I am the parent of a four year old. I am struggling with how disrespectful he can be. I have heard that all kids are now, but I think that’s crazy! I never would have dreamed of talking to an adult the way that he does. My parents would have put me right in my place! I know that fear-based parenting can have negative effects, but is there any other way to teach my son respect?
You are not alone! This struggle is very real for all of us in today’s society. Our cultural climate is such that it is not expected for people to act kindly or respectfully to others. Disrespect is on display everywhere from the school yard, to the media, to our political leaders. It is no wonder our youngest citizens are picking up these bad behaviors. It is a scary prospect and you should be proud that you are acknowledging the problem and taking action.
When teaching respectful behavior, it can be tempting to revert to the way that we were parented. You are right, however, in saying that fear or shame-based parenting can have negative ramifications for children. These techniques might seem to produce results for the authority figure, but might not translate everywhere. For example, your child might use an appropriate tone when talking to you out of fear, but then turn to his peers or other adults and try out your authoritarian tone on them. Fear and shame can also foster a low self-esteem, and eventually cause a rebellion against the authoritarian. It can be hard to think of ways around this when teaching about respecting others, but remember, when children learn, they often imitate what they see, not practice what they are told. If we are disrespectful to our children, they will in turn disrespect others.
First and foremost the best way to teach respect is to model it yourself. Show your child how to treat others. Demonstrate respect when talking to friends, family and strangers. Show him/her how to really listen to others and engage in conversation. Remember your manners! Model niceties, such as “please” and “thank you”. This is important to keep in mind all of the time! Children are always watching even if it seems like they aren’t paying attention. It is especially important to bear in mind when you disagree with someone. Showing children that they can have a disagreement and still be respectful of another’s opinion is a great teaching moment!
Be respectful of your child! Give him/her time and attention. Make sure that when you are with her/him you are focused. Listen when s/he speaks and be responsive. If you are busy when s/he wants your attention, acknowledge him/her and let them know when you will be able to be involved. In other words, show him the respect that you would hope to gain from him.
Call your child on being rude! If your child says something that is out of line, don’t be afraid to let her/him know. Try not to shame him/her, or publicly humiliate him/her, but rather pull him/her aside and tell him it is not okay to say something like that or use that tone. It is important not to stop there, however. Give your child an appropriate substitute. Say, “If that’s how you are feeling you can say something like this…” This will clue your child in on what is not acceptable while still giving him/her a way to express himself/herself. If you don’t know what an appropriate response would have been, brainstorm together! Make him/her a part of the learning process.
Unfortunately, no one is born with the knowledge of how to interact with others. It is a learning process and children will carry what they learn throughout their life. Being aware of teaching respectfulness is a huge first step. Showing children techniques for social behavior will make this world a nicer place to be for us and for future generations!