A little respect, please

December 6, 2011 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School, Middle Years

My teenager was upset. She had been waiting to drop off our puppy at the groomer’s when an older woman entered the shop. Hannah stared wordlessly as the woman strode past her to the counter, her small dog in her arms. The woman started to speak before the clerk had returned the phone to its cradle.

“This is Molly. I need her done by noon.” The woman didn’t seem to care that she didn’t have an appointment and ignored the fact that she had cut in front of a waiting customer. “Just tell Freddie and he’ll have her done by noon,” she said, referring to the regular groomer. She had to be somewhere else to be and couldn’t wait for Freddie to come out.

“Mom, she was so rude,” my daughter said after she recounted the story. “If she had somewhere to be, she could have at least asked me if she could go first. I felt like she ignored me because I’m young.”

The bottom line: She felt disrespected.

Teaching respect can be a tough job in a society where public displays of rude behavior are commonplace: fights between professional athletes, parents clashing during athletic events, children and/or parents acting aggressively toward teachers. When the people children idolize – sports figures, entertainers, or even a friend’s parent – express anger inappropriately in public, it increases the challenge for parents trying to instill a respectful attitude in their children.

So how do you teach respect to children when the adults around them don’t always behave in a respectful manner? Your words and actions are the model your children will use to frame their behavior.


Parents need to spell out why respect for others is necessary – and expected. The Golden Rule of “Do to others as you would have them do to you” should be reinforced with statements of expected behavior.

For example, there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to express anger. If a child shoves a friend who steps in front of him in line, explain to the child that it’s OK to be angry. A parent can then talk with the child to determine alternative behaviors to pushing, such as using words to express the emotion or walking away.


Hand-in-hand with the Golden Rule is the saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” Adults need to model the kind of behavior they want their children to have. And respect is a two-way street: Treat children with respect, and they will learn what it means to respect others.

Treating children with respect includes asking their opinions, listening to their responses and being considerate of their feelings. Of course, validating your son’s opinion doesn’t mean letting him dictate the family’s actions. But acknowledging that you have heard him is a step toward making him feel respected.


Children are constantly learning, and they need our help in figuring out how to behave and express their emotions appropriately rather than punishment for the inappropriate expression of feelings. If your child lashes out at you because you ask her to pick up her room, screaming at her will only exacerbate the situation. Instead, explain that her response is disrespectful. Teachable moments such as this – and occasions in which the child sees others behaving disrespectfully – allow you to discuss how to express feelings in a respectful manner.

Help a child learn to read non-verbal behaviors as well. When your son criticizes his sister, for example, ask him to look at her face and consider how he thinks she feels. Focus attention on non-verbal signs so your child can use that information as they develop.


  • Treat your children with respect.
  • Model respectful behavior in all interactions.
  • Help children recognize and feel the impact of their disrespectful behavior on others. Teach them how to recognize non-verbal behaviors.
  • Punishing a child for disrespectful behavior doesn’t work when they need help to act respectfully.
  • Praise any evidence of respectful behavior by calling attention to what the child does right.


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