Practical ways to teach respectful behavior

This list was compiled for a book for parents. Many of these tips will also apply to educators and others who work with young people.

• Listen. Make eye contact when your children are talking to you. Make an effort to really hear and appreciate what your children are saying.

• Say “Please” and “Thank You,” just like you want them to do.

• Knock before entering your child’s room, especially if the door is closed.

• Use language, words, and a tone of voice that would be acceptable to you if your child were speaking to you.

• Value your children’s need for fun and the time they spend with their friends.

• Give your children space to have different opinions and preferences from you (or other members of the family).

• Value your children’s need for privacy. Don’t open their mail, read their email, listen in on their phone conversations, or hover on their Facebook accounts. (Exceptions might include prior agreements in which your children know that their communications might be observed or surveilled, or instances in which their safety might be threatened. Even if previous and recent behavior has violated a trust, be very careful with this one.)

• Ask your children before using or borrowing something of their.

• If your kids are struggling with something and is in no danger of getting hurt, hurting anyone, or ruining something valuable, ask them if they want help before you step in and do something for them or tell them how to solve their problems. Respect their need for competence and autonomy. Help them explore options and potential outcomes rather than solving problems for them.

• Allow your children to respond to situations differently than you would, without criticizing, shaming, or ridiculing them.

• Stop tickling or teasing when your child asks you to—immediately, and without comment, ridicule, impatience, or judgment.

• Call your children what they wish to be called. Resist calling them names or nicknames that embarrass them, or names they feels they have outgrown.

• When someone asks your children a question, let them answer for themselves. Resist the temptation to speak for your kids, especially when they are present.

• Introduce your children when you encounter someone who hasn’t met them. When you meet a grown-up friend who has a child along, be sure to say hello to the child as well as the adult.

• If your child behaves in a way that feels disrespectful to you, set a boundary and ask for the behavior you want instead. “Let’s continue this conversation when you are willing to do so without yelling” is far more instructive than labeling the behavior as disrespectful. (Try to distinguish upset or agitated behavior from disrespectful behavior. Honor the child’s emotional experience: “I can see you’re really angry about this” can actually diffuse a lot of the emotion and elicit a tone you desire.)

• If you witness your children behaving disrespectfully to others, gently remind them that “we don’t use those words.” Find resources if necessary and take the time to help them develop compassion, empathy, and tolerance for others. (And be mindful of demonstrating and modeling these character traits as well.)

Questions:

• In what ways do you demonstrate respect for your children’s interests and preferences?

• In what ways do you respect their need for privacy and space?

• If your children have not behaved very respectfully lately, what types of behaviors would you like to start seeing? Be specific.

• Identify two things you plan to do in the next 24 hours to demonstrate that you respect your children, no matter what else happens?

This list is excerpted and adapted from The Parent’s Little Book of Lists: Do’s and Don’ts of Effective Parenting, by Dr. Jane Bluestein (Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc., 1997).

This page is also available in Spanish and French.

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