Are you concerned that your child doesn’t respect you? Does he talk back, roll his eyes, or walk away while you’re talking?

Teaching respectful behavior (and correcting disrespectful behavior) takes consistency, calm, and follow-through. A good place to start is by considering how you define respect and what respectful communication means to you.

Many of our ideas about respect are red herrings, distracting us from the basic idea of treating all of humanity with honor and dignity. The dictionary defines the word in terms of admiration and esteem, but America’s Supernanny, parenting expert Deborah Tillman, prefers defining it as something everyone deserves, based on the idea that that every individual is a person of worth. “Respect is about the attitude we have, the attention to others that we give, and the acceptance that we show,” she says.

So what do you do to create more respect in your family? The first step, Tillman says, is to model it. Next, teach kids how you expect them to treat you and others. It’s never too early to start. You may think your precociously smart-mouthed 3-year-old is adorable and laugh at her sass, but you’re setting yourself up for more of the same behavior as she grows up. Instead, tell your child (respectfully) that you expect them to use a respectful tone and language. Teach them to say please and thank you and to hold the door for the person behind them. And consider what you mean when you say “respect.”

6 myths and misconceptions about respect

  1. Respect is not about liking or admiring; nor is it about reverence, esteem, or awe, as most dictionaries say. It’s not putting someone on a pedestal or about certain people deserving respect. It’s about treating all human beings with care and courtesy.
  2. Respect is not obedience, compliance, or agreement. When your children spread their wings or test their boundaries or argue with you, it may feel like disrespect. But disagreement is not the same as disrespect.

    How you disagree — for instance, by insulting someone’s intelligence or disparaging their opinion — may show a lack of respect. Parents can help their children learn this distinction, Tillman says, by encouraging kids to voice their own unique opinions and teaching them that while their opinion won’t necessarily change your mind, they are welcome to express it in a respectful way.
  3. Respect is not fear. A parent who gets obedience by instilling fear may get results, but that’s not respect. Instilling fear in your child can breed a lot of other feelings, such as hate, contempt, or irritation, but it’s unlikely to develop into respect. And it doesn’t teach a child about why they are or are not allowed to do something. Fear-based parenting is a poor communication method, Tillman says.
  4. Respect is not earned. “I have worked with many teens who say respect has to be earned. I don’t know where they got that idea,” Tillman says. “It’s not easy but you have to be accountable for what you do, and let God deal with the other person.”
  5. Respect is not eye contact. Eye contact is a cultural norm in the United States, where it is considered a sign of interest, honesty and respect. However, in some Middle Eastern countries, it can get you in trouble — especially if you’re a woman looking at a man. It can get you in trouble in some Latin American, African, and Asian countries as well because it’s almost a challenge. So be aware that people of different backgrounds may find eye contact confusing and disrespectful.
  6. Respect is not common courtesy and manners. These things can convey respect, but they don’t encompass what respect is at its root. Respect is not just a learned habit. What is considered courteous may differ from culture to culture, region to region, generation to generation, and family to family. But respect — treating each human being with care and consideration — is the same thing universally.

One dad shares his frustrations as he tries to get his daughter’s respect.

Richard Weissbourd, child and family psychologist at Harvard, says tell your kids what you expect in regards to how they treat others.


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