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Teaching Children Respect
A practical guide to bringing the value of respect into your home.
A mother called to tell me that while on vacation her husband slipped and ended up in the emergency room. Her teen kept texting – not to inquire about her father but to say that she’s bored and wants to leave the hotel room.
“Can you believe her?” she asked.
When I asked her if she confronted her daughter’s behavior, the mother sheepishly replied she didn’t.
Living in a selfie generation, parents and educators struggle with teaching children to think of others. Along with being self-absorbed comes a lack of respect.
We are responsible with teaching our children how to act respectfully. We can’t expect them to automatically correct their wrong behavior. Some parents are afraid of their children’s reactions so they say nothing. They would rather be their child’s BFF than a figure of authority. Others ignore the rudeness and misbehavior until they angrily explode and lose control. Both situations breed disrespect.
Creating a relationship built on respect with our children is forged by infusing our homes with an atmosphere of ‘kavod’, the Hebrew word for honor. More than simply teaching good manners, we are talking about transmitting dignity, values and character. It describes a respect and reverence that is felt for your parents and those who came before you.
Here are some practical ways we can bring a spirit of respect into our homes every day.
1. Create an atmosphere of peace in the home
Children seeing their parents speaking and acting respectfully towards one another is the most important way to inculcate respect. Husbands and wives who despite differences of opinion maintain their dignity, speak in calm tones and use words and body language that do not threaten, do more to teach your children the value of respect than any lecture.
Children who witness put downs, mocking comments and eye rolls and lack of consideration for each other’s thoughts and opinions learn to disrespect.
Seek out ways to convey that you hold your spouse in high regard. Show your children acts of kindness that you are happy to do because you love one another. Be positive about your spouse. Express appreciation in front of your children. Tell your kids how special their mom and dad are.
When disciplining, be on the same page. Children who see alignment are more likely to respect their parent’s decisions. In unity there is strength.
2. Teach respect for others
Expect your children to respect others. And if you see a deficiency, act upon it.
Here are some daily examples that your children can do to treat others with dignity:
• Look at people instead of your smartphone when speaking to others
• When grandparents come to visit stand up and greet them; don’t wait for them to find you and then grunt your ‘hello’
• Smile. There is a famous teaching in Judaism: “Encounter all individuals with a pleasant face.” Your smile or lack of it has an impact on others.
• Don’t interrupt others while they are speaking-even if it is your younger brother and you feel that what you have to say is more important.
• Listen and be open to other’s ideas and opinions. . You are not always right and you do not know it all. Even if you do not agree you can still listen respectfully.
• Parents, be respectful when you discipline. Embarrassing your child will push your child away. Behind most angry children lies pain. Of course parents must discipline but be sure that in the process you do not make your child feel like a zero. Be clear and consistent. Follow through. Don’t ruin the teaching moment through shaming and public disgrace.
3. Teach respect for the world around you
It is a mitzvah in the Torah to respect the incredible world that we’ve been given and not destroy it needlessly.
Teach children to take care of their things. Throwing away filled plates of food because too much was taken, carelessly losing headbands and baseball caps, leaving clothing all over the house are small examples of kids forgetting that everything we have should be valued and cared for.
The Torah also teaches us not to hurt animals and to take care of the environment.
When children value “things” they come to a place of gratitude. Those who take “things” for granted eventually take the people in their lives for granted.
4. Teach Respect for Heaven
Too many children today feel apathetic and disconnected to spirituality. A relationship with God provides our children with an inner strength that cannot be drawn upon elsewhere. Challenges come, unexpected disappointments arrive. We cannot shield our children but we can give them tools to thrive. Spirituality empowers the next generation with an understanding that there is a Higher Being who watches over us. We are not alone. There is a Divine Plan.
How can we communicate this to our kids?
• Try to have a daily prayer routine. Even if it is just a few moments of spiritual connection, children absorb our actions. While praying don’t engage in conversation.
• Maintain proper respect for holy books such as prayer books not lying on a floor or being treated casually and piled under other books.
• Children should see dignified behavior while celebrating traditions. Ask: what is the attitude shown toward keeping holidays? What is the conversation at my Shabbat table, my Seder table?
• Beautify the mitzvot you keep. Show that you are happy to welcome Shabbos, invite guests, make a blessing or sit at your Seder table. Engage your child and show him the beautiful menorah, Kiddush cup or Shabbos candlesticks you are using. Don’t put your mitzvot at the bottom of your to-do list.
Honoring parents through thoughts, words and deeds are the basics of imparting respect. In addition, we have countless opportunities each day to mold our children’s character and help them discover the dignity that lies within their souls.