How to Explain Respect to a Child | Children's Bureau



How to Teach Kids How to Have Respect in Relationships

Teaching respect can get tricky. Just saying the word respect can get a bad reaction from a child who feels like he’s being attacked or punished. So, how do you explain respect to a young child? When explaining respect to your child, focusing on empathy may be a better approach. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Many parents use the “Golden Rule” to explain this concept. The Golden Rule is found in every religion and asks us to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The power of this statement is in its simplicity. If your child begins to hit, you can stop him and explain that what he did caused you pain. By showing your child that rude actions and disrespectful behaviour have consequences for other people, you will be giving them a tangible concept to latch onto when explaining respect for kids.

Show Don’t Tell

Figuring out how to explain respect to a child is no easy task. To truly teach children empathy and respect, you will have to start with yourself. Children watch and mirror what you do, regardless of what you try to teach them. Don’t forget – your child is like a sponge. Every time you talk to your child, they are learning about respect or disrespect in relationships. Your job as a parent is to be aware of your actions and be a role model of respectful behavior and good manners for your children when reacting to them. When talking about relationships, the following are ways you can teach and model respect for kids:

Be Mindful About How You Communicate. Anger Management is a character trait parents try to teach their children, but it is often the parents who react to children out of anger without thinking and taking the time to get themselves into a calmer state. Next time your children do something that upsets you, take a minute to breathe and calm yourself before reacting.

Be Reliable and Accountable. Respect for others means doing what you said you’ll do. You may do your best to follow through on the promises made to your employer and your partner, but what about your children? When you make a promise that you’ll take your child to the park, do you keep that promise? Children deserve the same mutual respect you give your work and spouse but are often given secondary status. By showing them you care enough about them to be reliable, you are giving them a model to follow in their own lives.  

Actively Listen. An easy way to show mutual respect when speaking with your child is to repeat back to them what they said. This small action lets them know you are paying attention, and any confusion between the two of you can get cleared up right away without developing into an argument or showcase of disrespectful behavior. 

Be Honest. Honesty encourages attitudes of trust and acceptance in a healthy relationship. At times it may not feel easy or possible to be honest with children, but it is something you should strive for. Children are smarter than they are given credit for, so when you are dishonest, there is a good chance they’ve already realized it and may reflect that through their behavior.

Understand and Empathize. “You don’t know what it’s like!” You’ve heard this before, but do you ever take the time to ask yourself what life must be like for your child? What are they going through? What are they feeling? It’s been a while since you were a child, and the world is very different now. The key to an empathetic, healthy relationship is to consider things from their perspective. You may be surprised by the lessons your child has already learned from their peers or their classroom, and what they are dealing with daily.

Teach Respect For Yourself

By modeling respectful behavior for your child, you are not only teaching respect for others but also teaching your child to respect themselves. This is a lesson often forgotten by parents. Your child deserves to feel safe and valued. As they grow to become a respectful adult, they deserve to be respected as their own person and given a chance to make their own decisions whenever possible. 

In addition to the behaviors above, you can teach this lesson by helping your child gain independence, problem-solving skills, and decision-making skills. As children grow, they become less reliant on their parents and need to gain the ability to learn and make the right choices for themselves. While it may be hard, you shouldn’t jump into every tough situation they face. When your young child faces a problem, the best course of action is to speak with your child about the problem and work with them to find a solution. When you don’t automatically solve the problem for them, you encourage them to think of the options and consequences before acting. They will now have the confidence and tools to work through issues themselves in a positive way, and won’t look for others to solve their problems.  

As children grow and reach different childhood development stages, the lessons about relationships you teach your kids will stay with them throughout their lives. Children’s Bureau offers programs and resources to help parents with difficult lessons like these. Visit our parenting blog or talk to our helpful representatives today.

Reviewed by Jose A. Ramos Jr., Director of Prevention
Jose A. Ramos Jr., MSW, is the Director of Primary Prevention at Children’s Bureau. He has worked with Children’s Bureau since 1994 and has over 30-years of experience working in the Child Welfare field. He has a master’s degree in social work from the University of Long Beach and is earning his MBA. Jose is also Secretary of the National Association of Social Workers

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