Model the Behavior that You Want to See

Varying Levels of Respect

We live in an indifferent world. As a result, people treat each other with various levels of respect and, sometimes, outright disrespect. You may have even behaved disrespectfully to others in front of your children. Unfortunately, we all do it.

We also make great excuses for why we need to be disrespectful, possibly the leading excuse is: “Because she/he did it to me first!”

A decade or so ago there were quite a few newsworthy examples of people harming each other for nothing more than a certain look in a public place. This came to be known as “dissing” – a shorthand term for disrespect. Now, the latest trend is for teens to come up behind complete strangers walking on the street and punch them in the back of the head to see if they can knock them out. Not to rob them, or because they are mad at them. They do this just to entertain themselves. It’s called the “knockout game.”

Although not as severe, we frequently see or experience children who do not talk or act in respectful ways in front of adults, whether those adults are their own family members or strangers out in public. Clearly, a better job needs to be done by parents and others to help children understand the importance and benefits of being respectful to those in authority.

Where Respect Begins

So, what can you do about making your corner of the world kinder and gentler and passing on that lesson to your children? 

Respect for parents is an important foundation in several advanced cultures. Confucius, the ancient Chinese wise man, said: “Filial piety (parental respect) and brotherly respect are the root of humanity.” He believed that learning respect for parents is a prime virtue upon which all other virtues build. In fact, respect is highly valued in many Asian cultures due to this Confucian influence.

In India the elders of an extended family are regularly sought out for advice and are the most devout and generous members of the family. Large families there grow together in family communities and the elders are considered the most important people in the community because of their vast knowledge and wisdom.

In Christian and Jewish cultures the fourth command from God was “honor your father and mother", but when you look deeper into the meaning of the word, honor, translated it is a word that conveys deference to the ability of the elderly to “see” more from the position of age. Most cultures seem to have this common thread that recognizes the value of wisdom derived from age.

You may see this lack of honor in your children. They come home with an outrageous story from their peer community and you try to tell them that the facts are faulty. You know their facts are wrong, but they believe what their friends have told them…and may even tell you so. This is a sign that they don’t trust your wisdom. Western secular culture, unfortunately, isn’t designed for extended family communities or honoring anything but the next new consumer good.

So, with this type of influence, how do you teach respect against this cultural current?

Model Respect...You Set the Stage

Start where you are. How do you treat your own parents and the parents of your spouse? There’s a well-known story about a family in which an elderly father with dementia lives.

The daughter gets so disgusted with his inability to keep clean during mealtimes that she finally puts a large industrial apron on him to catch all his spills. Observing this for several days, the daughter’s child tells his mother that he can’t wait until she is old and he can “put that ridiculous looking apron” on her. The lesson is that if you don’t have respect for your aging parents, don’t expect your children to treat you any better.

In ancient Rome it was expected that the older members of the family lead by example because it was understood that the young learned everything by modeling. It was scandalous for a parent to behave immoderately. Do you swear in front of your children? Do you yell at others in front of them for failing in their service to you at restaurants, stores or other public places? Do you curse people in traffic?  However you conduct yourself, how much respect you show for others – even when they offend you in some way – is going to a major factor in how much respect your children show for others when they get older.

What about the ways you interact with the other parent? Do you say disrespectful things about the other parent when they are not around?  Even if you do this as a joke, it translates to children as reality. The kids usually disrespect a disrespected partner, and since they also identify with both of their parents, they often end up with a shattered view of themselves.

Before laying down the rules of respect for the children, lay down some rules of respect for yourself. Assess how well you've been modeling respectful behavior. Pay attention to how your interactions are either respectful or show disrespect for others. You may not notice it right now, but your children are becoming respectful only to the extent that you – and your spouse – are practicing respect in your daily lives.

It may take some extra work, but you can make your home a “diss”-free zone!

 "If you want to have a more pleasant, cooperative child, 
be a more understanding, emphatic, consistent and loving parent."
Steven Covey
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Written by Heidi Densmore

Copyright 2014 / Good Choices Good Life, Inc. / All Rights Reserved

The young always have the same problem – how to rebel and conform at the same time. They have solved this by defying their parents and copying one another. Quentin Crisp