Raising Children Who Are Respectful
by Dr. Rachell N. Anderson
Psychologists know that one of a child’s basic emotional needs is to be treated with respect. Respect is fundamental to self-respect and emotional development. Children who have self-respect, show respect for others, treat themselves well, are happier and healthier and are more successful in their work and family relationships. Also, these children are considerate, caring, and generous toward others and are less likely to do harmful things to themselves and others. In other words, they are respectful and emotionally healthy people. What parent wouldn’t want that for their children? I suspect, we all do.
First, let’s look at some of the things we parents routinely do as we attempt to teach children manners and social skills. We stand ready to prompt children to say please and thank you. We insist that they apologize when things go wrong. We force them to share and we do these things in front of other people; maybe to show that they are good parents. And while these are well-meaning attempts to correct the child, these are disrespectful behaviors. They can make kids feel embarrassed, humiliated, ridiculed, threatened and hurt. When children feel this way, not much of what is being taught will be learned. Think how you would feel if someone dressed you down in front of others. Might you wonder about the long term effects of children’s psyche when treated in such disrespectful ways? Might you look around and see that many problems that live in our culture may be the result of basic disrespect?
Yes, it can be embarrassing when children don’t use good manners in public. Many parents will do anything to avoid such a scene. In parenting, it’s better to be proactive than reactive. For instance, you can teach the child while at home in casual conversations in your spare time, what to do in meeting people. For instance, you can say “When someone speaks to you, nod, smile and say hello.” Also, model the behavior you want to teach. Say please and thank you appropriately. Children learn more from what you do than what you say. They’ll imitate your behavior rather than comply with your directives.
When children make mistakes they lose a little dignity. If we berate them or demand an apology, they lose even more and experience emotional pain. When they’re hurting, they can’t learn. Mistakes do in fact, have a purpose. They help us to learn and grow if we let them.
What’s a parent to do?
Here are some ideas to get you started.
1. Give children plenty of love. As the song goes “That’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.” There is no such thing as too much love and understanding. Affection, empathy, instruction and limit setting are all in the mix. This isn’t spoiling them it helps them to become confident, loving people.
2. Listen to children. Show your children respect by listening to them and taking them seriously. Whether you agree or not, this lets them know that who they are and what they think has value.
3. Accept your children’s feelings as they are. This allows a healthy outlet for what’s inside. The feelings don’t have to be rational nor do they need to be fixed. Instead, comfort your children and let them know you love them, rather than try to talk them out of how they feel. Just because a person expressed a feeling doesn’t suggest they will act on it. In fact, have it out in the open may sanitize the painful ones and allow the person to consider appropriate actions.
4. Unless you have evidence to the contrary, it’s important to respect your children’s boundaries. That includes their thoughts and feelings, their property, space, and their privacy. Perform a mental check and ask yourself if you’d be okay if someone did this thing to you. If the answer is no, then don’t do it to your children.
5. To help children learn to manage their lives and develop independence, trust them to make their own decisions. Help them make good ones by asking “What do you think might work?” Listen, then ask “What else might work?” “Any other ideas?” OK. “Let me know how that works out.” This works with children from toddlers to teens.
6. Have family rules that are reasonable, understandable, predictable and designed to teach some important lessons for life. Also, have consequences for rules that are broken which have been worked out well in advance of the infraction.
7. Remember, being a parent is the toughest job you’ll ever undertake. For most of us, this is our first time through. Be kind to yourself when you don’t get it right, redouble your efforts, seek advise from a knowing professional and find a soft shoulder on which to cry.
Dr. Rachell Anderson is a native of Tunica, a licensed Clinical Psychologist, a Professor Emeritus and author. She taught at the University of Illinois and ran a Private Clinical Practice in Springfield, Illinois for many years. She now lives in Tunica and writes with the Tunica Chapter of the Mississippi Writers Guild in Tunica, Mississippi. Check out her website at WWW.drrachellanderson.com for more articles and books she has written.