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Teaching Your Child Authentic Respect

Is authentic respect from your child “deserved” or “earned”?

(And by “authentic” respect, I mean respect that they offer genuinely, without being asked.)

I believe that it’s neither deserved or earned, and that both of those beliefs can get in the way of teaching your child authentic respect.

Many parents feel (understandably) upset when their child speaks to them disrespectfully. They may feel irritated, angry or discouraged.

We can teach our children respect when we let go of the outdated beliefs that respect is deserved or earned. Let me explain.

Deserving respect is usually based on the idea that your (authoritarian) role as parent, teacher, police, clergy, etc. entitles you to being treated respectfully. However, if you haven’t built a strong connection first –your role in and of itself will never garner the respect you’re hoping for. (It’s possible to create the *illusion* of respect by using punishment and repression–but that’s not real respect, that’s oppression and fearful obedience.) As we transition to focusing on connected parenting rather than authoritarian, we realize that expecting respect because of our role only gains us a tiny amount of respect at best, if even that.

Earning respect doesn’t resonate for me because it sounds “transactional” rather than “relational” and authentic. It conjures up the idea that if I do strategy ‘x’, my child will do ‘y’ (e.g., treat me respectfully). It’s not quite that simple, and this belief can lead us to have unrealistic expectations, and feeling angry with our kids when they don’t measure up with the “respectful behaviour” that we expected when we used strategy ‘x’. It’s behaviour focused, which is rarely connective.

Role modelling is the path to teaching authentic respect. If your child isn’t respecting you– these 2 questions may help:

  • Is there a place/time in my relationship with my child where I’m not respecting them? Hint: You may gain some insight by asking yourself if your child’s “disrespectful” behaviour is similar to yours or your partner’s when faced with a similar situation. It’s humbling, but also helpful.
  • Is your child having an emotion right now that they can’t handle, and do they need your support to co-regulate before they can change their behaviour?  If so, focus on the emotion and empathizing/hearing them–this is a great example of role modelling respect.

When we respect our kids by trusting that they’re doing their best, and explore what’s going on underneath, they’ll feel our compassion and understanding, and they’ll want to treat us with respect and kindness (as long as their nervous system is regulated and they’re therefore capable).

It doesn’t usually happen instantly (like in a transaction)–it requires an element of trust that if we keep showing them respect, over and over, they *will* eventually learn through our role modelling. When we understand this, we’re less likely to be disappointed or angry because their behaviour fell short of what we expected when we used the “correct strategies”.

Lastly, if you’re reading this and thinking, “But will they also treat others with respect? Their teachers? Grandma?” Yes they will. The exception might be if they’re angry or their emotions are too big for them to handle on their own–they might have an outburst that is, on the surface, “inappropriate”. 

But in those situations, you’ll best be able to help them by addressing their anger and helping them to co-regulate. Once they’re feeling calm again, they’ll return to treating others with the same respect that they’ve experienced receiving in their relationship with you.

I’d love to hear your thoughts–what strategy is most helpful for you in creating a respectful relationship with your child?