Respect doesn’t come naturally – it’s something that has to be taught. If you’re a parent to young children, you’ll likely want to raise them to be respectful of others. This includes respecting different people from peers to elders, respecting cultures and traditions, and respecting rules and requirements.

Of course, few aspects of parenting are easy, and this one is no exception. Different children will experience different levels of difficulty in grasping concepts as complex as respect. Ultimately, though, it something that absolutely anyone and everyone can learn, and it’s something that must be taught – no exceptions!

But how can you go about it? Being too forceful about it may teach your children that respect has to be given to avoid punishment, not because it’s simply the right thing to do. You need to find ways to be firm but kind about this kind of lesson. Here’s how psychologists recommend 4 gentle ways to teach children to respect others.

1.    Set Up House Rules

Learning begins at home, so teach respect by committing to certain house rules that your children – and, ideally, you and other adults in the house – must follow. According to psychotherapist and Self-Esteem For A Lifetime author Ingrid Schweiger, Ph.D., following house rules is a child’s first step into being able to follow the rules at school and in other aspects of their future lives.

These rules serve as boundaries that your children must learn to respect. But of course, it’s harder to get little kids to fall in line.

Here are some tips for making that happen:

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  • Sit your children down and explain to them what the house rules are in detail.
  • Post the house rules somewhere easy for your kids to see, like on the fridge
  • When you write the rules, write them in big letters and simple English, especially for young beginner readers in the house.
  • Explain to your children the importance of each rule and how it affects the rest of the household; for example, they must clean their toys because leaving them out creates a messy space for Mom and Dad.
  • Be very clear about the consequences of breaking the house rules and ensuring your children know you’re serious about them.
  • If house rules are broken, follow through on the promised consequences and remind to your child why the rules are important and what the consequences are for

We have talked about consequences here, but remember that purely punishment-based, reactive responses never have positive results for children. Punishments should be fair, clearly explained, and completely non-violent, and they should be done when you have a level head.

2.    Don’t Put Up With Rudeness

It’s not unusual for children to get more than a little bratty, but allowing it to happen and not correcting it is exactly how you wind up raising rude kids. This about it – how often do your kids scream:

  • “You’re stupid! You’re such a baby!”
  • “That’s mine, and you can’t have it!”
  • “Whatever, no one cares about that anyway!”

Sometimes, these outbursts will be accompanied by tantrums and negative physical behaviors. If not stopped, these behaviors and actions will be brought with them into classrooms, causing disruptions for their classmates. Basic social skills that overcome rudeness in positive ways are crucial for maintaining decorum in any learning environment for children.

But how do you nip rudeness in the bud, and how do you teach alternative methods to these outbursts?

·         Teach Apologies

Very young children are going to have a lot of trouble remembering to do what you’re teaching. This is perfectly normal; very young kids tend to lack mastery over-reactivity and impulses. That’s why it’s important to teach your child to say “sorry” and mean it at a very young age. Schweiger recommends taking the lead and apologizing first when you’re also in the wrong or if you’re involved. Your child will soon follow your example!

·         Self-Expression

For children old enough to manage things like impulse control, teach them the importance of positive self-expression through the use of “I” statements. For example, instead of saying, “Shut up! You’re just a jerk!” teach your child to say, “I’m angry!” or “I’m frustrated!”. This is a great first step into teaching your child how to express their emotions in a less accusatory way, says Schweiger.

·         Encourage Discussion

Is your child making sarcastic comments, muttering passive-aggressively, or acting out for attention? Teach them how to talk about what they feel. For example, you might say, “You seem angry. Why don’t you tell me about it?” or “You sound upset. Let’s discuss it!”. This will give your child the attention they both want and need from you while showing them a more positive way to go about their feelings, states Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids author Victoria Kindle Hodson.

·         Don’t Forget Manners

Make sure your kids know about basic manners – but expect especially young ones to forget sometimes. Give reminders where needed and be a good example by practicing those same manners in your everyday life. And if you slip up and do something rude and your child calls you out, apologize and fix it right away. This confirms the fact that ideas matter. Keep your positive thinking going, and don’t get discouraged if your child needs many reminders for a while. These things take time and will pay off later.

3.    Listen And Slow Down To Understand

Despite how silly they can be, children have their own reasons for their actions in their heads. Whether those reasons are fully rational or not is a separate issue – but that is arguably not the important thing to focus on.

Why, exactly, does listening and understanding tie into respect? It’s teaching your children that if they come out and say what’s on their mind with kindness and honesty, something good will come of it. It’s also teaching your kids about the give-and-take of conflict resolution. They’ll learn about compromise, be taught to understand other perspectives and learn valuable lessons about respect at the end of the day.

Kids want to feel like they’re being heard and like you understand them. This is why being an active listener and avoiding harsh judgemental thoughts can work wonders, says nationally recognized psychologist and parent coach Jeffrey Bernstein, Ph.D. Here are some steps for maintaining this mindset during times of conflict:

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·         Step 1: Ask

When conflict arises, as your child, about their thoughts and emotions, be sure you’re not being judgmental and don’t invalidate their feelings, they may become defensive. If your child doesn’t want to share the emotion right away, make sure they know the door is open for them.

·         Step 2: Listen

When your child explains their feelings, listen carefully, and take it slow. Sometimes, it’s hard to really grasp what a child’s emotions mean and how their reasoning works. Instead of yelling, work to dig deep and fully comprehend why your child feels this way.

·         Step 3: Explain

Once you at least mostly understand your child’s point of view, explain yours. Tell your child what you would like for them to change. For example, you can explain that their sibling’s excessive rowdiness could hurt both of them and talk about how you worry about them being injured. Don’t let emotion get a hold of you here; step away if you need to and come back to explain when you’ve cooled off.

·         Step 4: Determine The Ultimate Source Of The Conflict

What’s the root cause of all this trouble? What is it that made you angry? Does someone have the TV turned up too loud? Has your toddler tugged too hard at your pants and annoyed you? What is really the source of this – is it truly your child, or is it you?

·         Step 5: Be Clear

Your kids can’t read your mind. You need to directly explain to them what is bothering you and why. Yelling out of nowhere will confuse them and make them afraid of you – and it’ll make them model their behavior after that! Yikes! Make sure your child knows what you expect from them; don’t leave room for guesswork.

4.    Expose Them To Diversity

Another kind of respect that many children need to learn is to respect those who are different from them. Without that kind of positive respect, your kids will struggle later in life to comprehend and accommodate people to whom they don’t relate.

Some children might not notice differences, but many will. And they’ll be curious. They might ask you quietly if you’re lucky, but the more likely occurrence is that they’ll loudly say something offensive and embarrass you! That’s okay – it’s part of the learning process.

Work through the embarrassment and gently explain things to them. Don’t dismiss them, brush them off, or shush them, recommends Schweiger. Instead, address their comments directly. If it helps, think of it as simple curiosity. Your children are not attempting to be malicious – they genuinely don’t know what’s going on! This is a learning opportunity, so use it wisely and explain what is different about the other person and why that’s okay.

Naturally, the best way to encourage respect for diversity is to expose your child to diverse groups of people from the time they’re very young. Not sure how to do this? You can:

  • Bring your kids to events that involve children of different backgrounds, ethnicities, and cultures.
  • Make sure that the media your kids consume features diverse characters.
  • Let your kids try things from other cultures and show them how to do so respectfully.
  • Talk about not just differences, but things your kids share in common with the people around them, says Hodson.

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Final Thoughts On Some Gentle Ways To Teach Children To Respect Others

Respect isn’t just something that’s earned. Every human being deserves basic levels of respect, and a child needs to be raised with this knowledge in mind. Without it, they can face even more behavioral problems in the future.

Teaching your children about respect can be difficult, but keep your positive thinking! Start by enforcing house rules, encouraging positive methods of self-expression instead of rudeness, and introducing them to the world’s diversity. Your efforts will pay off in the long run, and when they’ve grown into respectful, compassionate adults, your children will thank you!