Getting and giving respect is one of the hardest lessons a child will learn in his young life. The way you think about respect is completely different from the way your child does, which can sometimes cause confusion and miscommunications. To properly instill a sense of respect in your little one, you must be consistent, set boundaries and remain open about talking things through with your child, no matter how frustrated the both of you may be.
Children think on a simple level whenever they can, and they understand that compliments make them feel good, says parenting expert Dr. Michele Borba, Ed.D. One way in which they try to show respect, therefore, is to provide that service to you. When your child tells you that you’re pretty or smart or good, she means it. And she also means that she loves and respects you. It’s a simple way to show you that she cares and is thinking about you in a strong way at that very moment. It doesn’t necessarily correlate into an adult’s views of what respect is, but to a child, it makes perfect sense.
Children aren’t so good at listening, but you can lead by example with your young one, showing him firsthand how good it feels to be heard and understood with full attention. When your child talks, listen to him. This seems like a given, but when half of the things coming out of his mouth don’t even make sense and the other half are things that just seem silly or trite, many parents accidentally tune out. Look your child in the eyes when he speaks, get down on his level if necessary, and let him know you hear him and think what he is saying is important, says Dr. Lakshmi Dajak, Ph.D. in marriage and family therapy, with Vaisnava Family Resources. As he grows, you’ll be able to ask for the same treatment in return and he’ll understand what you are talking about through your consistent example.
It’s a child’s job to nag at a parent, and a parent’s job to say no, no, a thousand times no! Of course, it doesn’t always work that way. Many times, you’ll find yourself giving in to your children just to get them to stop asking. In this way, when your child accepts that you’ve said no, and that it’s final, that is a huge show of respect, according to Dr. Jim Taylor, adjunct professor at the University of San Francisco, writing for Psychology Today. This will take time and consistency on your part. You’ll have to never give in once you’ve said no, or have some kind of saying that means, “I’m serious, no negotiations,” after which your children will not ask again. But brace yourself, because at first they will. It’s up to you to show them that no matter what they do, you will not give in. If you start this young, your child will learn by 5 or 6 that you mean business, and will respect your decisions and accept no when it comes from your lips.
Like compliments, gifts are a physical way children can show not only affection, but also respect. Your child will most likely make you things from a block tower to a crayon drawing to a macaroni necklace, just to show she loves you. Because your child looks up to you, she will want to make you happy and by receiving her gifts graciously, you will show her that you value her efforts and her person. Gift-giving may seem superficial, says parenting expert Dr. William Sears, but to a young child, it’s an essential part of learning about caring.