“A person’s a person, no matter how small.” – Dr. Suess.
Oh how right the great Suess is.
What if we have been going about this whole ‘Respect Your Elders’ thing all wrong? How is it possible to expect children to respect anyone if they don’t know what being respected feels like? To a child, it is just a word. Just like everything else in parenthood, it is our job to teach this character trait. But how? So many people, typically of our parents’ generation, will preach that to teach respect, you should instill strict discipline rules, including isolation (time out), spanking, and causing a child to fear you. But I beg to disagree. Fear is not respect. A child who is afraid of punishment is not truly respectful; he is acting this way to protect himself from certain emotions or pain.
The definition of respect is “a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.”
When reading and rereading this term, it makes you wonder just how you can teach a child to respect others. What if I told you that the answer is simple?
If you want to have a respectful child, all you need to do is show your child respect.
It sounds almost foreign, to respect a child, but think about it; a child learns through actions and experiences. A child will understand how important he feels when his thoughts, ideas, and wishes are respected (instead of mocked or pushed aside, as most children’s are), and therefore, he will grow into a respectful individual because he will truly value the abilities, qualities and achievements of others – no matter their age.
Allowing Your Young Child To Make His Own Decisions – And Respecting Those Decisions
A toddler or young child will rarely make the same decision you, the parent, would make. But is his decision the wrong one? Running out into a busy road? Yes, that is the wrong decision, and it is your job to stop your child and turn it into a teachable moment. But wearing rainboots and a Halloween costume to a fancy event? That decision is not exactly wrong, it’s just not the same decision that you would make.
I am not talking about letting your child run your house. I’m not talking about letting your child run wild. With respect, comes boundaries. The difference lies within how these boundaries are created. When respect is given, the boundaries are easily laid and followed, but when boundaries are enforced without respect, they are challenged, crossed and laughed at.
Granting Respect to Your Child:
- Provokes Honesty: A child told to respect others repeats as a parrot does. He says the ‘right’ things even when he does not feel them. A respected child feels as though his opinion matters and will speak the truth in a humble manner, just as he experiences with you.
- Creates Trust: When a child is respected, a circle of trust forms. He feels safe talking to you about things that may be hard to talk about. He feels valued and supported in moments that seem scary and overwhelming. A child who is told to be respectful, but is not respected by his parents is more likely to fear instead of trust.
- Instills Empathy: Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. This is impossible to do unless a person understands his own feelings. A child is learning and absorbing new emotions and feelings all the time, respecting these allows for a child to empathize with others naturally. It is common for parents to brush aside a young child’s feelings and to tell them the ‘right’ way to feel -“Don’t be upset, you’re okay.” “You love her. Go give her a hug.”- but in doing so, the child distrust his own feelings and cannot relate well to others.
- Models Kindness: When you grant respect to others, you are being kind. Kindness is learned through actions not lectures. Raising a truly kind-hearted child is completely possible, IF you demonstrate that behavior and characteristic throughout your own relationships.
- Allows Self-Empowerment (and self-worth): When you feel respected, you feel confident. The same is true for a child. Allowing your child to make and follow through with decisions grants him the pride he needs to value himself and his opinions.
- Supports Creativity: There is no faster way to mold a child to fit into society’s expectations than to break their uniqueness and wonder. Enforcing boundaries without giving constant respect, and belittling emotions or decisions sucks the creative soul from a child. Providing support, respect, and creative outlets when your child demonstrates a passion or idea allows creativity to blossom.
- Builds a Foundation of Well-Roundedness: The ultimate goal of parenthood is to produce a well-rounded, kind-hearted member of society. The best way to do so is to live a well-rounded life, full of accepted emotions, curiosity, exploration, hugs, apologies, and respect.
When your 4-year-old decides that pink hair is a necessity, hair chalk or washable color shampoo will validate his decision.
When your 5-year-old is put into an uncomfortable position by an elder, he may have the ability to trust in his own decisions to walk away instead of “respecting that elder.”
You see, this is much more than creating a ‘respectful child;’ there is a bigger picture here. This young child has his own life to live; one that is built layer upon layer from the foundation of his childhood. The absolute most valuable thing you can do as a parent is to respect him, his abilities, his qualities, his body, his rights, his beliefs, and his dreams. It is this action that will allow his self-confidence and self-worth to become unwavering and solid pieces of his foundation.