How can I teach my child to be more respectful?

Getting kids to be respectful seems a never-ending struggle. Parents start working on this issue when their child is a preschooler. They continue through the early elementary years and still are giving reminders when she is in middle school. Despite increasing maturity, most ten-to thirteen-year-olds have to be told how to treat siblings, parents, teachers, coaches, and peers. Kids these ages do understand why they should treat people kindly. They can imagine themselves in another person’s place, they know what it’s like to be teased and have hurt feelings, and they think about the impact of their behavior. Yet, for a number of reasons, they can’t consistently translate their understanding into respectful action.

Some children are disrespectful because of the way they’ve been treated at home. If they don’t feel listened to or understood, they may react angrily. Kids also imitate their parents, and if a child’s thoughts, feelings, and ideas have been ridiculed, she will criticize and be inconsiderate of others. One mother told her child to stop being rude, then said, “Just shut up and leave me alone.” Another parent constantly found fault: “Why are you so lazy and disorganized?” Kids copy such words and attitudes.

Unfortunately, school is another place they learn disrespect. Most teachers have rules about acceptable classroom behavior: “Listen when others are talking.” “Don’t make fun of someone else’s mistakes.” However, some teachers are not kind when they talk to students. One thirteen-year-old told his mother, “The teachers are so mean. They tell us to show respect, but they yell at us and put kids down and order around all day.”

Some kids are disrespectful because their parents don’t place sufficient limits on inappropriate behavior. Parents may believe that rudeness at these ages is inevitable and they may excuse their child when she picks on unpopular classmates or calls them names: “Kids are cruel. They attack each other all the time.”

Consciously or unconsciously, parents may encourage their child’s disrespectful behavior. One boy loudly questioned a referee’s call during a Little League game. The boy’s father said, “Good. Somebody had to tell that guy off.” That parental attitude can be seen almost anywhere there’s competition: tennis matches, soccer fields, classrooms, neighborhood games.

Kids who are rude to parents may be quite polite when they’re away from home and talking to teachers, coaches, and their friends’ parents. Like adults, children tend to take their daily frustrations out on the ones they love and are most comfortable with. As long as a child is courteous away from home, her parents can be assured that she’s learned important lessons about getting along.

If you want your child to show more respect, set limits, and give frequent reminders. Let her know in a firm, clear way how she should behave: “I expect you to tell your sister what you feel without calling her names.” “You may not speak to Dad and me so rudely. We’ll listen if you change your tone.” Show her the difference between thoughtless and respectful language: “Instead of calling Sara a pig, say, ‘I’m angry at you for eating the candy. I wanted some.”

When you see your child acting rudely in public, avoid giving an immediate lecture. She won’t listen, but will only defend herself (“It wasn’t my fault!”) or talk back to you (“Leave me alone!”). Instead, give her a quiet suggestion or instruction: “You’re being too harsh.” “You need to be a better sport.” “You shouldn’t pick on a friend.”

Later, when the incident has passed and you and she are calmer, talk about what happened. The discussion may stir up feelings, so handle the subject delicately. First, listen to her defense and thoughts, and then tell her what you’ve observed: “When you ask for something, you sound very demanding.” Let her know how important her tone and choice of words are. Tell her to imagine herself in another person’s position.

Teaching your child to be respectful takes time, patience, and a lot of involvement; you also need to be a good role model. Eventually your words will get through and your child will learn to be respectful on her own.

Picture Credit : Google