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Raising Respectful Children

Most of the parents I come into contact with say the biggest, and often most challenging aspect to parenting, is teaching respect.  Unfortunately, when I ask them how they teach respectfulness they rarely have a solid answer.  Mostly, it is just something parents assume children will pick up on, rather than conscious tactics they implement to teach this very important characteristic.  So what can you do to consciously teach respectfulness in your home?  Here are some ideas:

Define Respectfulness

Surprisingly many parents I speak to have difficulty defining what respect is and what it means to them.  Without a concrete definition parents will never achieve their goal of raising respectful children, so first, you need to define what respect is and what it means to you.  Write it down, and share it with your children.  Give specific examples of how what a respectful action or response would be. One great way to do this is to imagine yourself in a business setting.  What behaviors do you exhibit during your work day when you are dealing with your boss or coworkers?  How can those behaviors be translated into your (and your children’s) home life?


Role Model Respectfulness

You are your child’s best and most accessible teacher.  At every age and every stage of their lives, your children are watching you.  They consciously mimic your behavior and unconsciously learn how to react to situations.  If you are kind and respectful to them, they learn that they are valuable enough to be treated with respect, as well as how to treat a person respectfully.  Children acquire your value systems through everyday life.  Thus, it is important that if you want them to have a quality (such as punctuality), you make that characteristic a priority in your life (such as striving to be on time).


Create Opportunities For Respectfulness 

Establishing routine chores for children (even very young children) is one great way to give them opportunities to show respect.  Setting the table, dusting, folding laundry, loading the dish washer, all of these are ways your child can show you they have a vested interest in their family.  Their completion of these tasks creates a great opportunity for YOU to express how you felt their behavior is respectful and that is the biggest and most effective way for them to learn about respect.  These opportunities for you to reinforce positive behaviors will help them continue such actions as well as raise their confidence in themselves.


Teach More Than Discipline

While discipline is an important and necessary part of parenting, parents have to know the difference between a teaching moment and a discipline moment.  When your child is acting in a disrespectful manner teach first, then discipline.  There is no room for anger when we teach.  If your child has pushed one of your hot buttons (teens are GREAT at this), give yourself time to cool down.  Let them know that is what you are doing.  Phrases such as “I am very angry at what I just saw/heard.  Go to another room while I cool down” are great for showing children that a) you do not agree with what is happening and b) you are able to control your own behavior.  Flying off the handle and yelling or punishing an upsetting behavior is a missed teaching opportunity.  Once you have regained your calm, you will be much more effective at discussing what you were feeling, why you were feeling it, and what changes need to be made in the future.  Again, these messages teach children how to handle situations when they are disrespected.  The message here is “just because someone disrespects you does not give you permission to be disrespectful back.”  If the situation warrants punishment, doing so in a calm and direct way is much better than angrily yelling where miscommunication is more likely.


Be Realistic

Set realistic expectations for respectfulness.  I believe all children should have high expectations in their life.  However, be realistic about what you expect from your child.  Do not compare your child, and what you believe they are capable of to someone else’s child.  Your child is unique.  They have an individualized set of strengths and weaknesses.  As parents, you must be mindful of such individuation.  Some children take to new environments, such as schools or churches, easily and are able to fit in almost immediately.  Other children require more time and assistance for such events.  They may misbehave or act out at first.  Understanding that this is more of an emotional response than purposely being disrespectful is paramount to getting your child to behave appropriately.  So when I say, “set realistic expectations,” what I really means is, “set unique and realist expectations according to your individual child.”



Choose those areas of respectfulness that are most important and focus on those.  Don’t overwhelm children with rules and requirements all at once.  Slowly and repeatedly add new ways for them to show respectfulness.


Remember that raising a respectful child is, like all other parenting duties, a life long process.  Even adult children look to their parents for guidance and role modeling.  Show your kids respect and kindness every day.  Reinforce those positive behaviors repeatedly.  Keep your family on a routine of compassion.  In doing these things, your children will have an amazing foundation to build their individual lives on.  As a parent you will make many mistakes.  As a child they will make even more, but forgiveness and personal responsibility are qualities that can bond families and raise the bar for future generations.

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