Teaching Our Children Respect

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6 KJV).

My pulse races faster than an Indy 500 driver when I see a child act disrespectfully in public. I confess I desire to meddle in the situation, knowing it would likely become messier than a toddler eating Spaghetti-O’s. I hear people grumble, “Kids these days…” and I know I’m not alone.

No child is perfect, yet respectful children, teens, and young adults do still exist. When children do act disrespectfully, parents can often feel helpless as to how to redirect behavior. Understanding what respect is and sharing some respect teaching tools can guide us to healthier relationships. Lets look at respect through the lens of faith and see how we can improve our relationships.

Understanding Respect

We know respect when we see it, but it's hard to define. Webster’s defines respect as: “to regard as worthy of special consideration; to consider worthy of esteem; or, to regard with honor.” Respect sends a message that someone is valuable; he or she has worth.

Most people consider respect something given and something earned. This is Biblical. Paul reminds us, “Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor” (Romans 13:7, NIV).

Most would agree that we should treat family and friends respectfully because of our personal relationship with them. However, if we believe that Jesus valued all of humanity enough to die on the cross for them, we should also value other people as well. In fact, God commands us by saying, “Show proper respect to everyone...” (1 Peter 2:17a, NIV).

Philippians 2:3-4 describes it this way: “Don't be selfish; don't try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don't look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too” (NLT). This is the attitude that God calls us to cultivate, motivating our choices and priorities.

Respect Teaching Tools

Everyone needs these respect teaching tools:

  1. The most basic form of respect is not to belittle others. Within families that can mean simple rules like, no hitting, no name-calling, no ridicule. No belittling a fellow child of God. Don't allow it at home and it will seem wrong in public.
  2. Be sure the family is on the same page. Respect looks different to different people. For example, I consider eye contact while speaking respectful, while in some cultures it is considered challenging and disrespectful. If the parents don’t agree, children become confused and sometimes resentful (Colossians 3:21).
  3. Keep expectations in line with ages and abilities. People become more capable with age. Expecting a lively 2-year-old to sit quietly in the church pew for an hour without something to do is probably asking for trouble.
  4. Be consistent with respect rules and consequences. Just like other types of rules, they are only taken seriously if expectations and consequences are consistent. Many parents fear discipline. If you fear losing your child’s love, take comfort! In Hebrews 12:9, God said it works! “Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it.”
  5. Model it. The saying, “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t work. Jesus called those people hypocrites (Matthew 7:3-5). Kids WILL do what we do, particularly before middle-school when peer influence increases. Modeling respect includes body language: no eye-rolling, not texting or emailing work while she is talking, or letting him know you are listening by nodding occasionally.
  6. Apologize--without excuses. This means no: “I’m sorry, but…” Healing happens when we confess, both within ourselves and within relationship (James 5:16, NIV).
  7. Teach consequences, good and bad. And start young! Point out how one choice affects others (e.g.: “Thank you. You waited to talk so I was listening better…”). For kids 7-12, it helps to draw it out, working toward the child drawing it out. Only use real situations. For kids over 12, you can discuss hypothetical situations or possible future choices. (e.g.: You attend a job interview and choose to hold the door open for a mom with a baby. She feels grateful and tells her husband. Her husband is the manager and frustrated with disrespectful people. He decides this makes the difference and hires you).

Sometimes we try and it feels like nothing gets through, but we can’t give up. The world fights for our children’s hearts and attitudes. Study God’s word for ways to improve. Get on the same page with your spouse and show them what respect looks like. Be real and accountable about weaknesses. Apologize when needed. Teach about the consequences of disrespect and rewards of respect. And someday, when our children are old, they will not depart from it.

About the author — Debi Mitchell, MS, LMFT

Debi Mitchell is an Indiana Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at Chicago Christian Counseling Center. Debi has extensive experience working with adolescent behavioral and emotional issues, family counseling, grief/loss, trauma, depression, anxiety, and working through difficult adjustments to life changes. Her greatest desire is to reflect the light of Christ in the midst of life’s dark moments.

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