All parents want to be respected by their children. If children are disrespectful, parents sometimes try to teach them respect by punishing, or yelling and screaming. This may change their behavior and may elicit compliance, but it will not win respect. This is not to say that disrespect should be ignored. If we allow others to treat us disrespectfully, then we are not respecting ourselves. Respect is generated, essentially, by treating others the way we would like to be treated.
From very early on, children need to be made aware of how their behavior affects others. Rather than simply saying that hitting is bad, which leaves the inference that the child is bad for hitting, we must go further. It is important to explain that when you hit your brother, it makes him very sad. It might even make him afraid. ‘Hitting is not something we do in our family. If you are very upset, I will help you with your feelings, and help you to solve the problem you are having. You are important to me, and your feelings are important. We will find a way to sort things out without hitting, and in a way that let’s everyone feel okay.’
This kind of communication is highly effective, because there is congruency between the message, and the way in which it is given. In other words, we are teaching the child about respect in a way that also respects that child. Spanking a child while telling him that hitting is wrong makes no sense at all. Nor does speaking rudely to a child about showing more respect. It is when we fail to practice what we preach that the seeds of disrespect are born.
Consider the politician who advocates fiscal restraint while giving himself a pay raise. Even a young child can spot discrepancies between our words and our actions. If they are later punished for behavior that they have modeled from us, then there will be not only disrespect, but also resentment. If children are little, you can implement strategies which foster mutual respect.
What if your children are older, and the negative patterns are well established? There is still hope. Sit down with your children and tell them that you are aware that you have all been treating each other with disrespect. Indicate that you are no longer comfortable with this, and will henceforth be endeavoring to say what you have to say to them in a more respectful manner.
Change must begin somewhere, so you will be the first volunteer. You may certainly request that they do the same. There may still be consequences for inappropriate behavior, because you are the parent and must set boundaries. You may even ask them to gently remind you if you drop back to the old ways. If you show them that you are sincere and committed to raising the level of integrity in your communication with them, they will respect you for that. If you blow it, and can apologize for being disrespectful, they will respect you even more. You will also be demonstrating for them the way in which they can begin the process of positive change within themselves. It takes patience, persistence and time to change old patterns. And it’s totally worth it.
Copyright © Gwen Randall-Young, All Rights Reserved. Contact us if you would like permission to reprint.
CDs You May be Interested In:
Healing the Past
Love Your Body Love Yourself
Thinking for Yourself (Empowerment for Youth)