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R. E. S. P. E. C. T.: Four Tips For Teaching Your Child Respect


By Dr. Charles Sophy
Keep 'Em Off My Couch

One of the most important things you can teach your child is respect. Teaching a child to be respectful is not as difficult as it may seem. The best way to teach respect is to show respect. But first, we must understand what it means to show respect.

Respect is an attitude. It is a response to others that may be verbal and non-verbal. Respect is the attitude of admiration or esteem - to hold in esteem or consider well-regarded - towards others, oneself and one's possessions. A respectful child takes care of belongings and responsibilities, and a respectful child gets along with peers, parents and figures of authority.

Respect, unlike mathematics or grammar, is an abstract concept. There is no step-by-step model to apply to teach a child respect. Just as the best way to teach a child how to love is to show love, the best way to teach respect is to show respect. Children model the behavior of the adults in their lives. Keep in mind the saying "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

When a child experiences respect, they know what it feels like and begin to understand how important it is. Start early - start to teach your children as soon as they may begin to understand what you say to them. It is always much more difficult to show and teach respect to a teenager who has not really been held accountable.

While your child is learning respectful behavior patterns, it is essential to modify inappropriate behavior. If your child does something that is not respectful, take time to point out, in quiet and non-threatening ways, that their behaviors towards others or you are not respectful. Always begin that dialogue in a safe manner for them and build upon their strengths. Be sure to offer them alternate ways in which the situation may have been better handled.

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Let's take a peak:

Four-year old Chloe is on school field trip to the aquarium. Her mother is one of the parent chaperones for the trip. The field trip has Chloe's mother feeling a bit uneasy due to Chloe's outbursts in most situations. Mom fears that Chloe will have a tantrum in front of her teachers and demonstrate how little control she has over Chloe. The trip proceeds smoothly until Chloe discovers the gift shop. She eyes up a huge blue dolphin that she states will need to come to sleep with her tonight. Chloe's mother proceeds to explain to Chloe that the dolphin is quite expensive and she will need to pick out something less expensive.

At that point Chloe begins to call her mother names such as stupid, and dumb. Chloe's mother is often uncomfortable to confront her daughter when she is showing disrespect towards others. Not knowing what to do, and being caught between embarrassment in front of teachers and her feelings toward her daughter, she takes Chloe by the hand and leads her to the lobby.

The response to Chloe's behavior is crucial in successfully modifying inappropriate behavior. The scene can be played out in one of two ways:

Accepting inappropriate behavior: If mom is not aware of the ways to deal with disrespectful behavior, Chloe will most likely be spoken to in a harsh manner: threatening her future freedom ("If you don't stop right now, you will never go on another field trip again) or bargaining in an attempt to stop the incident ("If you stop calling me stupid, I'll buy you the dolphin"). Neither response will teach Chloe the respect that she will need as she encounters similar situations in her life. If the parent responds in a manner that shows the child that their behavior is acceptable, the child will not modify their behavior and will continue to act inappropriately.

Modifying inappropriate behavior: If mom is comfortable confronting her daughter and has handled these types of behaviors in the past with Chloe, she will quietly lead Chloe out to the lobby and sit her down in a safe space. She will review the trip and tell her what behaviors Chloe demonstrated today that were exemplary and then discuss the behaviors that were less then acceptable. Chloe's mother will then discuss ways in which Chloe could handle her feelings in a more positive manner. The discussion ends with a gentle reminder that respect must be a part of how they treat each other and that Chloe will have the opportunity to have a new toy or treat upon her next positive behavioral display. No threats, no bargains. just an honest discussion about how the child behaved appropriately and which actions were not appropriate. Respect requires:

1) Early Introduction: Introduce the concept of respect early (as soon as the child is able to understand when being spoken to) by identifying positive and negative behavioral patterns.

2) Model: Show your children how to respect by interacting respectfully with your spouse and with others.

3) Awareness: Talk with your child at those times when they demonstrate behavior that is less then respectful. Showing them in the moment is most beneficial.

4) Build On Strengths: In discussions with your child, begin by building on the strengths that they have shown, the positive behaviors in which they have engaged, and how to improve the undesired behaviors.

Always ask for assistance when unsure of how to proceed.

© Dr. Charles Sophy, 2005-present
Dr. Charles Sophy, author of the "Keep `Em Off My Couch" blog, provides real simple answers for solving life's biggest problems. He specializes in improving the mental health of children. To contact Dr. Sophy, visit his blog at drsophy.com.

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