Families simply can’t function without respect, but the more we push for it, the more elusive it seems to be. So what’s the answer? Why won’t children fall into line? Why don’t they give respect when we demand it? What could possibly help? There are no easy answers, but there are steps to take in a better direction.
We often forget that children aren’t born with a built-in sense of respect for others. Our children need to be taught to be respectful.
Think about it, from birth, kids have to manipulate their world to get their needs met. Usually by crying. It’s natural and appropriate.
But as kids get older, it’s our job as parents to teach them respectful ways of getting their needs met. And crying, manipulation, and disrespect are certainly not respectful ways to accomplish this.
1. Be Respectful When You Correct Your Child
When your child is being disrespectful, you as a parent need to correct them in a respectful manner. Yelling and getting upset and having your own attitude in response to theirs is not helpful. In fact, it often only escalates their disrespectful behavior. The truth is, if you allow their disrespectful behavior to affect you, it’s difficult to be an effective teacher.
Instead, you can pull your child aside and give them a clear message of what is acceptable. You don’t need to shout at them or embarrass them.
One of our friends was excellent at this particular parenting skill. He would pull his kids aside, say something quietly (I usually had no idea what it was), and it usually changed their behavior immediately.
Use these incidents as teachable moments by pulling your kids aside calmly, making your expectations firm and clear, and following through with consequences if necessary.
2. Identify the cause for disrespect and focus on teaching problem-solving alternatives
When genuinely being disrespected, we should pay attention to the circumstance instead of going off on the child, “You are being disrespectful!” Ask your child why they act that way they are acting.
3. Set Realistic Expectations for Your Child’s Behavior
This may actually mean that you need to lower your expectations. Don’t plan a huge road trip with your kids, for example, if they don’t like to ride in the car. If your child has trouble in large groups and you plan an event for 30 people, you’re likely to set everyone up for disappointment and probably an argument!
It is often helpful to set limits beforehand. For example, if you’re going to go out to dinner, be clear with your kids about what you expect of them. This will not only help the behavior but in some ways will help them feel safer. They will understand what is expected of them and will know what the consequences will be if they don’t meet those expectations. If they meet your goals, certainly give them credit, but also if they don’t, follow through on whatever consequences you’ve set up for them.
4. Assume your position as leader of the home
Being a leader isn’t just about being in charge. It’s also about setting a good example and inspiring others to do their best. Behaving like a leader also means being compassionate. When you empathize with your children, they’ll be more open to your suggestions and opinions.
5. Respect yourselves as parents to your child
This is huge. The relationship between parents sets the tone for the greater family dynamic. When children see mom and dad treat each other with love and respect—despite their differences—the standard has been set.
The relationship between parents sets the tone for the greater family dynamic.
6. Spend more time teaching love than teaching rules
Children who are taught the connection between love and discipline can accept consequences more easily than those who are governed exclusively by “do it because I said so” and “chapter and verse.”
7. Live with integrity
Children are master observers. Personal work ethic… Paying bills… Charitable giving… Helping others… Generous with tips… Talking positively about others behind their backs… All of these are areas where we build and sustain the kind of character our kids will respond to with respect.
8. Don’t be a pushover
If you let your kids walk all over you (you don’t follow through on discipline, you give in when they pitch a fit, you let them treat you disrespectfully), why will they respect you?
9. Don’t stoop to their level
Kids will be kids. They’ll whine, they’ll have temper tantrums, they’ll pout. If you’re acting that way too, they’ll likely have little respect for you. Keep your cool. Instead of yelling, “Don’t you say that to me, it’s disrespectful!” Calmly respond to their misbehavior. “You know, we don’t talk to each other like that in our family. We treat each other with respect. Go to your room and think about what you said.”
10. Respect your children’s privacy
As children and teenagers get older, they need more privacy. Just as you wouldn’t want other people reading your journal entries, text messages and emails, you shouldn’t infringe on your children’s privacy in that way either.
11. Set an example for your children to follow
Your children are watching you, whether or not you realize it. Demonstrate the behavior you want to see in them, and practice what you preach. If you don’t, your children won’t respect you.
12. Acknowledge your children’s effort and good behavior
Your children want your approval, so it’s important to recognize their effort, particularly if they’ve tried hard. This principle applies even in situations when the outcome isn’t ideal. When you appreciate their efforts, they’ll feel proud of themselves, and they’ll feel motivated to try hard next time.
13. Don’t discipline your children when you’re angry
When you’re angry, you’re more likely to overreact or say things you might regret. Instead, show your children that it’s OK to be angry, but that it’s possible to manage your emotions effectively.
14. Ask for your children’s opinion
Your children will feel more appreciated and respected if you ask for their opinion. You can ask them where they’d like to eat for dinner, or what they’d like to do for your family time activity. Doing this demonstrates that you value their opinions, which means they’ll be more likely to value your opinions too.
15. Speak “positively” instead of “negatively”
Tell your children what you’d like them to do instead of what you don’t want them to do. For example, saying “Please walk when you’re in the house” is more effective than saying “No running!”
16. Show an interest in your children’s hobbies and activities
When you do this, your children will know that you care about them as people. They won’t feel as if you only care about how they perform in their academics, athletics, music, etc. (Many of the children and teenagers I’ve worked with have told me that this is exactly how they feel!). Showing a genuine interest in their hobbies and activities will help you build a stronger parent-child relationship. This means that your children will be more likely to show you respect.
17. Don’t let your children walk all over you
This doesn’t mean that you should exert your power and authority in every situation. Rather, it means that you shouldn’t give in to your children just to avoid an argument. Strive for a win-win situation (or a no-lose situation at the very least) whenever conflicts arise. You’ll gain the respect of your children, and they’ll learn negotiation skills in the process too.