Let’s talk about respect.

I get a lot of people coming to my blog searching for respect. Sometimes they are looking for respect from their children. Sometimes they want respect from their teens. I am going to try and help them get it today (and now you can have it too, without even asking!)

Here is the definition of respect from the free dictionary

1. A feeling of appreciative, often deferential regard; esteem.
2. The state of being regarded with honor or esteem.
3. Willingness to show consideration or appreciation.

So what parents are asking is that children be appreciative, that they honor and esteem them, and that they show them consideration. All of this makes perfect sense. After all, parents are the people who have cared for these children. They have given them food, clothing, shelter, and above all else, love. They have protected them, advocated for them, treated their bruises and wiped their noses. Children should appreciate them.

But is appreciation inborn? Well, there are theories that say it is not. In fact, when we are infants, we like being fed and cared for, but when the caregiver doesn’t show up at our beck and call, we get pretty peeved. We think that he/she is withholding from us what he/she should freely give. We don’t have the capacity to understand yet that we are not the center of the world.

In a normal home environment, a baby begins to understand that the world doesn’t revolve around him/her. Perhaps it happens because he or she has siblings who also demand attention. Perhaps it is because his/her parents simply explain to the baby from a very young age that sometimes Mom or Dad is busy and the child will simply have to wait. At some point, most parents teach their children that waiting patiently is a good idea. That cannot be accomplished if after waiting, the child still does not receive what he’s been waiting for.

You see, for an infant and for a young child, the universe is very confusing (Sometimes I think we adults are fooling ourselves if we think that even we can figure it out). So what the child does is to try and figure it out by applying logic. The logic goes something like this: “I want something. I scream and yell and kick my feet and finally, they either give it to me or give me a cookie to shut me up.” What the child has learned is that crime *does* pay. If the parents are consistent and tell the child that, “If you can’t wait nicely, then you will not get it” and MEAN it, then the child will learn to wait nicely. He/she will figure out that crime doesn’t pay. It’s the consistency that children use to build their image of the world and what it offers and how to get it. A child who does a good deed for a parent on a whim (making the parent’s bed or taking out the trash) and is rewarded for it by smiles, hugs, or a similar gift of love from the parent, will understand that doing good produces good. If the parent doesn’t notice or says “but you didn’t make the bed right” or “you dropped some trash on the way out” and doesn’t show any appreciation, then the child doesn’t learn about appreciation and gratitude. In fact, he/she learns that trying to get good things from parents by helping in the house won’t work.

Children give us a myriad of opportunities to make the right decisions. No parent is 100% consistent, but the more consistent the parents are, the more predictable the world becomes for the children and the more the children will see the parents as people who are fair and stand by what they say. Respect is gained by being that consistent, predictable person that the child needs to help him/her figure out the world.

But that isn’t all. Of course it’s more complex than that. If a child doesn’t feel respected, he/she will not give respect. I have seen on many occasions the following type of dialogue between parent and child.

Parent: So which do you want, the red one or the blue one?
Child: I want the blue one.
Parent: But the red one is so much nicer.

So the child has been offered a choice. The parent then tells the child that he/she made the wrong choice. This is the ultimate in disrespect. If the parent wasn’t ready to accept either choice as equally valid, he/she should not have offered the choice at all and simply said, “I would like to buy you the red one.” A non-acceptable choice should never be offered by the parent.

Similarly, the parent needs to respect differences in tastes and perceptions as long as they are not harmful. A teenage girl should be allowed to buy clothing that the mother would not have chosen for her because of style, color, or pattern, but the mother has the perfect right to veto the purchase of something that is inappropriate to wear (too short, too revealing, etc.).

So I am not advocating the abandonment of standards, of course not! In fact, mother/father holding the child to standards is something that engenders respect from the child. They may resent mother/father imposing standards, but they respect the parent’s willingness to stand up for what they view as important. A parent who folds in the face of pressure is a parent who is less likely to be respected.

Finally, respect is something that is caught, not taught. If mother and father show respect for each other even when they differ, if the children see esteem and valuing on the part of the parents for each other and toward the children, they will come to be people who can value and appreciate their parents.

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