How to Discipline Your Child - Teach Respect

What a pleasure to meet a respectful child! Raising a respectful child is one of the three Rs (responsibility, respect, and resiliency) that are part of a parent's job description.

"No, my do it. Get away." That's normal for a three-year-old to say. But it's disrespectful for a thirteen-year-old to say, "I don't have to do that if I don't want to."

A child can disrespect herself: "I'm so stupid" or "Nobody wants to eat lunch with me at school; I guess I'll just need to eat by myself."

Respect is a learned behavior, and the learning curve is full of obstacles. We'll look at three in particular: (1) it's a human tendency to look out for oneself first and ignore another person's needs; (2) it's tough to encourage a child's independence and at the same time look out for another person's needs; and (3) it's easy for children to handle mistakes too harshly and disrespect themselves. Let's briefly cover how to deal with these roadblocks.

Looking out for oneself first. If you don't think this is a human tendency, spend an hour with a toddler. If children don't progress past this attitude, respect for others will not develop. But don't skip validating your child's needs and feelings as you teach respect for others. Telling your child he should be disappointed or mad when a teacher's been mean is essential. After that, the second step works better: teaching your child how to deal respectfully with his teacher.

When your thirteen-year-old argues, take the time to hear her point, support parts or all of what she says, and sometimes change your mind-in favor of what your child says. Most parents skip step one (supporting a child's feelings) and go directly to step two: teaching respectful behavior. Don't make that mistake.

Balancing independence with looking out for other people's needs. Alex yells at the principal, saying it's not fair that he got an after-school suspension when his friends did the same thing and got off scot-free. That's independent thinking, but the comments are disrespectful. Alex's parents have done a good job helping Alex to know and respect his needs, but the delivery needs some work. How to balance independence and respect for others is a tough skill to teach, but it can be done with enough practice.

Handling mistakes too harshly. As a teenager, Erin spends too much time doing perfect homework and sometimes does not try activities because she can't do them perfectly. Four-year-old Taylor has a temper tantrum every time he can't find a puzzle piece or can't get a Lego piece to fit right. These children have learned that mistakes make them feel bad about themselves, rather than using mistakes to learn and improve.

Parents need to decrease this excessive internal harshness by focusing on and supporting the child's feelings that are causing the problem. Let's say Erin tells her parents she doesn't want to disappoint them by getting Bs or Cs. Now the parents know the source of the pressure and can reduce the grade expectation. Don't expect this internal harshness to go away overnight, however. It'll take several weeks to see the results of this approach of feelings first, correcting behavior second.

Here's the take-home lesson: Establish your child's self-respect, and teaching respect for others will be a lot easier.

Gary M Unruh MSW LCSW has counseled more than 2500 children and their families for over forty years. Read about his breakthrough parenting approach, Unleashing Parental Love, in his award winning 2010 book, Unleashing the Power of Parental Love: 4 Steps to Raising Respectful and Self-Confident Kids.

Visit his website for more information (media section included):

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