Respect is a tough character trait to teach. Not only is it difficult to define, it kind of goes against the selfishness that is in all of us. Although we can’t deny that kids go through phases of genuinely desiring only to please their parents, they soon figure out how to lie, steal, and hit, all on their own.
For young children, use facial cues and body language to teach the concept of respect as “adding value”. Discuss how to tell how another person is feeling. “Look at Susy’s sad face. What can we do to help her feel better?”
Talk about eyebrows, smiles, frowns, angry eyes, slumped shoulders, and stomping, for example, to help children look beyond themselves: “When you gave your brother a turn with that toy, he smiles and his eyes were sparkling! You added value to him! How does that feel to make him feel special?”
Use the term to help children make restitution when they hurt another’s feelings: “I know you apologized for doing wrong, but you need to add value to make your relationship better. Let’s think of three things you can do to make her feel special.”
As they get older, you can expand the term “value” even more, to include the term “honor”. Being respectful encompasses showing honor, but respect has some negative connotations (You will respect your elders, or else!!). It is an easier transition mentally from adding value to showing honor. From there, we can teach that showing honor with a positive attitude is showing respect.
Teens can sometimes withhold respect because they don’t feel it has been earned. They might disagree with our decisions or feel slighted for not being consulted. Be careful not to return fire- we can model respect even when disciplining. Re-iterate the same process of using facial cues and body language to discern attitudes, and discuss adding value in those areas.
Make sure to add value to them as well, and especially model how we show respect to those around us not only at home, but at work, at church and towards the leaders of our communities. Invite their opinion when appropriate, but walk them through being respectful even when they disagree.
Some ideas to help it hit home:
Praise the kids every time you hear of something respectful. Do a silly dance every time somebody adds value to somebody else. Put a bean, penny or marble in a cup or bowl, (or a sticker on a chart), and when it is full do something fun together as a family.
Pick a new person in the family each day and discuss as a group ways to honor that person. Make it a game to show respect, just don’t forget one member of the family! Be sure to get through every person!
What does your family do to honor each other?