Aretha Franklin begins one of her many hit songs with the words, “R E S P E C T, Find Out What it Means to Me” (60’s music is still meaningful). Interestingly, this same concept or question presents itself to teachers and parents on an almost daily basis in our relationships with our children. Unfortunately, very often respectful behavior is in the eyes of the beholder, and can vary from parent to parent, teacher to teacher, and situation to situation. This type of variability can be very confusing to the developing child, and can interfere with his/her understanding of what it means to be respectful. School, home, friend’s houses, restaurants… all have their own unique forms of respectful behavior as defined by the people and situations existing within each different setting. Adding to the problem is the way children learn respectful behavior. Most of what they know comes from watching others; modeling the types of behavior they witness in each aspect of their life. It’s very often not what you say, but what you do that creates our children’s values in this area. Clichéd expressions such as “Practice what you preach” and “It’s not enough to talk the talk, you have to walk the walk,” have a foundation in truth, and should be taken seriously. One exercise that has been shown to be effective is to ask children for their definition of respectful behavior in terms of each environment that they travel through. Be prepared to stay calm if your child starts describing the times that you as adults have acted disrespectfully, or when they have seen another child or adult behave poorly. Helping children reach their own level of understanding will create a more durable and heartfelt sense of appropriateness, leading them to a better awareness of “RESPECT.”
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