Teaching Our Kids Respect
Respect is a big words for parents. Usually when we talk about respect, we talk about things like respecting our rules, respecting me as a parent or respecting that when I ask you to do something, it needs to get done. But I actually see these things as a bi-product of respect, not signs of respect itself.
There are many different definitions of respect (it can be a noun with a number of different connotations, a verb, an idiom…) but the one that I think most parents are referring to when they talk about respect is “the condition of being esteemed or honored: to be held in respect.” (That definition is from www.dictionary.com and the italics are theirs). Being esteemed and honoured is not exactly the same thing as being listened to or obeyed — although being listened to or obeyed may be a sign that someone respects you or a result of being respected.
For me, being respected as a parent means that kids see us as being human, too, with human needs like being listened to, heard, treated politely. It means that they value our opinions, not because we force them to, but because they have experienced that we know what we’re talking about and what we think genuinely matters to them. And they’ve experienced that we have their best interests as our main priority. I think it also inevitably means that they sense that we respect them, too. I think it’s harder for us as humans to respect someone we don’t think particularly cares for us, or someone who shows a blatant lack of respect for others. The ol’ what-goes-around-comes-around mentality: if you don’t respect me, I don’t see the need to respect you.
There has been a greater and greater shift toward a notion of respect needing to be earned, not just demanded. Our parents and grandparents, for example, may have insisted that we “respect” them just because they were older and more experienced and, well, they may not have exactly told us why we needed to respect them, they just made clear that we did. But that expectation is changing. We can’t make someone respect us, and our kids seem to have an inherent understanding of that. This can be frustrating and infuriating for parents who are appalled at some of the behaviour of their kids — watching them do things they wouldn’t have dared to do in front of their own parents. But instead of being angered by this lack of respect, perhaps we can change our perspective to look at it as a new opportunity. Lots of us appeared to have respected our parents…but not all of us actually did. Not all of us actually even liked our parents. Is that the kind of relationship we want to have with our kids? Do we want children who do what we tell them to do, but haven’t actually internalized the reasons for any of it (they’re doing it just because they were told to), or kids who do what we tell them to do, but actually resent us and do what they can to undermine our authority, whether we’re aware of it or not?
I’m going to guess that what most parents today want is actual, bone fide, true respect from our kids. How do we get that? We start by being people deserving of respect. That includes living life with integrity, treating others the way we want to be treated, setting a good example for our kids, and respecting ourselves. Kids are very quick to pick up on hypocrisy, and that “do as I say, not as I do” thing really does not fly with them. So respecting our kids, as individuals, as important, as the ultimate decision-makers in their own lives, is also critical. We need to lead authentic lives and be the kind of people worth respecting — that’s the only way to gain the true respect of our children.