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Raising Children With Respect

Parenting is not an inherent skill, but rather a process with a learning curve just like so much else in life. Virtually anything important and worth doing takes some training and trial and error, parenting included. But how we learn those skills, who our examples are, and the methods we choose to utilize with our own children are all decisions we as parents have to make either on our own, or as a team with our partner. We will not always make the most popular decision, the best decision, or even the right decision, but we have to map our own course, learn from our mistakes, and do better each and every day.

Styles of parenting are going to be different in different families, cultures, and societies, and there is no right or wrong method, but rather what works for you. Parents and children come in a variety of personalities, aptitudes, and temperaments. Most new parents’ parenting decisions often reflect the way they were raised, or the complete opposite, with the obvious reason being because we do what we know and parenting is a learned behavior. Just as so many of us look in the mirror and ask the dreaded question “Have I become my mother?”, there is a really good chance you could ask the same thing about your parenting style.

“A person’s a person, no matter how small.” – Dr. Seuss

That said, the one thing our children are is little people, not babies, not toddlers, but little people who will, faster than you think, develop into big people and become parents themselves. Instilling in them the proper morals, values, and beliefs is up to you as a parent here and now. Children do not learn from simply being told what to do, but rather by example, so you need to demonstrate the behaviors you want your child to emulate.

Kindness, respect, compassion, and empathy are just a few characteristics we need to start working on with our children here and now. Raising our children with respect is the key to so many of their physical, mental, and emotional milestones. It underlies their ability to exhibit appropriate behaviors and commendable conduct from birth, and it helps them develop a healthy self-image, self-confidence, and self-esteem.

“We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today.” – Stacia Tauscher

Children are malleable little people, experiencing such rapid growth and development that aside from some clearly egregious errors, it is likely we can easily correct any parenting “mistakes” we’ve made. The first five years are well-known as the most formative years of a child’s development, so treating our children with respect during this crucial developmental period is key. Although our children may belong to us, they are not our property, and we conceive them with the knowledge that they will one day exist apart from us.

“Children need models rather than critics.” – Joseph Joubert

“As an independent, educated, open-minded mama, I see daily teaching opportunities in respect and responsibility we can be imparting to our children. I also unfortunately see many parents raising their children with the “Do as a I say, not as I do” approach, and acting under the misconception that children are something to be “trained”.” – Kristin

Children do not need to be trained. They do not need to be trained to respect their elders, to be seen and not heard, or to eat, sleep, or go to the bathroom; rather they need to be treated with respect, taught what respect is, and have it demonstrated to them everyday. Here are three key areas to consider when raising your children with respect.

1. Respectful Communication

This seems like common sense, but so often when speaking to children adults fail to consider tone of voice and body language. Children pick up on everything. From the tone you used to tell him to hurry up this morning which conveyed you didn’t have time for him, to the face you made when she spilled the cereal she tried to make herself, making her feel stupid for trying, your children read much more into your words than just what you say. Using respectful words is clearly based on using age-appropriate, non-derogatory wording combined with conveying the appropriate feelings and emotions to your child when said. The ability to speak similar words, but with kindness, compassion, and empathy is going to be something reciprocated from your child and also reenacted by your child at school and with friends.

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” – Nelson Mandela

We as a society are constantly warned about bullying in the schools and on the playgrounds, but we don’t always take into consideration what exactly that means. Words can be extremely hurtful, and not necessarily because of what is said, but rather how it is said. Talking to your child, taking the time to explain things to your child, and sometimes even negotiating with your child is all about using respectful words and demonstrating to him that what he has to say matters. This by no means requires that you do whatever your child wishes, but rather that you communicate with him in such an open fashion to where he believes his opinion and feelings are valued and considered.

Similarly, telling a child to do something “because I said so” is an age old adage we have all heard numerous times. As a busy and frustrated mama, it is so simple to allow those words to slip out because we are tired, overwhelmed, or in a hurry. Unfortunately, the message conveyed to the overly exuberant child who didn’t take no for an answer the first time is that his wants do not matter. Simply taking a moment to explain your answer to your child again demonstrates respect, showing your child not only to use polite and unoffending words, but how to convey them so as not to hurt others. Disagreement with another’s words at any age does not equal disrespect, however the manner in which those words are conveyed is key.

2. Respecting Feelings

Anger, sadness, and joy are appropriate emotions that each and every person displays differently and for different reasons. Sometimes our children get hurt, sometimes they are simply disappointed, and sometimes they, like all human beings, get angry. Respecting your child’s emotions without censure and degradation is essential to raising respectful children. Allowing your child to communicate his or her emotions is a vital part of their development. It is often a method of communication in and of itself and also offers invaluable lessons in self-control. When your youngster cries because he is frustrated with something not going his way, rather than using negative words or even punishment to stop the behavior, try talking him through his feelings. Find out why he is upset and help him work through the problem. Respect that she is a person with feelings and emotions just like you who simply doesn’t have a full-grasp on her self-control just yet.

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” – Frederick Douglass

Self-control is a behavior learned in large part through the respect of one’s feelings or emotions. Although your child may not have a handle on the appropriate time and place to express those emotions yet, you as their parent should see this as a valuable teaching moment and work your child through these feelings without minimizing them.

Even though as an adult you may not think a glass of spilled milk is worthy of your tears, for your 2 year old who was working so very hard to hold that glass on their own, it was a huge deal. Respect that. Respect that he is upset, that he is sad, and that he truly feels frustrated or angry. Do not simply brush it off as though it is no big deal, because to your toddler that was a big step toward independence and he or she has every right to be upset by what happened. Learning to respect your child’s feelings and helping him or her cope with them will only benefit you and solidify their trust in you as their problems become much larger than that glass of spilled milk.

3. Respecting Personal Space and Boundaries

Not everyone likes hugs. Not everyone wants to be touched. As adults, rarely do we walk into professional or honestly even personal gatherings and hug everyone around us. Although in some countries that may be the social custom, here in the United States it is not. Our children have every right not to be hugged, tousled, or touched if they do not want to be without question. So often we watch parents forcing their children to “hug Grandma” (who he has met all of twice in his life) or an aunt, uncle, cousin, or friend, while this scared and uncomfortable child clings to Mom or Dad’s leg.

Although it may not seem like a big deal to the parents, clearly it is a huge deal to the child. Respecting your child’s personal space and boundaries instills trust in you as their parent to keep them safe. It also teaches your child not to become upset or offended when another child does not want to be touched, hugged, or share their toy.

Children are allowed to have control over their bodies, their surroundings, and their possessions, and as a parent it is your job to respect their feelings and their space.

“When I approach a child, he inspires in me two sentiments — tenderness for what he is and respect for what he may become.” – Louis Pasteur

Children should not have to share, children should not have to hug, children should not have to say they are sorry when they clearly are not. Respecting all of these aspects of your child’s physical and emotional boundaries teaches them that their bodies are their own and that they can have a say in what happens to them. Allowing your child to maintain some control over his environment and his belongings teaches him about respecting other people’s property and space. It teaches her that she cannot go to the playground and snatch away some else’s truck or hug another child who doesn’t want to be touched, no matter how loving and harmless your own child’s intentions may be. Related articles

“Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.” – JFK

“Having been raised being taught that respect was something to be earned, not simply given because of age, experience, or insistence, I have not surprisingly taken the same approach with my own children. This does not mean that they are permitted to be rude to people in public, but rather I do not insist they call people by formal titles for no reason or that they stand silent when among adults until spoken to. My children are allowed to talk back, they are allowed to have an opinion… I am raising humans, not training robots.” – Kristin

“My children have free choice to explore the world around them, and honestly they are kind, empathetic, and compassionate people because of it, truly much more so than myself. I watch as they speak kindly to others, help out their friends, and truly get upset when one or the other is hurt, sad, or scared. All of these learned behaviors are indicative of the self-esteem, self-confidence, and respect imparted through respectful parenting. Children may not understand the meaning of respect, but they will act respectfully if respected themselves.

“Children are likely to live up to what you believe of them.” – Ladybird Johnson, Former First Lady of the United States

Respect and responsibility go hand in hand, and my children are also responsible because I have respected them enough to allow them opportunities to make age appropriate choices. In today’s world, we have too many young adults who are truly incapable of making responsible decisions. They are not able to fully operate in the world around them because they have been “trained” to act, speak, and behave in a certain way, yet when you take away their comfortable and familiar surroundings they are lost with no moral compass, no respect for authority, and no sense of responsibility. It is time to start anew and teach our future leaders respect, responsibility, and how to make the right decisions by raising them respectfully from the beginning.” – Kristin

For more positive parenting tips, check out How to Teach Generosity to Children.

Photo Credits: Kristin dePaula

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Kristin is a Montessori Mama who spends her days working as a lawyer with at-risk youth and her nights chasing her 4 boys on their latest adventure. She spends a significant amount of time in the kitchen creating healthy, organic, and delicious meals for her family, reading books with her boys, and at the soccer fields. Aspiring to make a difference in lives of others one child at a time, Kristin is passionate about social justice, early literacy, and early childhood education. While she loves scarves and boots, Kristin lives at the world's most famous beach with her husband, kids, extended family, and enough pets to open a zoo.


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