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Parenting and Respect

In clinical practice we often have parents come into session expressing concern over their children disrespecting them and acting out. They often make comments regarding how they were raised to respect their elders and how children should just automatically respect their parents. The problem is, you have to give respect to get respect and children must be taught how to be respectful.

What is respect?

By definition, respect is a feeling of admiring or understanding someone or something as good, important, valuable, serious, etc. and that they should be treated in an appropriate manner. In general terms, respect is the term used to describe how people expect to be treated, should be treated, and includes the following of rules and acting according to social norms. It is at times an overgeneralized concept and yet also a lost concept. It doesn’t have to be that way. Kindness and respect go hand in hand and start with how we treat ourselves and those closest to us.

Where did the downfall of respect start?

The end of the age where respect was just assumed and given started long ago, and not all of it was for negative reasons. People have been taught that they have rights, they deserve more, and that they should speak their mind. In most cases and situations these are all healthy beliefs and skills; however, what is lacking is the teaching of how to express themselves and address and treat people appropriately. We want everyone to know they are worthy of an opinion, they have rights, and that they matter. We also want them to know how to teach that to others and get their needs met without bringing those around them down. And yes, children should respect their elders, but when they see their parents, other adults, celebrities, athletes, siblings, coaches, or anyone on social media constantly disrespecting people, this is how they learn and believe people should act. Verbally we tell our children to respect others and especially adults; however, through our actions we teach them otherwise. Every time we swear at that driver who cut us off on our way to work, or complain about the waitress who got our order wrong, or talk derogatorily about our boss because they upset you we show that others deserve to be treated with cruelty rather than with respect. It is through our actions as a society and as parents, that the following generations have lost the understanding of what respect is and especially how to show it.

How do you teach respect?

First of all, we teach through example. You can’t simply tell someone to be respectful and expect them to listen while being disrespectful ourselves. So how do we teach our children respect without feeling as though we are giving up our authority as a parent? Here are some simple techniques:

  • Be respectful to others, especially when expressing disappointment or anger.
  • Speak assertively but not aggressively.
  • Don’t name call.
  • Regulate tone and use appropriate tone; kind when showing approval, firm but not aggressive when showing disapproval.
  • Don’t swear, bully, shame, tease, or taunt.
  • Do not use guilt to get children to comply.
  • Make rules clear, fair, and age/situation appropriate.
  • Be understanding of emotions and express empathy.
  • Don’t be a friend, be a parent. Make sure your role is the authority figure, but allow room for nurture.
  • Respect your spouse and treat them fair and kindly. Children learn most from how their parents treat each other and this is their primary example for most of their lives on how to treat another human being.
  • Stand up for your children but do not become the only authority figure whose opinion counts. When appropriate, back up others such as teachers and coaches.
  • Be current and present in your child’s life. Know what they are interested in and show genuine interest, building common ground.
  • Allow them age appropriate freedoms and responsibilities to build their confidence and show respect for them.
  • Most importantly, teach them to respect themselves. Self-respect is the key component to respecting others.


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