for others is built, includes all the foregoing, but may also include abstention (from sex before marriage, alcohol, or drugs), getting a good education, and choosing friends who value respectful behavior.

When is it best to start teaching your children respect?  It is best to start teaching your children respect from the moment of their birth.  They will not, from the moment of birth, have the capacity to understand the concept of respect, but exposure to respectful behaviors will gradually come to their awareness and be second nature to them.  To expose them to your expectations on respectful behavior after a period of time in which disrespect was allowed will seem arbitrary and false to your children.   In sum, from the time of your children’s birth, you should exhibit the respectful behaviors that you wish to instill in your children, and you should provide age-appropriate information about the respect that you are instilling.

What is “age-appropriate”?  Newborns exhibit no disrespectful behaviors because of their limited interaction.  As your children’s social interaction develops, there are more opportunities to exhibit respect or disrespect for themselves and others.  So, a child may go from stealing a toy to failing to say thank-you to burping (intentionally) in his sister’s ear to poor sportsmanship on the soccer field.  What information is age-appropriate is, then, determine by the speed of your child’s development of social interaction.

Of all the information in this blog, the most important thing to remember when teaching your children respect is that, when there is a difference between what your children see you do and what your children hear you say, they will usually exhibit your behaviors (despite that being in conflict with what you say is appropriate).  So, it is essential that you exhibit the respectful behaviors that you want your children to exhibit.

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