As with any virtue we are trying to help our kids develop, teaching respect all starts with how we practice the virtue in our own daily lives. Children are likely to copy what their parents do, so brainstorming ways to be a positive role model is a great place to start. Here are a few points to begin with:
- Speaking respectfully to family members
- Using manners with people you meet in public places (“please,” “excuse me,” “thank you”)
- Taking care of your belongings
- Keeping your personal space tidy
- Respecting your own boundaries
As you can see, respect is a quality that permeates our relationships with others and our environment as well as our own selves.
Perhaps the most helpful question to ask ourselves before we speak or act is: Would I like to see my child acting or speaking this way? Reflecting on the answer can remind us to think twice about the sort of example we are setting.
This is particularly important to consider when we interact with our own kids. Using a polite tone and asking permission before touching (i.e. to wipe a nose) can be easily forgotten when we are in a rush to get something done, but these are practices we don’t want to neglect. As we show respect to our own kids, they are more likely to show respect to us and, in turn, to others.
Here are some more thoughts from several other mothers about how to teach the quality of respect to young children:
“My husband and I tried to make respect a natural part of our home environment. Our children felt respected and in turn would show respect toward us and others. Respect is an important part of Montessori philosophy, so our attitudes at home were natural extensions of that. I also taught my children courtesy lessons from an early age (another part of Montessori education), which emphasized good manners as a way of showing respect.” – Deb from Living Montessori Now
“The starting place for me teaching my children to respect others is with discussing self-control and loving others. Frequent discussions have helped. Being present and teaching in the moments when my child has been disrespectful to another to name the act as disrespectful and encouraging respectful behavior as well as defining what that is in the given situation. Teaching manners has been beneficial-starting from when the child can speak. Those lessons have really translated into more respectful behavior and actions as my children have grown. It is a work in progress constantly to discuss being respectful in a way that can be understood by a 5.5 year old and a 2.5 year old.” – Jaimi from The Stay-at-Home-Mom Survival Guide
“My feeling and experience is that the more kids experience authentic, genuine respect shown to them with the absolute sincerity, the more likely they will integrate it in their own treating the others. Great when they get the name for this attitude.” – Vera
I personally believe that conversing about character traits while engaging in hands-on activities and exploring themes via storytelling are also powerful ways for children to understand and eventually exhibit the traits. Here are some resources that can help with this:
How to Reduce Sibling Fighting with ‘Soft Words’ by Living Loving Laughing
5 Steps to a Polite Kid by How Wee Learn
The Art of Teaching Children Kindness and Respect by Dirt and Boogers
What other thoughts or resources do you have about how to teach respect to young children?
To browse more character building activities on my website, click here.