"Excuse Me, Little Lady?" | Teaching Children Respect in Today's Society
The Wakefield Moms Council is now complete with five members - Laurie Hunt, Holly DeSouza, Regina Martine, Tasha Schlake Festel and, joining us next week, Michele Penta.
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"Excuse me, little lady? You cannot speak to me like that!"
In today's society, our children are bombarded each day with messages we can't control, whether it's from their peers, music, TV - basically, American pop-culture. And let's face it - whether it's rap music or advertising, we all know that respect for others and for yourself is probably the opposite of what those mediums preach each day. Help! What are some ways to teach my children respect in such a disrespectful society?
- Topic suggested by Wakefield Moms Council.
I am not convinced we can teach our children respect so much as we can reinforce it and, most importantly, model it.
There are many definitions of the word respect, including being “esteemed” and “honored”. My favorite definition of respect, however, was number ten at dictionary.com: “Respect (verb) to show regard or consideration for…” Break it down some more, consideration meaning “to show careful thought or sympathetic regard”.
Do you show regard and consideration for all of the people you encounter throughout the day or do you only show regard and consideration for those you feel are in a position to be esteemed and honored? Guess what? Your children will do the same.
A couple of things that have stuck with me from my childhood that I learned from my father are if a person came to our home to do work we were to offer them a drink and give it to them in a glass. I also remember being taught to do something nice for someone else every day. I honestly carry that with me – every day, it does not have to be anything big – sometimes it is just a smile or a kind word at the right time but I make sure I do it. I tell my girls the same thing, it is a good way to show them consideration, regard and respect for all people.
Teaching respect for others has been pretty easy with 3 kids because they ALWAYS have to share, and one person can’t always be the center of attention. My kids tend to be pretty conscientious of how other people might feel, so I haven’t had to struggle with this issue too much. We have a lot of “how would you feel if that happened to you?” conversations which help the kids see things from someone else’s point of view. I know this will become more challenging in the next few years as they get into middle school and start “testing the limits” but so far, so good. I guess I just try to make my kids aware that how they act affects the people around them.
I am not saying my kids are perfectly polite all the time – far from it – but for the most part they understand that it is important to be kind, truthful, and mindful of other people’s feelings.
Parents need to model the respectful attitude toward others that they want their children to have. Also – we need to treat our children with respect - listen to them, look at them when they are talking, let them know that their ideas and opinions are important and worthwhile.
Something to ponder – I had a professor in college who thought that my generation was rude and disrespectful because we grew up watching TV all the time. The TV doesn’t care if you talk over it or walk away while it is on and we seemed (to him) to carry that attitude over to other aspects of our lives. Now, we – and our kids– are surrounded by TV, computers, video games, smart phones and a constant barrage of non-human interaction. Are we forgetting how to interact with the real people around us?
I remember hearing from my parents when in elementary school the grades for conduct were the most important grades on my report card. Conduct was school code for respect: respect for your teachers and respect for your peers. I didn’t give it much thought then but now, as a parent, I understand.
It seems there are too few parents teaching the value of The Golden Rule today. Kids are sponges. They will soak up the behaviors they see and translate that as the appropriate way to behave. I’m not saying parents are teaching their children it is okay to be disrespectful but, instead, merely suggesting parents need to try to show how to be respectful by giving more respect even when it is most difficult.
Try is the operative word. I am by no means perfect and need to remind myself to be respectful in even the smallest circumstances - usually when I’m cut off in traffic, the cashier at the grocery store is rude, etc. – whether or not I have an audience under four feet tall.
I am doing my part in very small way by instilling in my daughter to respect each person no matter how different or rude (or, presently, better at coloring) they may be. I have high hopes my daughter’s marks for conduct are consistently at the top of her class. I have higher hopes mine are as well.
Tasha Schlake Festel:
Respect is tough. At a younger age, it’s such an abstract concept that kids just don’t get it – or don’t have the self-control to demonstrate that they do. I see respect as really a combination of 2 important things: respect for others and respect for yourself. I think one is much easier to teach than the other, but are both fundamental to having a respectful society.
Respect for others is the easy part. It is the outward expression of respect. This includes manners and treating others well. Teaching manners is easy. You just drill them in. Constant and consistent reminders [read: nagging] and praise are the way to go. The way I see it is that they basically have to memorize this behavior. “Please” and “thank you” are mandatory in my house, even for the smallest of things. “Excuse me” when interrupting (or burping, tooting or doing something otherwise rude and supposedly involuntary with one’s body) is an important one too, although a bit harder for the little ones to remember. I have always felt that imperfect behavior is much more palatable when paired with good manners. I’ve told my kids that many more mistakes and missteps will be overlooked if they remember to say “please” and “thank you!”
The whole “treating others well” angle is more complicated. The Golden Rule of “treating others as you would like to be treated” is pretty straightforward, but putting it into practice might be a little harder. Older kids (theoretically) have the self-control and self-awareness to handle this better than younger kids. Little kids are so self-absorbed and unaware of their impact on others (and I mean that with no malice) that they cannot truly grasp what behavior is expected of them or why their actions are considered “wrong” or “disrespectful.” Prior to a certain age, kids may know what they’re doing is wrong, but they can’t, for the life of them, stop themselves. They have no impulse control. My children, at 5 and 7, are somewhere in between.
I try to tackle the “Golden Rule” respect (for lack of a better term, and with no religious implications whatsoever, as I am an atheist) on a situational basis. I assume positive intent with my children. They’re good kids. They’re kind and positive and truly embrace life. I expect them to treat others well, and when they don’t, I try not to punish them but discuss what might have been more appropriate. (By discussing the problem with them, I am showing them respect as thinking beings and working with them to solve the issue at hand.) When they mess up – and believe me, they do regularly – I pull them aside and talk about what’s happening. Sometimes it’s embarrassing and public, (I hate those times!) but most times I try to make it discreet and nurturing. Sometimes intervention from a parent or “authority figure” is necessary. (I also hate those times!) Sometimes an apology is required. Sometimes they just need to offer an explanation. As a general rule with our kids in their daily interactions, both parties in a situation should walk away from it feeling good. That, to me, indicates respect.
Now into the harder piece: self-respect.
Before kids can show – or even feel – true respect for others, they must have it for themselves. Prior to that understanding, they are just copying behaviors and doing as they are told, like using manners or making apologies in the explanations above. (And don’t get me wrong, I’m not belittling that! Modeling is an important part of kids learning appropriate behavior until they understand the meaning behind their actions.) Self-respect is vital to a healthy life and society.
Respect for yourself is fundamental and can be surprisingly difficult to teach. I always tell my kids that they are the most important person in their own lives. No one else should ever be put above themselves in any kind of fundamental way. This doesn’t always jive with the messages they receive from the rest of society. A rational self-interest is so important. You do what you need to do to make yourself happy (without harming others, of course) and armed with that happiness, you can pass it on and make your world a better place for yourself, your family and all those you care about. If you respect yourself, you will earn respect and show respect for others.
Part of self-respect is honesty. Be honest with yourself and others at all times. By doing so, you are showing respect for yourself – that what you say, do and think is important – and showing respect for others – you can be trusted and are a person of your word. Telling the truth is another big one in my house. If you’re naughty, you will get in trouble. If you’re naughty and you lie about it, you will get in BIG trouble. When you can trust yourself and others can trust you, respect is possible. Without that knowledge, only manners are possible. Kids really need to understand this and be rewarded for stepping up and being honest, even when it’s not ideal or comfortable.
Above all, the best way to teach respect is to show respect. Kids do as they see. Surround them with good examples – primarily yourself. Use good manners, tell the truth, conduct yourself in a way you can be proud of and treat other people well, even if they don’t always deserve it. It’s pretty simple. And when there are bad examples – and there are so many of them to choose from, from road rage, to graffiti, to TV, to poor customer service, to their friends, to celebrities, and on and on and on – point it out and use it as an opportunity to discuss. It’s nice for kids to learn from a bad behavior that isn’t their own!
Good luck. It’s not an easy task, but it is SO important. Your kids, their teachers, their friends and your future grandchildren will thank you for instilling it!