Respect has many forms
This includes self-respect, respecting others, respect for authority and many other examples. Teaching a child respect isn’t an easy concept to explain to children. This is because there are so many different personal interpretations of respect. One of the best ways to describe respect to your child is explain, “Respect is treating people in a way that makes them feel cared for and important.”
Here are some strategies that can help make it easier and more efficient to teach children respect.
1. Model Respectful Behavior
The very best way for parents, teachers, family members and community leaders to teach respect to children is through modeling. Children are instinctually better observers than listeners. This is especially true when they are young. This is important because the earlier a child experiences what respect looks like though observing it from a parent or family member, the more likely that the child will give and show respect in the future.
Some examples of modeling respect are:
Using the proper and correct tone of voice regardless of stress level
Apologizing when wrong
Going out of your way to help someone, if appropriate
Respectfully resolving conflict
Using manners such as thank you and please
Treat everyone as if they were your friend or family
2. Discuss Disrespect
Talk to them about how it makes them feel to see someone who is made to feel unimportant or not cared for. Also, have them discuss how it would make them feel if they were disrespected or made to feel unimportant. Once they have a personal understanding that disrespectful actions make people feel sad they are less likely to disrespect others.
3. Reward Respectful Behavior
Positive reinforcement is one of the best ways to guide children into behavior that will benefit them in the future. Positive reinforcement is rewarding a child or student for behavior that a parent would like to see happen again in the future. It shows the child that a particular behavior is something that deserves praise and positive attention. There are many different types of rewards. A “reward” could be a positive comment, a positive gesture like a hug or a high five or a tangible reward such as a sticker or an extra treat at home. While in the beginning, children may only do it for the “reward” they will eventually see the intrinsic benefits of being respectful to others. The best part is, with each act of kindness shown toward another their own happiness multiplies infinitely.
4. Help Your Child Understand
Who should be shown respect?
How can children show respect?
Why is it important to show respect?
When should you show respect?
What showing respect looks like
Where should respect be shown?
Consequences for not showing respect
5. Encourage Keeping Promises
When children don’t keep their promises, it shows people that they don’t value them. It makes them think that they aren’t important. Even breaking little promises can make people think that they cannot be trusted to follow through. When we promise something to someone else, we are telling them that we will make sure that they are cared for regardless if it is convenient or not.
6. Teach Fairness
Teaching children fairness helps them understand that if they are going to treat people with respect being fair is crucial to making people feel important and cared for. Fairness is an abstract concept that must be discussed in a way that does not confuse children. This is not an easy thing to teach because most kid’s favorite words are “No” and “Me” which doesn’t mesh well with fairness. Start with discussing with your child about what fairness means to them. Talk to them about what it means to treat others in a way that doesn’t provide one person with an advantage over another. Anytime a parent or teacher models fairness throughout the day children pick up on this behavior. It raises the likelihood that fairness will continue in the future.
Help children understand fairness by having them practice:
Following the rules
Making sure one person doesn’t have an advantage over another
Practicing making things equal
7. Advocate Using Kind Words
Children have a way of getting to the point quickly as their main goal is to ensure their needs are being met. Using kind words and using manners can be a difficult task for children. This is especially true when they see them as an obstacle to getting what they want. Many times, the reason why people are so impressed with little ones who use their manners is that people instinctually understand the effort it takes for them to say “thank you and please”. When a child goes through the effort to use kind words they are definitely showing respect. The old adage of treating people the way you want to be treated goes to the core of respect. Talking to all people in a calm and friendly manner regardless of their frustration level shows people that they are important enough to go through the effort of being kind. For young children modeling kind words and manners is crucial. If a child is not shown examples of how to use their manners and kind words it is easy for them to forgo them. This is it is not a natural action for a child to want to add extra words to the process of getting what they want or need. Once a child understands that using kind words and manners make people feel cared for and important they will be more likely to make the effort to use them.
8. Promote Helpfulness
If respect is making people feel important and cared for then helping someone fits perfectly within that definition. Promoting helpfulness not only reinforces respect but it will also help children experience the feeling of joy and happiness that occurs when helping others. The younger the child experiences this joy the earlier the child can internalize the feeling of happiness and incorporate it into their daily routines. Helping others also promotes a sense of purpose and satisfaction.
Teaching children helpfulness is a good way to improve:
Importance of respect
Sense of purpose
How being helpful to others also helps themselves
Helping others is worth the effort
9. Urge Children To Be Good Listeners
Teaching children how to be good listeners is probably one of the most underrated skills we teach children today. We don’t learn while we are talking, we learn while we are listening. Helping children and students become great listeners supports building a foundation for an amazing education and encourages them to become lifelong learners. Being a good listener also shows the person talking respect. When a student is making a concerted effort to really listen they are helping the speaker feel important and they are showing them respect.
Here are some ways to make your children and students better listeners:
Look at the person talking
Come up with a listening position in school and at home (sitting and standing)
Minimize distraction and focus on the person talking
Silently interact with the speaker by smiling or nodding
When instructions are given repeat the directions for clarity before starting the task
10. Support Saying Sorry
One of the hardest things to do for some people is to admit when they are wrong or say their sorry. When teaching respect to children helping them understand that admitting when you are wrong or saying sorry is one of the biggest ways to show people that they are important to you. By saying sorry you are showing them that even though it might be difficult or embarrassing they are willing to be uncomfortable in order to show them that they respect the person that has been wronged. This topic can be difficult for children to understand. As with most things, modeling being apologetic is one of the best ways for a child to comprehend such a deep topic. This is due to the fact that a child’s main goal when it comes to emotions, is to minimize the feelings of being embarrassed or unconformable. Asking a child to be uncomfortable in order for another to feel cared for is sometimes a hard thing for a child to grasp. With practice and the right modeling, children will understand that saying sorry not only shows respect, but it also helps them feel better about themselves. This inevitably leads to building self-respect and the importance of an apology.
Discuss Respecting Authority
Most children have an unconscious understanding that they need to respect their parents, grandparents and other adult family members. Most of the time the adults in the family will model respect and in turn, the child learns to respect them back. This then trickles down into other subsections of their community like teachers, police officers and coaches. Unfortunately, if this pattern is not modeled to the child at an early age or at least discussed with them frequently the trickle-down effect does not occur. This leads to many problems that are community related. Respecting your elders and the people that are trying to help them is an important lesson for children to learn. When children respect their family members, teachers, law enforcement and other authority figures they will see that many times those people will show respect back to them in return. This starts a positive pattern and mutual respect between the child and the authority figure can form. In addition, if the parent reinforces the importance of respecting and listening to those authority figures children will develop a positive connection with their community members. Many times a child will benefit from that connection because teachers, coaches and other community figures have many beneficial lessons to teach. Although, it is important to teach children that it is OK to question unknown authority figures but in a respectful manner. Blindly following someone’s directions because a child believes that they must in order to show respect can also lead to problems. Teaching children how to properly address an adult that is not treating them appropriately is something that should also be discussed.
Why Is Respect an Important Lifeskill?
Respect is one of the most important social skills a child will learn.The earlier children learn what respect is the sooner they will be on the path to success. One of the main benefits of teaching children respect is that they start to understand that who they are as a person and their feelings should be valued. It is also extremely important for them to understand that their actions and how they treat people will also affect if someone respects them in return. When respect is taught in the home, it creates a sense of safety. The safe feeling occurs when children know that the people around them will make them feel cared for and important. When respect is given children will feel more comfortable taking risks and challenging themselves because they know their feeling will not be taken for granted. Respect is also important because it helps teach a child to have an open mind. When you respect someone you listen to what the other person is saying. While you might not agree with what the person is saying, if you respect them, you will try to see it from their perspective so that they know you care for them. When this is done enough times children will see that there is not just one way to interpret something. They will start to see different perspectives and they are more likely to keep an open mind when hearing other people’s opinions or how to handle certain situations. This also leads to building tolerance for others. If other people can have different points of view and the child still respects them then it opens up the thought process that others can be different in other ways and it is still OK. When children learn to respect people regardless of their views or how they are different it starts them on the path to understanding other equally important social skills such as empathy and tolerance. Teaching children how to respect themselves and others as soon as possible is a great way to encourage good choices and gets them closer to success as they get older.