Respect: Why You’re Losing It and How to Get it Back

Do you have children that are respectful and polite around others, but often give you the rolling eye or make snarky comments at a simple request you make? Of course, you tell your child this behavior isn’t acceptable, but it seems to fall on deaf ears. What gives?

Plays Nice With Others, Just Not You

You can’t help but beam with pride when you see your son open a door for a lady at Target, or when you secretly notice your daughter at school as she listens to her teacher’s instructions and performs the task with a smile. Yet, when you ask your child to pick up her toys she refuses and yells at you. What up with that?

It’s possible this behavior has been building momentum, but because you let some things slip by, you haven’t noticed how bad it’s become. Maybe you’re just not sure how to change the behavior, so you’ve gotten used to it. Perhaps you really don’t expect too much positive behavior, because it fits the expectations you created early on by not fully paying attention to the disrespectful behavior. It doesn’t matter what the reason is – the positive news is that you’re fed up enough to change this dysfunctional pattern.

Present Yourself as a Parent

First things are the parent, the coach, the teacher and the rule maker. It is your responsibility to teach your children how to be polite, respectful and kind to others and to you. The parent-child relationship isn’t a friendship. There will be times when your child doesn’t like you because they don’t want to stop playing to wash their hands for dinner, or when you refuse to buy candy when paying for groceries. It’s OK. Don’t take it personally if they scowl or frown at you.

Presentation is Everything

You can’t just do an about face and become a ruthless dictator. That will just create a different set of problems. Respect is learned and earned. The goal is to present the information you need your child to hear in a way that they will comply.

  • Be direct. Make statements instead of asking questions. For example, when your child starts to squirm and hop on and off their chair during dinner, say “Please sit down until we are all done eating,” instead of “Are you full?”
  • Make eye contact when you give instructions. Don’t yell from the top of the stairs.
  • Be clear and specific when you give instructions. Say “Please take your plate to the sink,” as opposed to “Don’t forget to take care of your dishes before you start your homework.”
  • Don’t give a mouthful of instructions that are long and confusing, especially if your child has attention challenges. One task at a time works best.
  • Unless it’s an urgent command protecting their safety, take the time to help your child understand the reasoning behind the instruction. “It’s snowing. Please pack your snow pants and mittens for recess. I don’t want you to get wet and cold.”
  • Limit yourself from repeating instructions. Give your child a few seconds to understand and cooperate. If need be, repeat in a calm manner. Children will often ask you to repeat it or pretend they don’t understand something so you’ll intervene and just do it yourself.

Natural Consequences Work…Sometimes

Some of us may have a stubborn kid who will plant their feet firmly and flat out refuse to budge when you ask them to do something. Natural consequences are the best teachers for all of us. We forget to wear sunscreen and get sunburned, for example. Or if your child didn’t pack their snow pants for recess, chances are they won’t be allowed to go for outside recess. If they refuse to say “please”, they don’t get the cookie.

Dishing Out Discipline

When natural consequences don’t get the message across, you can still pull in the reins of respect. Remember, the end goal is to gain respect. Punishing in haste by yelling or taking away a fundamental need like food isn’t going to give you the results you want. Think of consequences in terms aiding the learning process. Try these science-based tips as recommended by Erica Reischer, Ph.D., blogger of What Great Parents Do. And always make sure to keep consequences:

  • Meaningful (something important to the child, such as favorite toys, clothes, or activities);
  • Relevant (related to the situation, if possible); and
  • Proportionate to the offense (the more important the rule broken, the more serious the consequence).

Your children won’t be singing your praises, but just know that you are sending a strong message that respect is an important life lesson that will help them succeed and function as contributing members of society. In time, they will thank you for the valuable lessons you taught them!

Have you lost your kids’ respect? How do you plan on getting it back? Share your stories and tips with us!

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