Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Raising Respectful Kids

I saw this quote on my Facebook page.  Pithy and witty, isn't it? Facebook does that well.  It's the quotes like these that get lots of likes, shares, and comments. 

Truth: I almost thought about sharing it myself.

It's so easy to get on the bandwagon of criticizing someone else's parenting. To preach and point fingers. It makes a lot of people feel pretty darned good about themselves, I imagine.

Only one problem.  It sure as heck isn't all that helpful, is it? Quotes like this only tell people what they already know. 

Honestly, do we really think a parent saw this and thought to him/herself "Gee, what a great idea.  I hadn't thought about teaching my kids respect.  I should get right on that."?

Of course not.  What people really need to know is how.  How do I teach my kids respect?

This is where it gets tricky and the Facebook newsfeeds become eerily quiet on the subject.

Funny how that is, huh?

The key to raising respectful kids is easy in theory and challenging in execution.

After all, respect has many different parts. It's certainly not something that can be brushed over easily with some flippant little meme.

Depending on your definition of respect, it can involve:
  • Word tone
  • Word choice
  • Body language
  • Not teasing or making fun of others
  • Being nice when you don't feel like it
  • Managing hurt and disappointed feelings without taking it out on someone
  • Allowing others their privacy
  • Manners
  • Taking care of someone else's belongings.
  • Talking to people in authority
Not so easy now, is it?

Raising respectful kids starts with modeling and is cemented with accountability.

There.  Let that sit and marinate for a second.

Still with me?

Kids will start to learn respectful ways of moving through the world before they can even talk.  They will do so by watching and learning from you. How you talk to family, friends, and others in the community will impact how your child does.

Unfortunately, lessons like these aren't selective.  They don't just learn ways of moving through the world when parents are on their best behavior. They are watching: how you manage frustration and difficult feelings, how you talk to sales and service people, how you manage conflicts.  The times in life when we are tested are the very times kids are perking up and tuning in to what we do and how we handle things.

Contrary to popular belief, modeling is not just about mimicking.  You don't put a child in front of you while you walk through life and hope they learn what they need to.

If you want your kids to model after you, you have to explain yourself.

After interactions with others, share with kids why you did what you did and what prompted your choices.

Example: If after waiting in line for a while, you say to the cashier, "Seems like you've been busy.  Thanks for working so hard", don't just hope your child sees your thoughtfulness.  Explain it.  Tell your child "You know, I was so frustrated waiting in that line.  It took a long time to put our order in and I was hungry.  I could see that cashier was trying her best, though.  That's why I made sure to say something nice".

Teaching by example means turning kids toward the direction of what you want them to learn.

After, try asking them if they have questions about you did.  Maybe ask what they might have said to a cashier who was clearly having a long day. Questions like that promote thoughtfulness.

Let kids learn from your mistakes. An especially powerful time to teach respect is after you've been disrespectful.  Walk kids through what you did, why you did it, and what you wish you had done instead.  If your disrespectful moment was directed at your kids, apologize.  Model for them respectful ways of making an apology.

Doing this turns what could be a guilt-ridden parenting fail into a teachable moment.

Another strategy, teach respect with practice. If you and your child are about to do or try something new, talk about it beforehand and include your expectations for respectful ways of acting.  Have kids practice how they might be.  It sets them up for success.

Modeling, prompts, directions, and teaching are all important components of teaching respect. Unfortunately, they hold little value if not backed up with accountability.

I think this is where a lot of parents struggle.  How do we teach kids that using a polite tone is important by grounding them?  Is there any value from having them re-do a scenario over showing more respect?  How do you manage situations where you are hearing about your child's behavior second-hand?

It's these questions, big and small, that trip parents up and have them talking in circles with their kids.  Sometimes, there is a lot of conversation with very little action.

Think about it for a second. As adults, the biggest consequence we face when we choose to be disrespectful is usually to the relationship in question.  If we snap at a spouse, that creates a divide.  If we use sarcasm in public, we aren't treated warmly and few want to go out of their way to help us. 

Disrespect causes rifts, distance, and conflicts.  When we choose disrespect, our needs will often go unmet.

These are all natural consequences to disrespectful behavior and what you should be focusing on at times when your child chooses to be disrespectful.

Pay attention to the behavior your child chose.  Which relationships did it impact and how?

Tune into that and then deliver a relevant consequence to your child.

Example: If you ask your kids to do a favor for you and you are met with a sigh of resistance, teeth sucking, and a sarcastic comment, your first instinct may be to raise your voice, reprimand, and scold.

Not a bad option but here's a better one: "Bobby, all I asked was that you pick up your room before bedtime.  I am not sure why that request was worthy of all of this complaining and procrastinating. I wish you had simply said yes and done it.  However, I get it.  Favors for me that you don't care about can suck sometimes.  That's fine.  However, I am not going to be able to bring you to the hobby shop like we talked about.  I don't want to go out of my way for you given the way you just spoke to me".

It's in the teaching of the effect that disrespectful behavior has on kids that will teach the lesson.

Sure, we all wish kids could be altruistic and pleasant about chores simply because we've asked.  That isn't always a reasonable expectation for kids.  Many times, they are motivated by what is best for them and what meets their needs.

Consistently holding privileges and favors from kids when they choose to move through the world disrespectfully teaches them interdependence....they learn that their actions and inactions impact others and if they want their needs met, they have to respect that relationship.

Modeling with explanation.  Practice.  Accountability. 

Master these three things CONSISTENTLY and you'll get closer to raising a more respectful child.

Feeling stuck in the weeds on this?  Confused by the myriad shades of grey?

I've been helping parents like you raise respectful kids and know I can help you.

Give me a call and we can start today.

Until next time,


  1. Awesome article, I had been wondering about this and you raise several points I hadn't considered about *how* kids learn respect.

    1. Thanks, Jenny, for the positive feedback. Glad to know you liked it and found it helpful.