How can I teach my child to respect others?

There are two ways a child learns about respect. He listens to what his parents say about respectful behavior, and he copies the way they actually act. Ultimately, he’ll learn more from their actions than from their words. If they treat him and others courteously, he’ll eventually copy their behavior. But if they speak harshly to him—“Get over here now!”–and consistently belittle him when he expresses his needs or makes mistakes, he will not learn to treat others with respect, even if his parents admonish him to behave well.

Day care and nursery school teachers sometimes say they can tell how respectful parents are by listening to children playing in the housekeeping corner. When two preschoolers pretend they have a crying baby, one might say, “Let’s pick her up. She’s crying,” while the other might reply, “You get out of this house right now and take this crying baby with you.”

A young child doesn’t automatically know how to act appropriately. He has to have good models and be taught and frequently reminded because he’s egocentric and easily forgets about other people’s feelings when his own needs are strong. Parents often feel defeated after telling their child again and again to be nice to others, only to see him act selfishly again. At such times, they should remember that learning to show respect is a slow process and that it’s natural for young children to think mainly of themselves.

If you feel constantly unhappy with your child’s disrespectful behavior, perhaps you should re-evaluate your expectations of him. It’s possible that you’re asking for more than he’s capable of giving. The younger he is, the less likely he is to control his emotions and put himself in someone else’s place. Therefore, it’s necessary for you to put limits on his behavior, “You can’t say such mean words to your sister.”

Look for ways you can model respectful behavior: “Let me pick you up so you can see well.” “Let’s go over there and thank that man for helping us.” When children are respected, they internalize feelings of self-worth, believing that their ideas, needs, and desires are important. Over time, your child will give back the kind of respect you’ve given him, and you’ll see him begin to consider other people’s needs and feelings.

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