Beyond Manners: Teaching Children Respect
Back talk, lack of manners, foul language, name calling, rude behavior, and children making demands of
parents seems to be more commonplace in today’s world. Disrespect is modeled everywhere: TV, movies, You-Tube videos, music lyrics, at sporting events, and even in the pick-up lines of pre-school. Teaching children respect and manners is essential; learning to live and behave respectfully translates into self–respect which is the building block of self-esteem. Being respectful generally means having manners, being kind and compassionate, and handling emotions and challenges in a non-hurtful, productive way. Parents can start teaching children respect at an early age.
Give Respect: If parents want respect from children, they must first give respect to children. Children learn to treat themselves and others by how they are treated. Respect is communicated by words, tone, body language and actions. Think about how you treat your child. Do you listen? Do you, teach, love? Are you patient and forgiving? Are you demeaning, demanding, belittling, or shaming? Parents are behaving disrespectfully when they engage in unwanted teasing, name-calling or interrupt children when they are talking. They are unknowingly modeling and teaching children to be disrespectful. Make sure your parenting style and discipline style are respectful because respect begins at home.
Model Respect and Manners: Children are watching and listening to their parents. This means that parents are always sending messages to their children about how to act, how to handle emotions, how to respond in difficult situations, how to resolve problems and how to self-care. Imagine yourself in any of the following situations: someone cuts you off while driving, or you are running late, or someone insults you, or the clerk at the store is unusually slow, or the food server gets your order wrong. What do you do? What do you say? What is your tone? Do you make mean gestures or roll your eyes? How do you handle your anger, frustration and stress? Children learn from our example. Parents must be the person they want their kids to become.
Seek to Understand Disrespectful Behavior: Behavior is a form of communication and this means that children behave disrespectfully for a reason. They tend to behave disrespectfully when they are angry, frustrated, need attention, need a sense of control, or have been hurt and want to hurt back. Seek to understand the feelings behind your child’s disrespectful behavior. When you see life from their perspective, you can empathize and communicate to them that you understand how they feel even when you don’t like their behavior. Empathy allows your child to feel understood. It is a parent’s compassion that opens the door for teaching a more appropriate ways of expressing their feelings while getting their needs met.
Set Limits: All children need rules and boundaries. Rules help children feel safe and secure. Set clear rules about respectful behavior. If children are old enough, engage them in a discussion about respectful behaviors. For example: say “please and thank-you”, sit nicely at the dinner table, no throwing balls in the house, ask before grabbing something, take turns with toys, no hitting and no swearing. Remain calm when your child says or does something disrespectful. Reacting angrily or harshly to your child typically leads to your child feeling justified in acting disrespectfully and this escalates the emotion. When disrespect occurs, the parent’s goal is to stop the disrespect as quickly as possible before it escalates and requires additional intervention or consequences. There are many ways to set limits for disrespectful behavior. Below are just a few:
Address it simply, briefly and calmly: Give a look, shake your head to signal “no”, or say “That is unacceptable.” or “I won’t tolerate being spoken to with that language.” Then, only respond if your child acts in a more respectful manner.
Use the ABCD plan of limit setting: A-Acknowledge the feeling/Empathize; B-Briefly state the limit clearly; C-Offer two acceptable choices or ask what a better choice might be. For example: “I know you were frustrated and in a hurry to leave. But yelling at me and calling names is not okay; it is disrespectful. Are you ready to talk to me respectfully or do you need some time to yourself to calm down?”
Send a message with your actions (no words): When your child is acting disrespectfully at the dinner table, quietly remove his plate. The message is that when people act inappropriately at dinner, the meal is over. When your child complains, empathize and sincerely respond, ‘I know, it’s sad. I will make a great breakfast tomorrow.”
Talk about it later: When disrespectful behavior is severe and needs intervention, it can be difficult to address in the moment because there is so much emotion involved. Usually, parents are angry and children are angry. Everyone may feel defensive and unwilling to listen or make amends. Allowing time for everyone to calm down can be beneficial. Saying to the child, “Your behavior is unacceptable, we will talk about this later.” gives parents time to calm down and think about how they want to handle the situation. Allowing time is also helpful to children. It gives them time to calm down and think about what happened. As they think about their behavior, they may begin to feel sorry or guilty for their behavior. They may think about ways they can repair or make up for their mistake. Delaying the intervention can be very effective but parents must follow through in a timely manner.
Pick Battles: Discern whether your child is truly being disrespectful or just venting his feelings. For example, you ask your child to pick up his room and while he does it, he is stomping his feet, slamming the door and saying “This is stupid, I have to do everything. Everything is unfair in this house.” Your child is most likely just expressing his feelings. Since he is doing what you asked, it is important to ignore how he is doing it. By giving him space and not reacting to his negative feelings, it will allow his feelings to dissipate and you will avoid a power struggle.
For more information about our online parenting course or parent coaching, contact Karen Jacobson, MA, LCPC, LMFT at 312-330-3194, Karen@parentingperspectives.com or Lauren Bondy, LCSW at 847-562-9503, Lauren@parentingperspectives.com. Or, visit www.parentingperspectives.com.