(From July Montana Woman)
We decided early on in the parenting journey to define and emphasize respect with our children. We saw respectfulness in our friends’ children that made them a pleasure to be around; and we saw disrespect in other children that exhausted and frustrated those around them. For some families, respect means calling adults, “Mr.” and “Mrs.”, or sharing favorite toys. In our family, respect starts with speaking respectfully and seeking forgiveness when we don’t.
These habits start with us, the parents. Dr. Kevin Leman, a prolific author and parenting expert, writes in his latest book, How to Have a New Kid by Friday, that the golden rule of parenting is to “treat your kids as you would want to be treated.” Children learn more from what is caught than taught he says, so, “Model respect by being respectful toward your children.” For example, my husband and I make it a point to use please and thank you when asking our children to do things. We even say, “No thank you,” to correct behavior rather than, “stop that!” In fact, we rarely ever raise our voices; we’ve found it more effective to get very close and talk lower and slower when a child needs correction. And we try not to argue with our children about little things, such as what to wear and what to eat (of the healthy options); but we will go to the mat over respectful, kind voices.
Children can start learning respectful behaviors earlier than we think. Our babies learned simple sign language for please and thank you in their high chairs. Today, I can still use the sign for thank you to give a quiet reminder when needed. When our children were toddlers, respectful voices meant practicing volume control –“use your inside voice”— and saying please and thank you. In addition, tantrums earned our toddlers a time out in their crib for a minute or two with a soft reminder along the lines of, “Uh oh, you may join us after you pull it together.” It did not take long for them to figure out that tantrums were not respectful and not effective for getting what they wanted.
Along with using respectful voices, we’ve trained our children to apologize and ask forgiveness when they hurt each other, just like my husband and I do with each other. They’ve done it so many times that when I tell them to work it out, the perpetrator will say, “I’m sorry for … (then they name the action: hurting you, breaking your toy, etc.), will you forgive me?” The victim will say, “Yes”, and off they go to the next activity. It’s more satisfying to them than the command to just, “Tell your brother you’re sorry!” because it requires the perpetrator to verbally confess what they did wrong and seek restoration of the relationship with forgiveness. In other words, they have to show respect for each other.
Finally, Dr. Leman, writes, “training a beagle and training a child have a lot of similarities. You have to tell them to do the same thing over and over until it sticks.” His comment is obviously a simplification, but in my experience, it rings true. This doesn’t mean training with shock collars, but it does mean giving simple directions for expected behavior … over and over and (deep breath) over.
Now, my children don’t always come when they’re called, say thank you when served or clean up after themselves, and neither do I! But I expect them, and myself, to try most of the time. My husband and I model respectful behavior to our children, prioritize a handful of respectful habits, and practice, practice, practice. Hopefully, we won’t have to spell out R-E-S-P-E-C-T in the future because our kids’ attitudes will already reflect the meaning of the word.