Respect is the backbone of emotional development. It allows people to establish, validate, and maintain their personal boundaries. It also provides them with a strong foundation to grasp the boundaries of others. Children are marked by their experience with respect – whether it be the presence or absence of it in their upbringing – and carry whatever they learned into adulthood.
So, should parents respect their children? Yes, absolutely. But expressing it in constructive ways can be tough. What you meant as a show of respect might feel like condescension to them.
Parents should respect their children – no exceptions. Parents might believe that they’re caregivers or disciplinarians first, but they’re also immediate role models to their children. A child’s understanding of respect starts at home, and the most important aspect of it – reciprocity – can only be developed with practice, not lectures.
Respect isn’t a privilege to take away or a concession to earn, but a right one is owed. It should never be transactional, but mutual. If you want your child to learn respect, you need to start them off with a strong example – namely yourself!
All parents should respect their children – they can’t earn what they have yet to learn! You’ll be their first and only teacher on the subject for a long time, so be patient while educating them.
The Importance of Respecting Your Child
Teach Children Respect (Before they’re expected to earn it!)
Babies aren’t born with an understanding of concepts we find obvious now. Things we take for granted – like empathy or respect – will start off as completely alien ideas to them!
This might seem obvious, but it’s something a lot of people forget: when was the last time you had to deal with someone completely unaware of these concepts?
A lot of parents are preoccupied with the physiological changes babies go through – while they aren’t neglecting their child, the fact that they weren’t taught these things may slip their minds.
Respect and boundaries come with a steep learning curve. You aren’t just teaching them to recognize boundaries, but articulating what makes them so – and reinforcing their value!
Putting it into Practice
For example, let’s say your child was rude to someone else and said mean words. What would you do if your child said that the other person was also mean or trying to provoke them too?
Another example is, what would you do if your child didn’t want to hug someone? Would you force them to do so regardless, or respect that boundary they set?
Your child won’t know those things as matters of respect. They’ll see them as people being mean first, or perhaps people forcing them into situations they find uncomfortable.
They need to learn respect for themselves before they can properly apply it to others, and teaching that lesson is a parent’s responsibility.
You can’t fault your child for not knowing about something they’d only recently encountered, and you certainly can’t hold them to your adult expectations.
It’s okay to be frustrated at their learning pace, but recognize that they are trying their best. Walk them through it gently, and clarify situations when they seem at a loss.
Don’t ever tell them to obey you without explanation – all you’d teach them about here would just be fear and authority!
Explain to them why saying mean things – even if the other person started it – isn’t the best course of action. Tell them that they can choose or refuse to hug whoever they want. Convince them to change their minds rather than insist upon it.
You teach people respect by treating them with respect, and children are no exception.
The Example You Set is The Example They Develop
Children are honest and won’t discriminate when applying what they learned. You’ll see this in how they interact with peers – and especially with siblings in their household.
You are their immediate role model, and how you behave will be their precedent. You can’t cherry-pick this behavior to only display your best aspects – you need to turn the best of yourself into your normal, baseline behavior. Your child won’t be selective with the example you set.
It doesn’t matter if you speak softly to your child or hear your spouse out patiently – if you’re yelling at your babysitter, complaining about your coworkers, disrespecting service staff, invading their privacy, or sneering at people making deliveries, your child will see, learn, and follow that lead you set.
If you can’t maintain your own standards, how can you expect your kids to meet yours?
You Can’t Communicate Healthily without Respect
Let’s say your child is perfectly obedient – they look at you attentively, listen when you speak, and don’t talk back when you’re lecturing them. Is that respect?
Answer: It’s respect to an authority figure, but not necessarily to a parent or loved one.
Does your child respect you enough to obey everything you say? Or do they respect you enough to speak their minds candidly? What sort of respect would you prefer in your household? Different parenting styles encourage different interpretations of respect – and whatever example you set will follow them into adulthood.
If your child had misgivings or frustrations in a situation, you would only hear about it if you had the latter dynamic with your child. While the former type of dynamic is more convenient, your respect would be transactional at best – a problem we’ll be going over in the next segment.
Remember that you’re their biggest supporter – teaching them to respect others and communicate healthily is your priority. They will have more than enough people trying to discipline them through their life.
Respect Is Mutual, not Transactional
While respect is reciprocal, it shouldn’t be lost at the drop of a hat. Your child may be difficult, argue back, or maybe even yell at you over a particular disagreement. Just because they were disrespectful to you, however, doesn’t give you the right to be disrespectful to them in turn.
Think of it this way: You’re still setting an example to them, even now. If you start yelling or disregarding them, you’d be demonstrating that your respect is transactional and fragile.
It doesn’t matter how much praise you heap on them: they’ll know, without a shadow of a doubt, that one errant afternoon is all it’d take to lose the regard they’d earned in the past. And they will carry this mindset toward respect with others they engage with in the future.
“Well, they started it first…”
That will never be an acceptable justification. It’s a slippery slope of a sentiment that lets people dodge personal accountability at the slightest hint of perceived disrespect. This behavior, if perpetuated, will become entrenched in your child’s perspective well into adulthood.
Respect is mutual, never transactional. It’s not a matter of “Should parents respect their child?” but “How do I teach my child what genuine respect looks like?”
You might owe them patience when they’re being difficult – or discipline, when they’re being disrespectful – but your personal respect for your children should never be this brittle.
Respect Bolsters Self-esteem and Decisiveness
Respect is pivotal for a person’s self-actualization. It gives them a barrier to both protect and cultivate their character. A child will never understand respect without being granted it first. If they are deprived of this, their self-esteem, personal agency, and confidence will suffer for it.
A child who lacks respect won’t be able to act when decisions are necessary. They might fumble on their choice, pass the responsibility off to others, or decide – only to criticize themselves to the point of serious mental anguish.
Respect isn’t just tolerating someone, but recognizing their personal competence, decisions, and judgments – even the ones you personally disagree with. Better your child chooses their own mistakes on occasion rather than subject themselves to the mistakes of others.
You Can’t Ever Lose Respect for Them as a Human Being
There will inevitably be some days when it feels like your child is dead set on testing your patience. It may lead you to make impulsive, emotional decisions you’ll come to regret.
You might lock your child in their room for the rest of the day, confiscate some belongings, cancel plans they made, or otherwise try to drag them down to the level of misery they placed you.
At a minimum, there will be days you’ll struggle to maintain your respect for your child.
Don’t be ashamed of being frustrated – it’s perfectly human. You can even feel free to lose respect for them as a person for a time if what they’ve done is particularly trying. What you can’t do is start punishing them in ways that strip away their personal agency and boundaries.
By all means, confiscate their belongings for a time if they refuse to reason with you. Don’t keep them away for longer than necessary, and don’t ever destroy them outright! Tell them off when they’ve made a huge blunder, but don’t do so in front of people they value.
Your child can disappoint and exhaust you, but even if you’re struggling to respect them as your children please try to maintain respect for them as human beings. They should be punished for their mistakes, but that penalty shouldn’t extend to causing them personal distress or anxiety.
You’re angry at their behavior – and maybe even their current character – but you don’t ever want to make your child feel like they’re anything less than a human being worthy of respect.
So should parents respect their children? The answer is a resounding yes. People need respect to function properly with others, and how well this lesson is taught can make or break a household.
Make it a point to treat your child with nothing less than the respect they deserve. Push them to maintain that standard when dealing with others. The example you set will be what they carry into their future, so mind your behavior. Be the kind of person you want your child to grow into, then do no less than that moving forward.