Teaching Kids How To Be Respectful
Teaching your children respect is one of the essential jobs of a parent. Arlene Harris looks at ways that parents can help their offspring to develop this important value.
There was a time when children were ‘seen and not heard’. Thankfully, this is no longer the case and most people agree that there is nothing more uplifting than the sound of childish laughter. But along with Draconian methods of child rearing, many would argue that respect has also gone out the window. Nowadays it would not be unusual for children to argue back with adults, ignore requests for good behaviour and generally show a lack of respect to their elders.
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Margaret Flynn has six grandchildren – all of whom she loves dearly. But she is genuinely distraught with the knowledge that some of these children do not know how to behave and is worried that they will turn into ‘obnoxious’ adults. "I hate to say this, but three of my grand-daughters are very badly behaved,” admits the Cork woman.
“My daughter has been very lenient with them and never seems to tell them off for anything. As a result the eldest (nine) never does anything she is told and her sisters (six and four) are quickly following suit." "Whenever they stay with me and I ask them to do something, they usually ignore my requests or in some instances have had tantrums. But I won’t allow behaviour like that in my house and have told my daughter as much – which didn’t go down well. I know she doesn’t like to hear criticism from me, but if she doesn’t act now, her daughters will not turn out to be nice grown-ups."
Margaret says children need to learn manners from an early age – she believes that parents who don’t insist on respect are really doing their children a disservice. "My son has three children also – two boys (16 and 14) and one girl (seven) and he and his wife have been strict with them from the word go,” she says. “As a result, they are a delight to be with and even the older boys who are now teenagers are very kind and considerate. It proves that how you bring someone up has an effect on how they behave."
Good Manners: Nothing To Do With Gender
“People often say that boys are unruly and impolite, but I can’t stand this generalisation as in my experience, my grandsons are extremely well-behaved and my grand-daughters are not – so it’s nothing to do with gender and all to do with how they are brought up. Spoiling children to this degree is unfair on them in the long run – I obviously love them all the same, but I think it’s obvious which ones I would rather spend my time with.”
A Drop In Standards
Child psychologist, Peadar Maxwell says children of today are definitely not as ‘respectful’ as those of previous generations and this, to some degree, is down to social media. "I think it is fair to say that there has been a slip in the standard of manners publicly and certainly in entertainment,” he says. “Children are being trained in a way of communicating, commenting and labelling that is at best poor and at worse offensive and cruel."
"Publicly shaming others has become a sport of sorts in some domains especially on certain social media and on reality TV. This has spilled over into daily life and children need guidance about when it is okay to comment and what is acceptable and what is just hurtful or mean."
Maxwell says a respectful child is one who generally has good manners, will follow instruction and demonstrate that they appreciate what they have and what others do for them. If your child does not have these traits, it is important to try and instil them on a regular basis.
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Respect Is Taught
“Respect is a basic social skill and not some higher way of thinking and acting,” he says. “A respectful child knows how to show respect appropriate to his development by saying please and thank you, allowing others to say their piece or have a turn and helping out when needed. So when a child is being disrespectful or rude, correct their behaviour as soon as possible. That doesn’t have to be there and then. You may have to apologise on your child's behalf and leave the situation and then talk to your child a little later. It depends on who is involved and what happened."
"Disciplining disrespectful behaviour is not about shaming your child, it's about stopping to acknowledge that something in unacceptable and then teaching your child the skill, words or body language he needs to be more respectful the next time. Don't see transgressions as meaning that your child is bad mannered or racist or a bigot, that won't help, see it as an opportunity to talk about manners, equality or diversity and tolerance."
“The best teaching happens when things are going well: that's when you model for your child how to be mannerly and respectful and praise and encourage their attempts to do likewise."
But despite a lack of empathy in today’s society, the Wexford-based psychologist says most children are in fact well-behaved.
"What I notice in my work is that the children I meet are almost always kind and articulate in their politeness,” he says. “When I work in schools I notice the youngsters thanking teachers and being kind to one another. So I do think though that on an individual basis, young people are as capable as being respectful as their parents and grandparents are; there have always being rude people.”
Important Things To Remember About Respect
Raising a respectful child does not require any special skills; it simply involves adults passing on important social skills in a way that is positive, encouraging and non-judgemental. Importantly, the adult can make a point of allowing this to be observed by the child.
- In the home, parents can be respectful to their child and her friends, praise their child for being polite or respectful and remind a child who needs reminding to use good manners.
- Parents can help their child to follow reasonable requests by making sure the request is doable and fair. Time any demands well, rather than in the middle of a great game; give the child time to comply, and state the request in a calm, respectful voice.
- Make it clear that you expect and value your child's (however minor) contribution to the family. Talk about respect and manners as important ingredients in a fair society, which help us all to get along with one another.
- Respect is culturally specific and in our culture it includes the way we address and listen to our elders, adhering to basic rules like where we put our litter, or respecting our and others' property including their home.
- Children are not born prejudiced or racist, but they do recognise difference and will comment on appearance, accent and foods without a sophisticated language and sometimes unwittingly insult others.
Want to read more about good behaviour and children? Click here how to teach your toddler manners.