5-ish Ways to Demonstrate Respect to Kids
Last week, we talked about how everyone deserves respect, including children. I understand, however, how challenging this can be, especially since it can be a strange and new concept for some. So here are some ways in which we can show kids respect.
- Give your undivided attention.
Be present. You might have heard this story about Pokemon a million times already, but your little one is excited to share it with you. It's so easy to "uh huh" and "yeah" while scrolling distractedly on your phone, but if your friend treated you this way, you wouldn't feel respected. Our children don't deserve less. Put away the distractions, the work, the phone, and just listen.
- Or at least explain why you can't.
If you can't give your undivided attention at the moment - because, let's be honest, we can't always drop everything and listen to another My Little Pony story, explain why you can't. "Sweetie, I know you're excited about your show, but I'm making dinner right now. Let's talk about this when I'm done cooking. Maybe while we eat?" I'm not always the best at this, but I try to at least give my son an idea of when I'll have time to talk about it. I don't want to leave him hanging, wondering when later is. I try to give him a specific time - in 5 minutes, after I send this email, etc...
- Validate their thoughts and feelings.
This one seems to be particularly difficult because their thoughts and feelings aren't always rational. Kids usually aren't rational! It's so easy to tell them to not to feel the way they feel - because it's crazy and makes no reasonable sense, but invalidating their feelings and dismissing them can cause children to feel as if they are inherently wrong. It can lead to low self-esteem. When your child comes to you and says that they're scared of the monster in their closet, instead of reacting with "Don't be scared, there's nothing in there" help your child process these emotions. "I understand that you're scared. Sometimes when the room is dark, things look scarier. Let's take a look at your closet. You'll see there's nothing scary in there." This validates your child's emotion and demonstrates for your child how to handle that emotion.
- Admit when you're wrong.
As parents, we get it wrong sometimes. Sometimes, we wrong our children. We might snap at them when we're angry about something else. It happens. Pulling your little one aside and apologizing demonstrates respect by giving them the apology they deserve. "I'm sorry for yelling at you earlier. I was frustrated by the dog, and I shouldn't have treated you that way. Can you forgive me?" This also serves to model appropriate behavior to your children and demonstrates how to apologize - bonus!
- Be proud of them!
My son is learning basic math right now. I am having him write out his math equations and solve them too. Handwriting and math. Sometimes he'll get the math right, but the handwriting wrong. 5+5 = 10, but all the 5s are backwards. It's so easy for me to jump in and say, "Hey, those aren't fives!" but it sounds like I'm focusing on what he's getting wrong and ignoring what he's getting right. I have to remind myself that it's just as important to praise him for what he got right as it is to correct him on what he got wrong. "Wow! You did such a good job with your addition. It looks like you might need some help writing your 5's, but I can see you've really worked hard on writing your 4's."
- (Mostly optional) Explain why.
I understand that not all parents agree with me on this one, and honestly, to each their own. My husband and I believe in explaining almost everything to our son. Allowing our son to ask us why and explaining our rationale serves several purposes. By hearing why we do what we do, he is learning and forming those connections for himself. It helps with critical thinking. Allowing him to ask us why also demonstrates that we respect him and his personhood. He is not just a pawn or a thing that we expect to operate without question. Read more about this in "Because I said so!"
By showing kids respect, it becomes more likely that you will receive respect in return.