Anna sat on the bleachers watching her daughter play softball 3 times a week. As she chatted with the other mothers she rarely paid much attention to what was happening in the field. Sometimes she would look up in time to see her daughter hit a line drive through the infield defense and she would cheer. In Anna’s eyes Lucy was the best player on the team! Inside the dug out a whole other game was being played. A parent coach endured rolling eyes, poignant sighs and signs of boredom from a group of young girls who were supposed to be All-Stars! Of all the girls Lucy was the rudest and most disrespectful. To everyone it was obvious that she didn’t want to be there! What does this have to do with teaching children respect? Read on!
Anna was one of those people who knew that the louder, more obnoxious she was- the more others would back down from her. Not because they were afraid of her; but because normal people see confrontation, drama, rudeness, entitlement and conflict as things to avoid in life when possible. Yet; when confronted with any truth about the fact that her daughter did not really want to play and that she was often rude in the process; Anna did the only thing she knew how to do. React! Badly! Yelling and screaming at others and her own kid, embarrassing and humiliating her own child in front of her peers and hurting no one but her own flesh and blood! This behavior was only very directly paving a path toward a lifetime of disrespect and it became easy and clear why Lucy was the way she was. Can this type of behavior be unlearned once witnessed so often?
We can teach children math and reading. We can teach them manners and we can teach them how to play softball. But what we cannot do is teach respect in an environment where it doesn’t exist. Respect is quite clearly one of those things; much like class; that people have or they don’t. When a child grows up with irrational, disrespectful parents who do little to consider others (or their own) integrity; there is no way that the rest of the world can teach this child respect. If a child grows up in a family that has no real respect for the child’s personal dignity- they will not have it to give to others. They won’t know how it feels to be respected nor understand the importance of it in life. Unfortunately this is often the case with children. Children are very much a direct mirror of the way they see their parents act. As a mom or dad; how can you expect your child to talk things out, walk away, and be reasonable when mom explodes at the Grocery Store clerk who rang her potatoes up twice? Teaching children respect is about showing them respect at every level in life.
What makes it worse is that since so many of these same children witness their parents getting their way by bullying others; children think disrespect works just fine. What they don’t see is that although it appears mom or dad may momentarily ‘get their way’ by acting in this manner they are not privy to the understanding that what they really did is lose their chances at every being respected themselves. It turns into a vicious circle. Sure the check out clerk or softball coach may not react as volatile; but it does change the way they think about this person and their child. Many people call this behavior ‘standing your ground’ or ‘not allowing yourself to be dumped on’ but often it is just a personality trait and habit inherited through generations and embedded in fear! People who behave this way lack respect from the foundation of being.
What happens is that children take what they are either purposely or accidentally ‘taught’ at home and carry it with them to the real world. In this real world they begin to deal with teachers and others in the same way they see their parents behave. Lucy would never ‘disrespect’ her own mother because she knows what the explosive consequences would be; yet she does act like her mother in other venues when mom is not around. Does she mean to be disrespectful? Unfortunately she just doesn’t know any better; because she doesn’t see any better in her personal life. The sad truth is that when a child disrespects others because they are mirroring their parent’s behavior; they truly don’t know there is anything wrong with how they are acting.
Obviously, teaching children respect is not something that can be conventionally taught. Respect is something that you feel for self and others as clearly as any of the other more common emotions. You feel respect FIRST out of self respect. But if a child has no idea what it feels like to be respected they wont see the importance, necessity or have the utilities to give it. Can it be unlearned? Partly! In order for a child to learn the importance of respect they must see it in action. Luckily having friends, relatives, teachers or others who don’t pick a choose moments to be respectful and instead harbor it in their being; can make a difference.
Do as I say, not as I do is not the best idea when it comes to raising children. So much of what they are supposed to learn and need to know to be productive, successful and most importantly HAPPY adults comes from watching the grown ups in their life. When a child is disrespectful in your presence whether it is your own or someone else’s; it should be looked at as an opportunity to show them respect. The first reaction for most parents may be to chastise of discipline but perhaps taking a step back and ensuring that the child in question feels respected them selves (and sees how good it feels) first may be the quick solution. Perhaps this child, like Lucy, has not witnessed respect in action! If it is your own child who is disrespectful it may be time to look at the behaviors they may have witnessed that initiated the entitlement to their reaction. Teaching children respect is done through living example; not barking orders or enforcement of manners. Respect is a one of those two way emotions felt in the heart; not in the head!