Teaching Respect

In this day of award stealing moments and presidential bashing, I thought it is high time to blog about teaching children respect. As much as we focus on teaching them manners, respect seems to be falling by the wayside. There is a wide range of ways to approach this topic with children. I am going to list and discuss a bit by category.

  • Define respect with your children. What does having respect mean? How does being respectful shape our relationships? Talk about this, honesty and other related traits often. Point out when people are being respectful or disrespectful out in the world. Talk about the social exchanges you witness.


  • Model Respect. Children are learning best by watching and listening. Consider how you speak about your neighbor and how you argue with your spouse. If you mis-step, stop and apologize or otherwise make amends. If they see the mis-step, let them see the make-up.



  • First teach children about themselves. Children can not have respect for others until they have a sense of self and start to recognize differences. When a preschooler is making a noodle and yarn self-portrait, they are thinking about their eye color and skin color and can start to recognize the similarities and differences in others. This can build to likes and dislikes and personality difference. Then children can consider culture and religion. The idea is for parents to speak openly and respectfully about others as they go.



  • Teach diversity. Recognize and appreciate differences in others.



  • Teach respect for life. This can come through pet care or caring for the environment.



  • Teach about the life cycle. It is helpful to discuss birth, aging and death. Children can learn respect for elders by better understanding this process.



  • Teach manners. Through two years old, we model manners. Through three years old, we expect manners. After four years old, we enforce manners. This includes “please” and “thank you,” but it also includes speaking in a respectful tone and listening to others. These are things that should be taught over the long haul.



  • Give opportunity for responsibility. This means children should have chores and responsibilities. I like chores for allowance, but also feel children should have things they do just because they are part of the family. Helping should be a given.



  • Teach friendship and social skills. This is a wide category and includes the basics like listening to others, sharing and taking turns. It also touches on a sense of empathy, recognizing others emotions and being able to appropriately respond.



  • Take care of their own belongings. This means children should clean and care for their rooms. They should be expected to keep track of belongings at school and be held responsible when things are lost. There should be a system for children repaying for any losses.
  • Sports and teamwork may be helpful. Children participating with others makes them responsible to others for performance and follow-through.


Author: Dr. Rene Hackney

With a MA in school psychology and a PhD in developmental psychology, I founded and work as a parent educator at Parenting Playgroups. Somewhere in there I trained in the Developmental Clinic at Children's NMC and in the public schools. I have two beautiful, funny children who make me practice what I preach most everyday.

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