Disrespectful children and the idea of teaching children to show respect is a widely discussed topic, but what do we really do when we teach respect? Read on.
A while back I did a little survey in my parenting support group on Facebook, where I asked parents to describe the behavior of a respectful child, and generally share what the word “respect” meant to them. This is also a question I ask ALL PARENTS who join my parent coaching program, because respect is something very important, for us, adults. Isn’t it?
What is Respect?
So many parents say that respectful children listen, that respectful children obey. Respectful children don’t talk back and accept what they are told. Respectful children are always on their best behavior, they are mostly seen and not heard. When parents tell me their child is disrespectful, by this very definition, I tell them it makes me very happy to hear that, because it means that the child was not yet terrified to the point of forgetting what childhood means.
This, guys, is not respect. This is fear.
If that isn’t Respect, what is?
The actual definition of the word respect, as taken from Merriam Webster dictionary is “a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements”. As you see, there are no aspects of fear, control, or dominance in this definition; these are very modern additions to the definition of respect. However, it is the original definition, of admiration for abilities, qualities, or achievements that actually leads to… Connection. And when the connection is there – the positive behavior follows.
How can You Teach Your Child to be Respectful?
If you’ve made it thus far, you already realized that the title is something of a click bait. Because we can’t teach respect. To the same extent to which we can’t teach love, connection, or attachment. Respect is earned, not taught.
Why are Some Children More Respectful than Others?
There are two possible answers to this question:
- These kids we deem “respectful” have a strong connection to their parents, they know their voice matters, they feel in control of their lives and know that their choices are respected and celebrated. Their state of mind is one of connection, rather than disconnection. They are autonomous, and thus don’t seek autonomy. They live the life of free will and thus – they cooperate freely.
- These kids we deem “respectful” have learned the harsh consequences of “disobeying” their parents. Their “learning of respect” was/is fear driven. Their state of mind is one of survival, they know that when they disobey they will be devoid of connection, or somehow otherwise hurt (not only physical punishment hurt – sometimes words hurt much more). Willing to do whatever it takes to avoid this pain – these children “respect” their parents. They obey.
The Possible Outcomes of Fear-Driven Learning
Protection and freedom are the two basic human needs involved in the “teachings” of respect. When we use fear-driven tactics, we teach that in order for our little ones to maintain our protection (connection), they must let go of their freedom. The basic need for freedom includes other sub-needs, such as the needs for recognition, autonomy, honesty, equality, choice, independence, expression, understanding, and many others. Learning out of fear is learning under a triggered survival instinct; when we are so busy surviving, thriving is not even an option.
So yes, these kids might SHOW respect for a few (and even more) years, but their souls are roiling.
Visible Outcomes to Fear-Driven Learning
Since the need for freedom is a basic human need, it cannot be “switched off”. No matter how disregarded it is at the moment, it will, one day, explode. I know that all this talk of basic human needs might be a bit up there, so here are just a few examples to what it looks like in real life:
- We can expect low willingness to participate in school activities (learning or otherwise) – since there is no real sense of connection at school, these kids have nothing to lose, and when there is nothing to lose we are – really – free.
- We can expect a full-on rebellion at home at this point or another, when the child’s soul just can’t take it any longer.
- We can expect high level of competing attachments – since these kids’ sense of connection is not met at home, they will seek it elsewhere. They will usually find these competing attachments with other children whose need for freedom is not met in their homely environment. When matched together, their freedom is expected to be celebrated in a variety of unwanted ways.
- We can also expect such an undermined need for freedom, to the extent of choosing non-supportive (at best) or abusive (at worst) relationships when these children mature.
This list can continue, but for the discussion of respect it is a good place to stop.
So What Can You Do with a Disrespectful Child?
If we’re following the previously discussed original vs modern definitions of respect, a disrespectful child is a child who prefers to not cooperate with her parents. If we wish to change it, we will need to start from the very beginning and rebuilt our connection, attachment and relationship with our child. In order for us to properly do that, we will need to revise our entire purpose of parenting, from discipline to connection.
Once the connection is restored, once she knows she doesn’t need to give her freedom in return for protection, then we can start. And it won’t take long, because the need for connection is just as basic as the needs for freedom and attachment. We all seek connection. When we practice attachment parenting, the connection is what we see, knowing that everything else will follow. And no – it is never too late.
If you feel this article touched you, if you think this is relevant for you and your child – don’t wait longer. Come coach with me and we will restore your relationship – I promise.
Join my Facebook group – come talk to me.