How to Raise a Responsible, Respectful Child (part 1)

A core tenant of our CALM Parenting Model is “Creating peace inside and out.”
One very big part of creating peace is living in a family where both children and adults are responsible and respectful.

Back in the “old days” when families lived on farms and had to produce their own food and share their work with neighbors, children were integral contributors to family survival. Children as young as 3 would be out in the chicken coop collecting eggs, 9 year olds would get the cows in the barn for milking. Young teens helped with the heavier work tasks of building barns, shoeing horses and doing cooking, cleaning in the home.

Our Kids are Capable

While hard child labor isn’t something we ever want, there is a big gap between a child in the late 1800-1900s and our kids today who many parents feel can’t even hang up their wet towels or toss their dirty clothes in a laundry bin.

Over the years child development “experts” have suggested that healthy self-esteem comes from children being rewarded for every task they complete. We reward kids for doing chores, helping with dinner, getting good grades. Ultimately, in a world where we hope our kids can live independently, this isn’t a good trend. How can we expect a 25 year old to do his own laundry, pay his bills on time and show up to work on a regular schedule if we never let him practice these tasks at home? Children quickly become adults and our job is to teach them how to live as a respectful, responsible contributor to the adult world.

Responsibility Starts with Respect

Does this make me sound old? Sometimes I am shocked when I hear how tweens/teens are allowed to talk to their parents. Not all, of course, but there are a significant few who talk back, call the shots, use sarcasm and are generally rude. They sass about cleaning up after themselves and complain about doing any work to care for their home or help the family in any way.

This behavior has nothing to do with ADHD, autism or executtive functioning. While the back talk may start as an impulsive response, the ongoing nature of it is allowed by parents not clarifying limits, setting expectations and insisting on respect.

Often parents feel at a complete loss when it comes to instilling respect in their children. Again, we are taught that children’s self-esteem will be harmed if we don’t cater to their every emotional need, so we fall silent and endure disrespect.

The truth is, a child doesn’t want or like to be disrespectful. They look to adults to guide and direct them. A child’s self-esteem is vastly improved when s/he is shown the way to be kind, caring and behave appropriately.
The simplest way to teach children respect is to behave in a manner that:
1. Shows respect to others.
2. Sets expectations for respect in return.
3. Has clear boundaries and real life consequences for actions and words that are disrespectful.

Let’s unpack each of these in turn.

#1 above is self-explanatory. We cannot expect respect if we do not show it in and out of our home. Most parents are very good at #1 and many children can be good at it outside the home, but struggle with the respect concept at home with their families. We’ll cover how to adjust that below. However, if you are not engaging with your child in respectful ways, you cannot expect the same in return.

#2 “sets expectations for respect in return,” is a process that is easy to say, but harder to do. Simply stating to a child, “you will respect me,” while they roll their eyes isn’t going to get you much improvement. It also isn’t necessary to raise your voice, make threats of consequences or doom their social life to wring respect out of them.
The approach to set expectations is as simple as this. Tell your child the truth about how hard you work, how good they have it, how their technology is a privilege, not a right and then when they get disrespectful ignore them.

Yep. Ignore them. Say to them, “I can’t help you/look for your book/answer your question/go out to the mall until you speak to me respectfully.” Then go get busy doing something else. Stay calm and focus on what you are doing. Repeat, “I can’t XYZ until you speak to me respectfully,” until they do actually speak to you respectfully. When they do figure out how to be more respectful, turn your whole attention to them and say, ”Thank you. How can I help?” Reward them with your attention, not a cookie or a token.

Often children won’t pick up quickly on this change in your demeanor. If they are used to getting their way when they are rude, they will continue to expect that since it has worked very well for them in the past. As you ask for respect, they may up the ante with more yelling and disrespect. If you have to, send them to a quiet place to calm down. If they won’t go, you go to a quiet place away from them until they can calm down. This may take awhile. Be patient and be consistent and after a few days, you will see you child behaving more respectfully.

This process may also make you and your child late for things. They may demand you have their backpack ready for the bus and you may do that work so everyone can get to work and school on time. While I suggest you start practicing this respect process on a weekend or during a school break, this behavior may show up when you are crunched for time. Roll with it. Being late one day, in most cases, isn’t the end of the world. Show them you mean what you say. Show respect, expect respect. No negotiations.

This brings us to #3, “Clear boundaries and real life consequences for actions and words that are disrespectful.”
If we adults are rude and disrespectful at work, we could be out of a job. If we behave rudely in our relationships, we may spend a lot of time alone. Being disrespectful has real life consequences.

Once you have set up clear expectations of respect at home, hold to them. If your child comes charging at you screaming, “Mom! I can’t find my soccer uniform. Find it or I’ll be late for practice!” Calmly state, “I need a respectful request and we can work together to find it.” Wait for a “please,” before you move to start looking. If your child can’t do that, coach them, “When you say ‘please help me,’ I will help.” Some kids will get right with this program, others may not. And those will be the kids late for soccer practice.

Sometimes we parents feel badly about setting these hard and fast limits, especially when we have a child with some executive functioning struggles. We vacillate between a desire to instill respect and wondering if the child can “help it” due to their disabilities. The reality is, if we want our kids to live as independent adults (and most of them can and want to be independent when they are older) we need to teach them how to live and interact with other people in a way that will allow them to be successful. That practice starts with us. So if they are late to school or sporting event at age 13 because of disrespect, they won’t make that same mistake when they are 27 and the stakes for disrespect are much higher.

No One Wants to Behave Like a Brat

The bottom line is, children and teens want to be respectful. They want to understand the expectations for healthy relationships and communication. Just like learning to read, write, make a bed, organize their backpack, they need us to TEACH them these skills of respect. At the core they are young and want what they want when they want it. Don’t we all? But to allow them to barrel through life with no expectations of them to be respectful, they are further disabled to low expectations of what they are capable of and how they can succeed both in and outside the home.

Part 2 of this article, “How to Raise a Responsible, Respectful Child,” will focus on responsibility and is coming up tomorrow. Stay tuned….