There are many important values that we need to teach our kids, but in my opinion one of the most challenging is teaching respect. Actually, it’s more than just teaching our children what respect is, it’s training them to be respectful … and that’s where the problem lies.
From the moment of birth, children are “me” centered. Their sole focus is on having their needs fulfilled—for food, for rest, for comfort. Then, as they grow and become more aware of their world, they start to understand the world of “others.” Lesson by lesson they learn the world does not center on them. What a concept!
Here are two ways to teach respect to preschoolers. You’ll be amazed by how just two things can change everything!
1. Use respectful language. From your child’s first words we begin to teach respect. “Mama” and “Dada” are loving terms, but they also establish the relationship. They teach children that their parents are not equal to the rest of the world.
From the earliest ages teach your little one how to respect others by using proper terms to define the relationship. Growing up, our kids Cory, Leslie, and Nathan were taught to use the terms “Mr. and Mrs.” when speaking to adults. For example even our closest friends were Mr. and Mrs. Klundt or Mr. and Mrs. Norick. Our children had wonderful relationships with our friends, and now that they are adults they still do! The more formal term did not hinder the relationship in the slightest, but it did teach our children a level of respect.
Now that we live in the South we are teaching our children “Miss” and “Mr.” with the use of first names. For example some of our friends are Mr. Andy, Miss Hannah and Mr. Bruce and Miss Cindy. (Of course they are not really “Miss” but that’s how things are done here.) Again the purpose is to train our children not to treat adults the same way you treat friends.
2. Teach right responses. For many years we thought our daughter was shy. Anytime someone at the store, at church, or in any public place would approach Leslie she’d run away and hide behind us. She’d refuse to respond. We’d coax her to answer—to say hello or thank you—but it never worked. In the end we’d just apologize and use the excuse, “She’s shy.”
Then, through a parenting curriculum John and I realized we’d never taught our daughter how to respond. After that we started practicing. We’d act out situations, and we taught her what a good response looks like. We taught her that 1) she had to acknowledge the person talking; 2) she had to smile; and 3) she had to give a short reply such as, “yes,” “no,” or “thank you.”
We practiced with Leslie before we went to places like church or a party, and we rewarded her when she complied. It was amazing how our “shy” child opened up. Once she had the right tools she started having conversations with those talking to her, even at the age of three! Teaching right responses teaches respect because our children learn that people are worthy of an answer.
Training children can be overwhelming and a lot of work, but teaching your children how to be respectful in these two ways will build a strong foundation for more lessons to come!