Just a few days ago, I was afforded the pleasure of running errands without my children in tow. Mind you, the kids are usually fairly cooperative when we’re out. But it’s a hassle at times. Strap baby in car seat. Unstrap baby from car seat. On and on it goes.
Anyway, when I’m not focused on keeping my children alive, I have the opportunity to listen to others and to observe other kids. And that’s exactly what I did.
I was staring blankly at the books in a discount store near my home, and two kids wanted to get past me. Both children, around the ages of my 10 and 8 year old sons, crouched down low and quickly scooted by so as not to obstruct my view. As they did, they each said, “excuse me.”
I stopped what I was doing and hunted down their mother. “Excuse me, ma’am,” I said. “I just wanted to let you know that you have two very polite kids. You’re doing it right.”
I’ve always appreciated getting compliments on my children’s behavior, and I thought she would, too. So what was she doing right? How do you raise well mannered and respectful children? Here are a few ways to start.
1. Speak to them with respect.
I’m a firm believer in speaking to kids as if they were adults. I don’t mean talking about politics and religion. I mean that, regardless of the age of the child, I believe that you should use the same tone as if you were talking to a peer.
When you speak to your peers, you take their feelings into consideration. You’d never yell at your friend to hurry up in the bathroom. You’d never lose your temper if your friend spilled his milk at the supper table.
Instead, you’d use tact. You’d knock on the bathroom door and ask, “are you okay?” You’d laugh with your friend to guard him from embarrassment over the milk.
Why should your words to your children be any less respectful than those you use with your peers? Your words should aim to guide your child, but never to hurt, embarrass or show disrespect. Your children will learn from your example,
2. Ask before you touch.
In my years as a preschool teacher, there was a standing rule in my classroom: You must ask before you touch.
Even hugs. Now, there was a lot of hugging in my classroom. Of course, the kids were three so there was a lot of head bonking, kissing, licking faces and other physical touching, too.
But think about this. What would you do if your co-worker came up to you and said, “give me a hug.” You didn’t particularly care for this person, and didn’t feel an emotional bond with him or her. He just wanted a hug because he thought you were funny, attractive or some other arbitrary reason.
You’d feel uncomfortable. Forced affection has that effect.
Now consider how many times you, grandma, grandpa or auntie have asked the same of a child. “Come here and give grandma a hug!” Guess what? There’s a 50/50 chance that little Susie just doesn’t want to.
Teach your children to ask before they touch another person. In doing so, you’ll cement the knowledge that their body is their own, and that they have a right to decide who touches it.
As a result, they’ll learn respect for the personal space and the bodies of others – a respect which will stay with them well throughout their adult life.
3. Don’t throw a tantrum of your own.
I have a three year old daughter, who’s usually fairly even-tempered. But every now and then she’ll throw a hissy fit that would make the devil himself run for cover.
I used to react. And by reacting, I mean any of the following:
- Putting her in time out
- Taking toys away (which means putting them on top of the refrigerator)
- Telling her that big girls don’t shout and hit, and big girls don’t get their nails painted, either.
- Leaving the room while she continued to wail at me
- Losing my dang mind
Then I started to listen. I thought about the fact that when I throw a temper tantrum, it’s because something’s really bothering me. My little girl is usually a pretty chill kid – she rolls with the punches and is even witty about those punches. So when she started acting out, I started to realize that I should listen.
Instead of immediately jumping to a punishment for “bad behavior,” why not listen to what your child is trying to tell you. Maybe he didn’t want the toys left in the bathtub because he was frightened they might go down the drain. Maybe he wasn’t done outside because he hadn’t said goodbye to his imaginary friend.
It’s a two-way street. the more you listen to your child, the more he’ll begin to hear you. He’ll see that you care about him as a human person, and that you’re on his side. Little by little, the respect he feels from you will translate to his respect for others.
4. There are no perfect parents.
No perfect parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, caregivers… whoever you are to a child, you’re not going to do everything right.
Raising respectful kids, though, isn’t difficult to do. Nor is it difficult to raise well-mannered kids, kind kids, responsible kids, mindful, thoughtful or positive kids. Leading my example is the easiest way to instill each and every one of the positive qualities you want to see in your child.
But you’re human. You’re going to bounce a check, you’re going to forget to recycle. You’ll curse in traffic and you’ll lose your patience with subpar customer service. You’re human.
And so are your kids. They’re going to make mistakes, too. They’ll skip doing homework and they might even skip school entirely. They’ll call their brother names and they’ll eat too much Halloween candy.
When those things happen, try to stop and think. How would you react if your coworker left his assignment at home? You’d react in a way that showed that person you respect him. Consider using a similar reaction next time your child makes an honest, human mistake.