Teaching Children to Respect Others

In today’s social and political climate, respect is often seen as optional and not required.  “If they don’t respect me, I’m not going to respect them” is often the prevalent attitude.  How can you raise your children to be different in such a society?  While it may be difficult, it’s not impossible to raise children to be kind and respectful and considerate of others.

Respect is defined as “worthy of high regard, to esteem.”  That is a lofty pursuit for many of us.  How often do we consider other people worthy of high regard, especially when they are being inconsiderate of us?  If we were to review our actions, we might be surprised at the times we fail to live up to that definition.  Basically, respect is being considerate of other people.  It’s following the golden rule: “do unto others as you want them to do unto you.”  It means to treat them how you want to be treated.  There are many slogans and expressions that we use but never really think about in regards to respecting others.  But to teach our children, we have to truly understand what it means and how we are to live that out in our daily lives.

Children learn by watching others, especially their parents.  For young children, their parents are the people they most emulate.  For them to learn respect, they will watch how you treat your spouse, people at work and those in line at the grocery store and even yourself.  Respecting others begins with showing yourself respect.  True respect is not a martyr attitude.  It’s treating everyone as worthy and that includes the person in the mirror.

How can you demonstrate respect?  You can show it by modeling respect in your words and actions.  Say thank you and please to family members.  Let others go in front of you in the store.  Say “excuse me” when you must cut in front of someone.  Your children are watching you and they will copy what they see.  Don’t talk about people negatively and don’t call them names.  And when you slip up, as we all do, let your children know it was a mistake.

Respecting others includes your children, too.  Don’t forget to use the polite words with them, adding please when you ask them to do something and thank you once they’ve done what you asked.  If they know you respect them and see them as people of worth, they will look at you in the same way.  Then as you treat others with respect, they will model your behavior because they respect you and want to be like you.

Take time to listen when your children talk to you.  Stop what you’re doing and look at them when they talk.  It tells them by your actions that they are important.  This begins with toddlers and continues throughout their childhood.  By the time they reach their teens, they will know that you truly listen to them.  And when you enforce rules, explain the reasons.  No, you don’t have to because you’re the parent, but it’s another way to show your children that you respect them enough to explain things to them.

When your children see others not being respectful, you need to discuss it with them.  Teach them that not everyone behaves the way they should and then explain how it should have been handled.  This is not being negative about someone but showing that their actions were not positive.  Kids are going to be treated disrespectfully by other kids sometime in their lives, but you don’t want that to influence their behavior.  Talking about those kinds of situations can be an opportunity to teach them.

The only way we can change a culture is to begin at home with our own children.  Our influence begins with the people who watch us every day.  By teaching our kids to be respectful, we can raise a generation who respects and cares about others instead of the violent, angry people we often see in the news.  That is truly a legacy for which we can be proud to pass down.

About Marion Witte

Marion Witte was born and raised on a farm on the prairies of North Dakota. It was there that she acquired her Midwestern work ethic and her philosophy of helping others. Marion enjoyed a successful career as an entrepreneur, and upon selling her various business interests she began pursuing a life of philanthropy. She is passionate and outspoken about the need for radical changes in the way we view children and parenting. Her memoir “Little Madhouse on the Prairie” relays the story of her life, and it is the basis of her commitment to this work. She founded and manages the Angel Heart Foundation and its sister organizations “Next Generation Parenting” and “Brave New Leaders.”

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