While it might seem like your little toddler or preschooler runs wild and never listens, all children love to please their parents — most often, they do so by imitation. At a very basic level, if you want a child who is respectful, you must be the first to demonstrate respect. If you as a parent model inappropriate behavior — Surprise! — your kids are going to follow suit. By modeling polite behavior, praising appropriate behavior and teaching your core values, your children will gain life lessons on respect.
Sarcasm, yelling, screaming, interrupting or inappropriate physical conduct such as grabbing or pushing is all transferable to your child. Children in their early toddler and preschool years are particularly susceptible to learning these behaviors, which they are likely to carry on through later years. They are also just as likely to gain the “good” behaviors parents desperately want for their kids; lessons on respect begin with you. When your kids want to tell you a story, don’t just shrug it off or show disinterest; really listen to what they say. Demonstrate respect by giving your children time to respond or complete a task rather than doing it for them. For example, if your child comes out of the bathroom with wet hands, ask if he dried his hands; when he says no, ask if he needs help, rather than just providing the help, drying his hands. Let your child see you acting respectfully for other people and objects in your life or in the community; hold doors open for people, water the plants in your garden and say “please” and “thank you.”
One common pitfall parents make is that they forget to offer their kids opportunities to make choices. Allowing children to make choices in a variety of situations not only teaches decision-making skills, but also gives them self-respect because they believe what they think or do is worthy of your attention. Sometimes you have to give your child options. For example, ask your child if she wants orange juice or apple juice rather than just grabbing one or the other. This example also shows that you have respect for your child’s wants.
Toddlers and preschoolers thrive on praise, which could be a pat on the back, a hug or simply the phrase “good job.” When giving praise, try to be specific and say something like, “Good job sharing your toy.” Focus on the behavior you want from your child, not what you don’t want. You might need to remind your child about acting respectfully. Toddlers often do not have the self-regulatory or problem-solving skills that you have, so you’ll likely have to tell them more than a few times that “We don’t hit our friends,” for example.
Teach Kids Respect
While some kids are more outgoing than others, most kids are inherently social. Give your kids opportunities to engage in age-appropriate group activities, which also enable them to interact with their peers. You do want to give kids some breathing room, but also maintain some close supervision to prevent or put an end to inappropriate behavior. In cases when you do need to correct poor behavior, do so while acting respectfully. That means don’t hit or grab a child, but rather ask him to step aside with you so you can tell him why the behavior was inappropriate and to instruct him not to do so again. When one child does show appropriate behavior, teach kids respect by pointing it out to all the other children.
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