Respect Your Elders

In today's society, and at younger and younger ages, people are increasingly horrified by the rude attitude and foul language used by young people of all ages. From the five year old who defiantly puts her hands on her hips, lifts one eyebrow and declares to her mother "You're stupid, and I don't have to do what you say" to the four letter words that erupt from the mouths of teenagers, lack of respect for one's elders appears to be increasingly prevalent. How then do we engage (or even demand) the respect of our children? And how do we encourage them to show respect to others as well?

A wise man once said "Respect is something you have to have in order to get." Let's take a look at what, exactly, that phrase means and how we, as parents, can put it to practical use in order to garner respect and improve our relationship with our children.

First of all, is that phrase even true? To see, try this exercise: Think for a moment about the people in your life with whom you have a relationship and for whom you have the most respect - not "grudging respect" but honest "wow, that person is amazing" respect. You will probably find that they are people who have shown you respect as well. That the feeling is mutual. Respect begets respect. The one who is respected is the one who has acted in respectful ways towards you and others.

This same principle is true of our children. However, before we mistakenly jump to false conclusions, it's important to be clear about what respect does not mean before we can discover its practical applications. Respect does not mean allowing your children to get away with misbehavior. Respecting them is not about becoming permissive or even about understanding their feelings to the degree that you let them get away with murder. In fact, children learn to respect their parents not only when they are treated respectfully by them, but also when parents are clear about the limits they set with children and enforce those limits in a firm and loving way. Children feel respect for parents who know and care about the job of parenting. However, if parents expect to win the respect of their children solely through the setting of limits, they stand to be disappointed. Time after time, it is the children who have been given the combination of respect and limits who are the most respectful towards others in society.

So, how can we make this practical? What are the things that parents can do to feel respectful towards their children and to communicate that respect on a daily basis?

If you need to work on feeling more respectful towards your children, try the following:

* Separate who your child is from his behavior. Even when your child misbehaves, understand that he is always a human being and as such deserves respect even if his behavior requires that you discipline him.

* Make a list of your child's strengths. Avoid naming the things she does (like taking her plate to the kitchen after a meal.) Focus instead on the traits or qualities that are her strengths. For example, that she has a good sense of humor or that she's kind to animals. Be careful not to qualify your statements with the word "but" as in "She's kind to animals, but she could be kinder to humans." In addition, avoid using irony or sarcasm. For example: "She has a good sense of humor. Too bad she can't stop being the `class clown'". Irony, sarcasm and using the word "but" are all disrespectful. Once you have a list of your child's positive traits or qualities, you'll want to focus on them mentally when her behavior starts to make you feel disrespectful towards her.

Feeling more respectful towards our children helps, but we must also communicate that respect to them in order to be good role models of respectful behavior and to help them start acting in more respectful ways towards others. The following tips can help us communicate more respectfully:

* Treat your child as you yourself would want to be treated. (This is the old "Golden Rule" that you may remember from your own childhood, although it was often used to reprimand children rather than to encourage all people to behave more respectfully!) If you wouldn't appreciate being spoken to in a particular tone of voice, then focus on not using that tone with your child either.

* State limits using clear, directive language that doesn't attack or belittle your child. Instead of saying "That was stupid" when he forgets to do his homework, say "I feel worried when you don't remember. I'd like you to make a note on the calendar when your assignments are due so that you won't forget next time." Remember that if your child does not heed your request, you may have to follow it with a consequence. Consequences are not disrespectful if they're spelled out to your child ahead of time and if they are followed through in a firm and loving way.

* Write her notes daily - or at least from time to time - that point out the qualities or traits she has that you admire. In this way, you will build upon her strengths. It's the day to day encouragement that our children receive for their positive traits or behaviors that makes them want to behave well and act more respectfully towards us.

The combination of your changing feelings of respect and your burgeoning ability to communicate that respect to your child will in turn change his behavior towards you and towards others. As he begins to feel more respected, he will feel freer to show respect. And your positive role modeling will help him learn to communicate his more respectful feelings clearly and meaningfully.