Here’s a deep, dark and true secret: Teachers usually admit that there are some students they will never forget. Well, I swear the same is true about some parents.
I vividly remember a mother of one of my students because of the way she conveyed respect to her child. She did so beautifully in how she listened to her son. I watched her several times during the year on our field trips and class parties. Each time her child would talk, she’d stop everything, get down to eye level, look into her son’s eyes, and listen with genuine interest. This mother had a wonderful ability to block out everything (or at least make her child feel she was) and give her child her full presence. Her words usually were nothing more than repeating back small tidbits of what he just said, to let him know she was hearing him. Occasionally she’d add, “Uh-huh,” or “Really?” She acknowledged him simply by saying how she thought he was feeling: “You seem so happy” or “Wow, you look proud.”
The effect on her son was dramatic: his whole demeanor brightened when he realized his mom really heard what he had to say. I always wished I could have videotaped her listening skills to play back to other parents. Her behaviors were so simple, but always conveyed respect to her child. It wasn’t any surprise that her child turned out to be one of my most respectful students.
That mom exemplified one of the best ways to ensure that our kids are respectful is by treating them respectfully. Here are seven simple parenting practices from my book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions that help children see themselves as valuable human beings because your actions let them know you love, respect, and value them.
1. Treat your child as the most important person in the world. Here is a simple question to ask yourself: “If I treated my friends the way I treat my child, would I have any friends left?” Beware: very often we say and do things to our children that our friends would never tolerate. If you want your children to feel valued, treat them as though they are the most important people in the world. One mom told me she asked herself the question so often it became a nighttime habit. It also helped her remember throughout the day to treat her children respectfully.
2. Give love with no strings attached. No child should have to earn our respect and love; it should be guaranteed with birth. Unconditional love is about loving your kids with no strings attached. It is the kind of love that says: “I’ll never stop loving you no matter what you do.” Of course, that doesn’t mean we’re going to necessarily approve all of our children’s behaviors. In some cases when our kids’ actions are inappropriate we may need to respond with clear and often passionate correction. But our kids know we’ll always be there for them-no matter what-and that’s the kind of love our kids need if they are to feel they are genuinely respected and valued. Make sure you give your child love that is unconditional and guaranteed, so no matter what he knows you love him.
3. Listen attentively and respectfully. If there is one common finding from countless different studies it is that kids say they wish their parents would listen-really listen-to them. Attentive listening is a wonderful way to convey respect. When your child talks, stop everything and focus completely so that she feels you really value her opinions and want to hear her thoughts. Stop what you’re doing and give your child your full presence for the brief time. Adolescent boys are often threatened by eye contact, so try sitting side to side.
4. Communicate respect with your whole body, not just with your words. Most of the time our kids aren’t listening to our words nearly as much as they are watching our posture, gestures, and facial expressions and hearing the tone of our voice. So make sure your whole body is communicating respect when you talk to your child. You may say, “I want to hear your ideas,” but if your child sees you shrug your shoulders, raise your eye brows, smirk your mouth, or roll your eyes, he is likely to pick up a whole different meaning. I’ve yet to meet parents who want their kids to think they aren’t interested in their ideas or don’t respect their kids’ feelings. Yet those are the messages children pick up, all because of how parents react when their children talk.
5. Build positive self-concepts. Labeling children with such terms as shy, stubborn, hyper, or clumsy can diminish self-esteem and become daily reminders of unworthiness. They can also become self-fulfilling prophecies. Regardless of whether the labels are true or not, when children hear them they believe them. So only use labels that build positive self-concepts. One good rule to remember about labeling is this: “If the nickname is not respectful, it’s best not to use it.”
6. Tell them often why you love and cherish them. The more you show your child you love her, the more your child learns to value and love herself. So tell your child often that you love her, but also tell her what you love about her and express your gratitude that she is your child. “I love that you are so kind.” “I’m so glad I have the fortune of being your mom.” “I love you just the way you are.” “I respect the way you never give up.” Never assume that your child knows what feelings you hold in your heart about her. Tell her.
7. Enjoy being together. One of the best ways to help a child feel respected is to let her know how much you enjoy being with her. Put your child at the top of your schedule and set aside relaxed times together during which you can really get to know who your child is. Only then will you be able to let her know why you value, love, and respect her so. A quick quiz is to ask yourself which traits you respect in your child. Would your child be able to name those traits as well?
So now here is your own parenting test: Think back over the last few days. What have you done that helps your children see themselves as valuable human beings because your actions let them know you love, respect, and value them?
Don’t forget that our simple day-to-day actions are often the most powerful ways to nurture respect in our children.
For dozens of more specific ways to nurture respect, learn the signs that your child may need a “tune-up,” discover late-breaking research on best parenting practices, know the symptoms of when to worry and seek help, learn the three steps to turn the behavior around, and a find a list of new habits to teach to replace inappropriate ones turn to the chapters that deal with disrespect in The Big Book of Parenting Solutions. Here are just a few: Poor Sport, Not Knowing Right From Wrong, Defiant, Demanding, Back Talk, Bad Manners, Whining, Won’t Listen, Yelling, Ungrateful and Swearing. Then choose the one issue that concerns you the most, review the plan I offer, and then roll up your sleeves and start parenting for real and lasting change.
Michele Borba is the author of 23 books including The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries with dozens of practical and proven tips to raise confident, compassionate and resilient kids.
Follow Michele Borba at her website or on twitter @MicheleBorba