Five Thoughtful Ways To Raise Respectful Children

Life

“I gave you a warning two minutes ago. Let’s go.” she says. He shakes his head, expressing he’d like to stay a little longer, “I’m going to count to three. One, two….”

“I’m thirsty. More water?”, he begs.

“Ok, but quickly”, she says signalling to the waitress, “I’d like a water”, he says to the waitress. “Aren’t you forgetting something? Water…..please!”, she says, correcting him.

He seems embarrassed but echoes “PLEASE” to the waitress.

Can you visualize the two people in this imaginary conversation? From the language you’d assume it’s a parent with a young child, and you’d probably be correct. After all, it would be impolite to speak to another adult like that. But, if the words we choose are disrespectful to an adult, the same words are equally hurtful to a child.

I wrote this post over a few days sitting in a sunny cafe and I couldn’t help but overhear numerous conversations between parents and children, playing out just like the one above. The families weren’t related, they didn’t even know each other, yet, they spoke the same language. Why? As children, we learnt stereotypical phrases, many of which were disrespectful. We accepted them as being normal, but if we don’t stop and reassess, history is destined to repeat itself.

One of a child’s basic emotional needs is to be treated with respect. It sits at the heart of a strong parent-child connection, which is fundamental to healthy emotional development. We’re capable of giving this to our children, but first, we need to recognize disrespectful behaviour and stamp it out before it jeopardizes our most precious relationships.

LET’S SPRING CLEAN OUR SUBCONSCIOUS MINDS

In Connection Parenting, parenting coach Pam Leo, identifies phrases adults automatically say to children when trying to teach manners. Prompting children to say please and thank you, insisting children apologize or forcing children share their toys are all examples of well-meaning, but disrespectful behaviours. They can make kids feel embarrassed, humiliated, ridiculed, threatened and hurt. When children feel this way, they naturally shift to a fight-flight response and when they are in that state learning is impossible – no matter how much we want to teach.

The best approach to extinguish parental disrespect is to commit to being proactive rather than reactive, by continually nourishing our parent-child connection and by adopting positive parenting practices. One piece of advice from Pam Leo, which has stuck with me is: “The level of cooperation parents get from their children is usually equal to the level of connection children feel with their parents.” Strengthening our connection takes more effort and patience when our children are young but it means we’ll have fewer battles when they’re older.

Here are five ways to break the cycle of disrespect

1. WALK THE WALK

Encourage children to use manners by modelling the behaviour rather than prompting them to say please and thank you. Kids learn more from what you do than what you say, so use it to your advantage – they’ll imitate your behaviour in their own time. But, it can be embarrassing when our kids don’t always say please and thank you, right? It feels like it may reflect poorly on our parenting abilities.

Firstly, don’t worry about it – easier said than done, I know. But seriously, as parents, one of the most important skills to master is to follow our own path and let judgements from other’s pass us by. You can’t please everyone and your top priority is your child’s long term emotional well-being. And, regardless, there is a super easy way to manage it – say thank you for your child. The person feels appreciated and you’ve modelled manners, setting a healthy example for your child.

2. NEVER FORCE CHILDREN TO SHARE

We may wish young children would share, but it’s an unrealistic expectation. Model sharing as often as you can and support your child on their journey – they’ll learn sharing can be a rewarding social experience but they need to get there on their own timeframe.

To model sharing toys specifically, Pam Leo suggests you can buy your own set of toys and keep them in a special place to share with your children or those who come to visit. But, give your child the freedom to decide if certain toys are off limits to others, never to be shared. Adults have this freedom and it’s fair for children to have it too. When friends come to visit, suggest “teddy can sleep in a special place” to avoid potential conflict.

3. INVITE CHILDREN INTO CONVERSATIONS

Are children invisible? Of course not. But, sometimes they may feel like they are when we talk about them as if they’re not there. It’s an easy pattern to fall into as we speak for them when they’re babies and continue doing so without realizing it.

Whenever you can, include children in conversations concerning them. Invite them to tell grandma how their trip to the zoo was or how they’re feeling about school. They may elect for you to explain on their behalf but opening the door for them to join in let’s them know they’re respected.

4. FORCED AFFECTION IS DANGEROUS

We don’t see a lot of our families, so when we do I find myself suggesting to my son to “give your Aunty a kiss” or “hug Grandma good-bye”. I cringe when I hear myself say it as I know how it made me feel when I was young – uncomfortable, awkward and in the spotlight.

Demanding children give affection communicates other people have the right to decide about their bodies. It’s a dangerous precedent to set and it’s disrespectful. So, rather than prompting children to give affection, we can suggest adults offer it instead. Discussing this with family and friends will help adjust their expectations, protect their feelings and avoid potential disappointment.

If your child has a strong connection with the person offering affection, chances are they’ll open their arms enthusiastically for a big hug. But if they don’t, that’s ok too. We can step in and offer Grandma affection from us instead. Being flexible helps too – maybe kissing makes your child uncomfortable but they’d love a hug, a high-five or a handshake instead.

5. NEVER DEMAND APOLOGIES

We were having fun playing on the bean bags, but I could see what was about to happen…milliseconds too late. My little man perfected his head butt and I had a blood nose for the first time in 39 years. I saw stars and ran to the bathroom to grab a wet face cloth to hold my throbbing nose. My little man followed me asking if I was ok. I gave him a hug, reassuring him I was fine. But he wanted to solve the problem. “I’ll get Daddy”, he said. He dashed outside, picked up a large river stone, held it to his ear and “called Daddy”. “Hello Dad. Come home, Mama sore nose. Bye.”

When children make mistakes they lose a little dignity. If we berate them or demand an apology, they lose even more and experience an emotional hurt. When they’re hurting, they can’t learn and that’s what mistakes are all about – learning, growing and improving. Instead of asking for an apology, help your child find a way to solve the problem. And as always, model apologizing, demonstrating it’s safe to admit you’ve done something wrong.

IT’S ALL ABOUT CONNECTION

In the midst of the daily chaos of family life it seems there’s a never-ending list of do’s and don’ts when we’re striving to give our children all they need to grow into their full potential. It can feel impossible to remember, let alone put it all into action. Luckily, when you’re trying to break the cycle of disrespect and make your children feel like equals there are only two rules you need to remember.

Firstly, in any interaction, ask yourself whether your words will strengthen or weaken your connection with your child. If the answer is weaken, pause and think again. If the words have already been spoken, apologize to your child and move forward in a way that restores your connection.

And secondly, perform a mental check and ask yourself if you would speak to a close friend the way you’re about to speak to your child. If the answer is no, pause, take a deep breath and find new words.

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COMMENTS
  • May 27, 2016
    Heather

    I recently discovered your blog and Facebook page and I feel compelled to say a big “thank you!” It’s difficult sometimes trying to do things a little differently than the majority and it’s comforting to find other like-minded individuals who are trying to improve themselves as parents. 🙂

    • May 27, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Thank you so much Heather! Very kind of you to say and gives me a boost to hear it – it is hard at times sticking my neck out but I know there are so many of us who feel the same way and it’s great to find our “tribe”. Thanks again and lovely to meet you 🙂

  • May 28, 2016

    I love this piece Tracy. Even the most positive parent can so easily blurt disrespectful language without realising it. The ‘public manners’ issue is one I really struggle with and will often prompt my kids to say ‘Thank you’ etc. – your phrase ‘one of the most important skills to master is to follow our own path and let judgements from other’s pass us by’ really resonated with me and I’ve banked that to use as a nudge when I’m about to open my mouth. My kids don’t need that. They are doing just fine. Thanks for this warm and insightful article.

    • May 28, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Thank you Cally – I’m happy you enjoyed it! It’s so true – these phrases are so deep seated they just pop out of our subconscious when our buttons are pushed. I’m glad my attitude about not worrying what other’s think resonated with you. My Dad passed that kind of thinking onto me – he’d say things like, “you’re never going to see that person again, why do you care what they think?” And I’ve translated it to my parenting – our kids will be with us forever but strangers in the park or a shop assistant at the supermarket are merely passing through our lives momentarily, so stick with your kids. And good on you for saying your kids don’t need that – I bet they are doing just fine like you say. I am posting again on this topic next week, more of a personal piece about a shop assistant who asked my son for the “magic word”. You may like it. Thanks again for reading and have a wonderful weekend.

  • May 28, 2016
    Akhileshvari

    This article brought up some confusion for me because it is in my nature to strive more for connection parenting but I have been told many times to be strict with my kids when they misbehave and that ‘they don’t have to like you, they just have to do what you say’.
    This article had given me a lot of food for thought. Thank you.

    • May 28, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      I’m so happy it resonated with you Akhileshvari. I am convinced by connection being our strongest parenting superpower and that we must learn to separate our kid’s behaviour from who they truly are. Their behaviour is an indicator of how well they are coping with the environment and conditions we’re providing. That’s not to say kids never push the boundaries but working on connection will mean less conflict and easier parenting in the long run. Lovely to meet you and wishing you well on your journey.

  • May 29, 2016
    Emily

    Hey Tracy,

    Wonderful article! In the future when I have my own kids, I am going to remember this! 🙂

    Emily

    • May 29, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Thanks so much Emily and I’m thrilled it resonated with you 🙂

  • May 29, 2016
    Kate

    I completely agree that our connection is what leads to cooperation. I have three children. It is incredibly challenging to meet everyone’s needs but we do make it a top priority to have daily connection time with each of them. It is very clear when they are missing this – some are more adaptable than others but all of them need it and miss it when it is not there. I am sometimes surprised when my most strong willed child willingly goes along with something that he typically would challenge – I know in that moment that it is a combination of our current level of connection along with a growing maturity. The battles would be endless if there were not the relationship. As Alfie Kohn says “Put the relationship first”. That is hanging front and center on my fridge and I think of it every single day. Great post Tracy!

    • May 29, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Thank you Kate and I couldn’t agree more. I love Alfie Kohn as well – Unconditional Parenting is one of my favourite parenting books. We are struggling a little at the moment as we’ve been asking too much of our son with too much work travel – he’s been absolutely amazing but too much jet lag and too many places for a little boy to handle all at once I think. I am focussing on filling his love cup and strengthening our connection and have faith it will come right – I love this way of parenting, it just feels right to me. Thanks again and I’m thrilled you enjoyed the post.

      • May 30, 2016
        Mia

        Are there any other books that you would recommend? I’m new to all of this and would love to learn more 🙂

  • May 30, 2016
    Jess

    I hate seeing people tease children by telling them things that aren’t true. It’s maybe fun for the adults but so confusing for children and might make them unwilling to trust again. Being respectful to our children is so important.

    • May 30, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Couldn’t agree more and thanks for reading Jess 🙂

  • May 31, 2016
    Sue Ellery

    Hi – great article, fully agree with all you say – but one thing jarred: ‘little man’… Really? He’s not a little man, he’s a child, a boy, a toddler, or a lad. We often have pet names for our children, but calling a toddler your ‘little man’ seems to put across expectations that he may not be able to live up to… doesn’t it?

    • May 31, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Hi Sue – thanks! And that’s just what I call him on this blog – I don’t like to use my son’s or husband’s names as this blog it’s my choice, not theirs to share some details of our lives. He’s VERY much a little boy, a baby in my eyes so no need to worry about that. We are and will continue to stretch out toddler and childhood as long as we possibly can – he has his whole life to be an adult. Thanks for reading. 🙂

  • May 31, 2016
    Mabel

    Thank you for this fantastic piece, lots of wisdom! I just have a question about “not forcing apologies” – isn’t it fair to teach them to say sorry when they’ve done something wrong? Perhaps to say something like, “would you like to say sorry to XX for hitting him, because he’s feeling hurt?”

    How else would they learn about the value of this social grace? In the future when they mix with their peers in school and they don’t apologize for wrongdoings, might they be perceived as being obnoxious?

    Hope you can shed some light ! Many thanks!

    Xoxo

    • June 01, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Thanks Mabel and happy you enjoyed it. And great question. This is not to suggest that kids shouldn’t say sorry – they should when they’ve done something wrong but when we “teach” it by forcing them, especially in public it can be humiliating. I have never forced my son to say sorry but he says it all the time when he feels he’s hurt me (quite often with his rough housing!). Yesterday he said sorry for tipping water on himself and wetting his t-shirt – so cute. I find it best to teach saying sorry by modelling it. So, I say sorry when I’ve done something wrong. And he has picked it up. If he forgets to say sorry to somebody else, I’ll say it for him and he often repeats it. If he forgets to say it to me I don’t ask for it at all, but show him a way to help fix the problem. For kids who can understand I think it’s also good to have a discussion about saying please, thank you and sorry and why we do it, but not in the moment when they’ve actually don’t something wrong or forgotten to say it. Just a little discussion to say, this is why we say these things and it makes other people feel good, something along those lines. I’ve found that when my son says his please, thank you and sorries he is so sincere about it, it’s completely authentic as he’s decided to do it. I see so many kids being forced to say it and almost hanging their heads in shame when they do it. I hope that helps. xo

  • June 01, 2016
    Pennie

    This made me think. There’s nothing more I want is to be a good parent to my children. So, with that being said, I have a question. Last week during karate class, my son(10 years old), which I usually don’t have any out of the ordinary behavior problems with, was being disrespectful by not listening and goofing off to an upper belt who was trying to teach him and some other children. I could see that he told my son many times to stop, but my son wasn’t listening. Finally, I had enough, I got up from where I was sitting and called my son over. I bent over to look him straight in the eye, I didn’t raise my voice,and I told him what needed to be said, he started to cry, and he walked back over to where he was. For a few minutes, my son just stood there quietly crying to himself. Then the upper belt walked over to him, spoke to him, and they continued. From that point on, my son was listening and class ended on a good note. I felt as though his behavior had to be corrected right then and there. Did I do the right thing? I know he was embarrassed but, I think that if I waited until after class was over, it wouldn’t have been resolved. What are your thoughts?

    • June 01, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Hi Pennie,
      You know your son best and it sounds as though you stepped in to resolve the situation before it escalated into something worse. From what you said it sounds like you were being respectful of your son. You have years more experience than me but I would perhaps add talking to your son about it at the end of the class and asking what the issue was. Or before the next class you could discuss it with your son, let him know you’re sorry if you embarrassed him last time but you were trying your best to help and see if there’s anything that’s bothering him or making him anxious about the class. It’s impossible to get it right every time and we’re bound to break the “rules” every now and then. In Connection Parenting Pam Leo suggests if we think we messed up, just to apologize, let our kids know we’re human too and start again. I hope that helps and thanks for reading!

  • June 01, 2016
    wendy

    My kids are all grown up now with kids of their own, but one thing I always did was to give clear explanations WHY. I always found that if I told them truthfully why I wanted them to do something, or I was not going to allow something………I had no real battles. Also I would always really listen to their reasons for wanting/not wanting to do something, and consider them before deciding. this was particularly relevant when they were teenagers

    • June 01, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Thanks so much for sharing that Wendy – great advice! I’ve started doing the same with my son and it seems to be helping, although sometimes he agrees but I don’t think he really knows what I’m meaning. But it’s a wonderful habit to get into. Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom. 🙂

  • June 01, 2016
    Sophie

    Hi, I’ve just read this and feel terrible. My toddler boys behave better for their dad than for me and now I’ve realised why. They have a connection with him that is different to me and closer maybe. I had post-natal depression with both of them and I wonder if that has something to do with it. I try to be a good mum, but end up snapping or shouting at them. Feeling like I’m losing any connection with them the older they get. Help!

    • June 01, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Oh Sophie, I’m so sorry and don’t feel bad – you’re doing your best. This parenting job is a tough gig and with post natal depression on top I can only imagine how impossible it must feel at times. It’s never too late to strengthen your connection with your kids and I’m sure they’ll respond quickly. I can’t recommend the book Connection Parenting enough – Pam Leo is a positive parenting educator and this post was based on a lot of her advice. Also Dr Laura Markham’s book Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids is super practical and gives different ideas for connecting with kids of different ages. Playful Parenting is also a great read especially for boys – they connect a lot through play. Don’t be hard on yourself – you’re doing your best and kids are resilient, you’ll get things back on track in no time. Please feel free to email any time – tracy@raisedgood.com Wishing you all the best and hope that helps.

    • June 02, 2016
      Lori

      Sophie, your comment rang a bell with me! My mother and I always had a very rocky relationship that never got resolved before her death. As I have grown old (mid-60’s), I question why we could not get along. It had to be more than just different personalities. She had a miscarriage when I was 3 years old and was not ‘there for me’ for years, even well into elementary school. As a child, I resented that. It was never shared or talked about. In fact, I was never told until I was much older that she lost a child. (I have no siblings.) Lately, I talk with my peers about how our parents’ generation was not into honesty and sharing as much as our generation. It’s never too late to forge a different relationship. You are the adult and always have that choice. What I love about this website is Tracy gives you a healthy way of looking at your role in your child’s life and the tools to make changes. It’s all good. You still have plenty of time.

    • December 01, 2016
      Lois

      Hi Sophie,
      I just read your comment and had to respond because I used to feel exactly this way. I also had post-natal depression and used to shout and snap at my son when he was younger even though I tried my best not to and I knew it didn’t help. For me, reading inspiring blog posts like this one on a daily basis really helped me internalize the importance of not loosing my cool and find some coping mechanisms. Now I never shout at all. Sometimes I do still snap or get annoyed with little things when I should let them wash over me, but I am soooo much better than I used to be, and I am able to apologize promptly to my son when I do behave in a way that is not respectful. We have a great relationship. The important thing is not to be too hard on yourself, know you are doing the best you can, and just keep trying to be better every day. One great trick that helped me was to simply close my eyes or turn my back or even if necessary walk to the other room when I felt I was about to lose it. Not ideal to turn your back on your child but better than screaming at them! And in time, I didn’t need to do those things any more, it just came naturally not to react in an out of control way. I hope this helps, good luck, and remember you are being the best parent that you can be xx

  • June 02, 2016
    Suzanne Anderssen

    Tracy, to be able to even think of writing an article called ‘Five Thoughtful Reasons to Raise Respectful Children’ is very amazing. So many of us are raised ourselves thinking (erroneously) that a respectful child does what they are told unconditionally or regardless of their own feelings, so it is such a pleasure for me to come across you (and many women, as I read the comments) who are busting this myth.
    I’m raising my daughter knowing she has been here before, done it all without me, but this time around we are together to learn whatever it is we both need to learn. Knowing kids are innately wise and giving them the space to let it out is paramount to parenting. I get goosebumps knowing that while much of the world around me is kind of losing its marbles, there are still many, many people who, despite this, continue to grow and value the importance of growing their kids through connection. It really is the only way. The more love we have, the greater we will all be. And in my experience, connection is a choice we have firstly to connect with ourselves in each moment, it is then another choice to connect with those around us too. I have moved from having moments of connection to living in connection for most of my day, which is pretty amazing. My daughter says good morning and good afternoon to the bus driver naturally, no one ever told her to, it just feels right to her and that’s very cool!

    • June 03, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Oh thank you Suzanne – that’s very kind of you to say, I really appreciate it. You are so right – it’s wonderful to find other myth busting mamas. And it makes parenting so much more enjoyable, rather than a chore, a box to be ticked. I agree on connection first being with ourselves first as well, if we don’t know who we are it’s so difficult to connect authentically. I think I’m only just finding myself at this age and I hope my choices in parenting will mean my son knows who he is a lot sooner. Your daughter sounds awesome – she’d get along with my son 🙂 Thanks again for reading and lovely to connect.

  • November 11, 2016

    As a mum of a teenager I love this article. It’s so important to realise we all make mistakes and we can apologise and move on.

    Recently unbeknownst to me my son noticed his teacher was feeling low. My son wrote him an email stating how much he appreciated all the hard work the teacher put into the brass department. He congratulated him on the successes he’d had. The teacher was so moved by this email he replied with admissions of self doubt and his role with the students. The fact my son noticed the teacher was feeling low, acted on his beliefs and encouraged him made me so proud. I really feel this demonstrates my son is caring, self motivated and positive. Although my son is a high achiever musically and academically, this is really one of my favourite acts he has ever made.

    I have my parenting faults we all do, but remembering the important things in life is so empowering.

    • November 13, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Thank you Nicola – so happy to hear it resonates with parents of teenagers as well. And what a wonderful story – you have such a kind and empathetic son. Thank you so much for sharing 🙂

  • April 20, 2017
    Nadine

    As ever, my ” sister” from another Mister is absolutely spot-on! The truth, IS the truth, no matter if anyone thinks trying to incorporate aspects of positive parenting is too lenient/not strict enough/ your children won’t blah blah blah. Positive parenting is NOT laissez-faire parenting- shame more people can’t quite grasp that…Keep spreading the good word, Raised xx

  • July 08, 2017
    Ellie

    Hi Tracy,

    A friend recently shared your article and I thought perhaps I’d comment (I don’t usually!). I appreciated the read, but while I agree with the spirit of your message, I felt like it was missing something. I agree that many times children are reminded to use their manners or to apologize in a disrespectful way (I used to cringe when my own mother said “WHAT DO WE SAY?!”) but I feel that it’s not degrading or robbing a child’s dignity to remind them, if it’s done properly.

    Children are naturally self-focused and helping them to be aware of others is part of teaching social etiquette, as is giving them chances to practice. Just like tying shoes, children need to learn how to use their manners. Simply modelling isn’t enough (just as modelling shoe-tying isn’t the way to learn that skill) though it’s obviously an important piece! There can be kind prompts to remember manners and I’m a big fan of the “redo” (when my kids were tiny I’d hand them something and if they forgot to say thank-you I’d “redo” the situation. We’d role-play asking for things politely too). Simply showing your child it’s a chance to learn how to interact politely takes away any embarrassment.

    Saying “We’d never treat an adult that way!” isn’t a fair comparison because most of what we do with our children isn’t what we’d do with an adult. At least I certainly hope we wouldn’t be telling other adults to put on pants before leaving for the day! Or reminding them to bathe or brush their teeth! Just as kids are learning self-care skills, they will also be learning social skills. Neither learning should involve shame or disrespect.

    I’m not a fan of forced apologies either, they always come out sounding resentful and strained! But I do think it’s important (when your child is old enough) to focus on making amends. Explain that the person that’s injured (or offended) is upset and that you can help them feel better by apologizing and by doing something kind for them. This will teach empathy (and possibly a natural desire to offer an apology) as well as the idea that you can help someone in these situations.

    Lastly, I love your emphasis on connection and how that bond grows and develops as your child does. I do think that spending time on bonding with your child will do much more in the long run than any prompts or comments. I hope that you can appreciate my point of view, my goal was to offer insight on approach, not attack! Thank you for your thoughts and ideas on raising respectful children.

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