Now that I am feeling a bit better, I was looking for something to write about when I saw that someone had gotten to my page by searching for “teaching children to respect parents.” I thought, “What a great idea!” and so here are the beginnings of my thoughts on that subject.

I have talked about respecting boundaries, and how that type of respect must be mutual. It is difficult to demand that your child keep his hands off or your things when you might take his or her things and use them and misplace them. Most parents don’t realize it, but that Cinderella pencil is sacred and the Harry Potter bookmark is an object of reverence.

However, there are other types of respect that parents should receive from their children and that children should receive from their parents. Very early on, children need to have their behavior shaped so that they are not misbehaving in public. If the child doesn’t misbehave in public, then the parent will never have to publicly humiliate the child. That means actually helping the child to change the undesirable behavior rather than yelling across two aisles of the supermarket “you have to stay with me.” That means that parents of young children should make sure that their children don’t get into bad habits in public like:

1. Running away from their parents or hiding in a store. That is totally unacceptable. It is not funny and it is not amusing and the child should not in any way be rewarded for it by the parent smiling and saying, “Oh, there you are!” As much as possible, the parent has to have their eye on the child so that he or she doesn’t get away. If they should begin to wander away, then the parent immediately needs to stop the child. If the child is able to slip away, the parent must immediately find the child and tell him or her how worried the parent was when he or she disappeared and how that can’t happen again. I have seen parents literally say, “I don’t know where he is, but at least he’s not bothering me; I’ll go and get him when I’m done shopping.” This is a very very bad thing to do. It teaches the child that what is unacceptable is acceptable. This one comes back to bite the parent later. A child who tends to wander needs to be in a stroller or shopping cart or holding onto one. Children who repeatedly wander need to know that they are not able to go shopping with Mom or Dad until they are more reliable.
2. Carrying on for a toy or snack. A child who carries on and is rewarded (“OK, if you are quiet for the next 15 minutes, I will get you that ice pop”) learns to carry on. Rather, the parent should decide from the beginning whether he or she will be buying the child a snack or toy. If the parent thinks it is appropriate, it should be a treat, not a payoff. It is easy to train children not to nag in a store. All you need to do is be consistent in refusing to be blackmailed. The parent needs to realize that the higher the stakes, the more of a fuss the child is making, the worse it is to give in. Children who are not demanding in stores tend to be more pleasant to shop with. Every successful parent/child interaction builds not only the child’s self-esteem, but also the mutually respectful relationship between parent and child.
3. Fighting with siblings. Of all of the ways in which children act out in public, this is probably the worst because the parents just want to be swallowed up by the ground and disappear. Children should learn early on that fighting with siblings is a very bad thing to do, especially in public. It means that no one will get a treat, should there have been one in the offing. It also means that the parents will have little desire to go out with the children.

The reason I speak of these three specific examples is that one of the biggest obstacles to mutual respect of parents and children is the issue of public humiliation, both on the part of the children and on the part of the parent. No parent should “lose it” in public and no child should be embarrassed, yelled at, screamed at, etc. in public. Such mistakes can be devastating to the parent/child relationship. Children should be assisted to act in a kind and respectful manner, having their behaviors shaped by the parents, little by little, ensuring that the child will eventually, on his own, interact in society in a polite and respectful manner.

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