By Bev & Phil Haas
How can I teach my children to show respect in a culture that cares less and less about the feelings and rights of others? At times it seems like respect is becoming a thing of the past, both for children and adults.
Christianity has always been counter-cultural. Followers of Jesus have always been challenged to live differently than their culture. With this in mind, we want to begin our response to your question with a question: “How do we define respect from a Christian perspective?”
For the follower of Jesus, it all comes down to the Golden Rule found in Matthew 7:12: “Treat others as you want them to treat you” (Contemporary English Version). There are many values parents need to teach their kids, but in our opinion one of the most challenging is teaching them to respect others. We tend to forget that children aren’t born with a sense of respect for others. Children must be taught respect. It’s our job as parents to teach our kids to treat others the way they want to be treated. Now back to your question, how can we do that?
The best answer is also the most obvious. We must model respectful behavior. Respect is best drilled into young minds by means of a consistent example. Your first step in teaching your children to be respectful is to set the example. Children mimic what we do. They reflect back things their parents say and do. If a child sees their parent being disrespectful, that child will believe this behavior is natural. If you want your children to respect you and the other authority figures around them, show them how to do so. To put it simply, respect is caught rather than taught.
If you want your kids to be Christlike in their interactions, you must be Christlike in your interactions. Author James Baldwin once said, “Children have never been good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” Children learn respect (or disrespect) from how we treat them and others. When we give children the same respect we demand, we are modeling this important character trait. Keep in mind that you can’t begin too early, and that the best place to start is at home.
Discuss, Correct, & Praise
Another way to teach your children to show respect is to discuss moments of disrespect. Whether you see another child being disrespectful or your children are being disrespectful, you need to talk about it. Ask what ignited the situation and how it could have been dealt with differently. This gives your children time to reflect upon a mistaken behavior rather than dismissing it and moving on. Try to stay objective and listen to your children so you can learn about what was going on with them when the disrespect happened. Sometimes it’s better to talk about what happened later, when things calm down.
We realize that parents are busier than ever before, which makes it more difficult to take advantage of teachable moments. Let’s face it—it’s easier to just let things slide when you’re worn out and stressed from an already full day. So you might want to aim for the middle. By that we mean don’t try to turn every disrespectful action into a discussion, but don’t overlook all of them either. Look for a healthy balance and pick the ones you want to talk through with your children.
A third way is to correct and create consequences for disrespectful behavior. Don’t tolerate your children being disrespectful to you or anyone else. Make a list of consequences that vary, according to the degree of disrespect. If they talk back to you or another person, take away a prized possession, such as a video game, for one week. Whatever consequence you choose, be sure to follow through no matter how difficult it might be at the time. And when your children are disrespectful, correct them in a respectful manner.
A final action you can take is to give your children praise when they show respect. We tend to catch children when they do something wrong, but we must also look for opportunities to affirm them when they do something right. Tell your children how proud you are of them for following the Golden Rule. And let them know that God is pleased with their actions as well. We hope these ideas will encourage your children to continue to demonstrate respectful actions.
Bev and Phil Haas are involved in education and family ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio. They have two children and four grandkids. Send your questions about family life to Bev and Phil Haas in care of The Lookout (firstname.lastname@example.org). We regret that personal replies are not always possible.