A common theme over the past 20 years has been how much children have changed from when we were growing up in terms of how they show respect. I know that for the most part in the 1960's, anyone in a position of authority commanded respect which included parents, teachers, police officers, principals, bosses, coaches and anyone else we viewed in some way as a person in authority. We in fact were taught to "obey" and do as we were told; no questions asked. Many of those people did command respect but unfortunately many of them abused their position of power and felt they were licensed to say and do whatever they wanted simply by virtue of the position they held.
There are 3 components to respect; the respect you have for yourself, the respect you have for others and the respect you COMMAND of others. It is our job as parents to model and teach all three. Is it reasonable for us to command respect simply because we're a parent?
For our children to learn respect we first and foremost need to learn to show respect towards ourselves. How is that done? We show respect for ourselves but setting clear and concise boundaries, presenting ourselves to others in a way that says we respect who we are, honouring our gifts and talents and choosing to spend time with people that support and value who we are.
It's very difficult to command respect if we don't show respect towards others, including our children. How do we show our children that we respect them? Showing respect towards our children means respecting their privacy, saying "please" and "thank-you" in a way that they know we're genuine, accepting their likes and dislikes, showing respect for their style of learning, speaking to them in a tone that we would want to be spoken to, speaking to them at eye level and making a point not to demean them in public. It also means giving them our time when they need it and acknowledging their feelings.
Children need to witness us treating our partners, co-workers, service providers, neighbors and friends respectfully. One of the ways they learn to show respect towards others is by what they've experienced through us. How do we handle disagreements? How do we talk about others when they're not around? How do we address people? How do we respect people's individual rights? Children learn what they live.
By no means should we accept rudeness and disrespect from our children. We can always say: "When you can ask me in a more polite way, I'd be glad to help you." Children will often challenge us and say things to try and make us feel guilty so we'll change our mind. For the most part, it's wise to just not engage in any kind of power struggle just to prove that we're the boss. We can simply state our request and then walk away and resolve not to give in if we've decided that the issue is non negotiable. If on the other hand, your child has presented an argument that is worth considering, he/she deserves to be heard. It doesn't necessarily mean that we're going to change your mind but it may be that there is room for negotiation. If they've presented a good argument in a non-confrontational manner, they deserve to be acknowledged. We also have a right to impose a reasonable consequence if a child has displayed blatant disrespect. It clearly tells them that you won't accept the behavior.
Being able to challenge someone's opinion or point of view, I believe is healthy as long as it's not done in a way that undermines the other person's character. Do we want to raise children that never question authority even when it seems unreasonable, unfair or unethical?
Barbara Desmarais is a parenting and life coach who has worked with parents for over 16 years. She presents workshops and seminars as well as works with parents privately helping them to find solutions to their parenting challenges.