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8 Ways Parents Can Teach and Get Respect

Respect for parental authority lays the foundation for a child's moral growth.

Key points

  • If parents don't teach children to respect their authority, they won't be able to do their job as parents.
  • Parents can teach respect by modeling it, clearly correcting all disrespectful behaviors, and creating an intentional family culture of respect.
  • Children are more likely to respect us if they feel loved and respected.
Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock
Source: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Why is respect so important?

Respect is the basis of all healthy human relationships. Parents (like teachers) deserve—and need—a special kind of respect because of their position of authority and responsibility.

We’re the head of the family. We’re responsible for our children’s welfare, health and safety, and helping them grow in mind, competence, and character. If we believe in a God who has entrusted our children to us, we’re also responsible for trying to bring them into a relationship with God.

All of that will be much more difficult if children aren’t receptive to our guidance and don’t have an attitude of basic respect for our authority, rules, and moral teaching.

How well we teach our children to respect our authority lays the foundation for their future moral development. We can’t do our job as parents if we don’t have their respect.

How can we command and cultivate that respect? Here are eight ways.

1. Believe and act like you have the right to be respected. We know from research that an “authoritative” parenting style is associated with kids’ most positive character outcomes.

A key characteristic of authoritative parenting is the confident exercise of authority. I described how authoritative parents use the “4 E’s” to teach children to obey their rules and requests in my previous post.

To exercise authority confidently, you must first respect yourself. A mother once called into a radio show on parenting and said to me:

My daughter is 23. She is verbally abusive to me. She treats me like dirt under her feet. I don’t know what to do.

I replied that it was not too late to say, even to her grown daughter:

I respect myself too much to allow anyone to talk to me like that, least of all my own child.

I suggested she also tell her daughter that they would have to first agree to speak to each other respectfully if she wished to talk further.

We get the respect we require and receive the disrespect we allow.

2. Respect your child. If we want respect from our kids, we should extend it to them. If we want them to say please and thank you to us, we should do the same.

If we don’t want our children to speak sarcastically to us, we should avoid all sarcasm in speaking to them. If we want them to speak in a respectful tone of voice, we should model that, too.

We should also respect our children in a deeper sense—by treating them as the unique individuals they are. Show a genuine interest in their thoughts and feelings and what’s happening in their lives. Set aside one-on-one time for meaningful conversation and doing things together.

Our children are more likely to respect us if they feel respected and loved.

3. Model respect in all your words and actions. As parents, we should model respect by how we treat each other.

One mother remembered, “My parents weren’t perfect, but they were respectful of one another and supported each other in their childrearing decisions. No one in our family cursed.”

Other ways to model respect:

  • Demonstrate it by how you treat and talk about people outside the family, including relatives, neighbors, and teachers. The mother who says, about a child’s homework, “This is a dumb assignment!” disrespects the teacher. Disrespect often begins in low-level ways. Kids become desensitized to it.
  • Try to avoid unnecessarily talking about other people’s faults and failings. Explain to kids that we don’t like it when people say bad things about us behind our backs. Try to be the kind of person who sees and comments on the good in others.
  • When you argue as parents, do you maintain respect? Avoid abusive language? Make a sincere effort to understand the other person’s point of view by active listening (“OK, I hear you saying that... ”), so the other person feels heard and understood? Do you reconcile soon after a “dust-up” instead of holding on to anger and resentment?

Studies find that healthy families have “reconciliation rituals” that help them make up and move on.

4. Insist on respect in all family interactions. Don’t allow siblings to tell each other to “shut up,” call names, or be rude, sarcastic, or disrespectful in any other way.

Require them to say please and thank you to each other, in a sincere way. Explain that manners like these demonstrate respect for the other person. Teach them not to interrupt. Remind them to look at a person who is speaking to them—not at their screens.

5. Every time kids are disrespectful, give clear corrective feedback (sharply when needed). For example:

  • “Is that being respectful?”
  • “What is your tone of voice?”
  • “Could you please say that again in a more respectful way?”
  • “You may not have intended to be disrespectful, but it came across that way.”

Correct every disrespectful behavior. Even something like kids’ rolling their eyes when you ask them to do a chore or remind them of a rule they’re forgetting.

Don’t let kids get away with disrespectful behavior just because you’re in a public place. A mother and her son, about age ten, were shopping in a department store for a shirt for him. She held up a shirt she thought was big enough but then said, “Maybe I should get one size bigger.”

The boy replied, in a snarky tone (and loud enough for a clerk to hear), “Yeah, the way you shrink things!” The mother just ignored his disrespectful remark.

A father once said to me, “I try to pick my battles, so I let the little things go.” Moments before, he had allowed his 9-year-old son to rudely refuse to return a greeting to an adult guest to whom the father had just introduced the boy.

Later, when the father and I had a chance to talk privately over lunch, I respectfully explained why I considered it a mistake to overlook any instance of disrespect by a child:

It’s correcting the little things that teaches standards of behavior and forms a child’s conscience. If we don’t firmly and consistently correct disrespectful behavior from an early age, we’ll find our tolerance zone for disrespect getting wider and wider—and our children’s disrespectful attitudes and behavior getting steadily worse. If we don’t correct rudeness in a 6-year-old, we shouldn’t be surprised if we’re dealing with swearing and door-slamming when they’re 16.

6. Establish a consequence for disrespect if it continues even after you correct it. In a calm moment, explain to your child: “Look, disrespect is a serious matter. There needs to be a consequence if you continue to be disrespectful after one reminder. Let’s talk about what would be a fair and effective consequence.” Then follow through by enforcing it.

7. Coach kids in how to show respect. Physically demonstrate, even role-play, what respect looks like and sounds like in tone, content, and body language. Don’t assume they know this. Do the same with disrespect. Kids hear and see so much disrespect—in how other kids talk to their parents, for example—that they may not know what we mean by “a disrespectful tone of voice.”

8. Create an intentional family culture that emphasizes mutual respect. What if your family interactions up until now have included a lot of disrespect, and you’ve let that go? It’s not too late to change that by taking deliberate steps to create a respectful family culture.

You’ll find it easier to promote respect in individual family interactions if you can get your family as a whole to make a commitment to being more respectful. So sit down together and say something like this:

We’d like to make some changes that will help us all get along and have more peace and happiness as a family. We’d like to establish a family policy of everybody really trying to show respect in how they talk to each other. What would that look like?

See my post on how to create a family mission statement with everyone’s input, and include respect as one of the family virtues you intend to strive for. Also, look at my post on steps for a successful family follow-up meeting that will help keep you on track.

Be encouraged by gradual improvements, and don’t give up!