It’s been about a month since I last wrote here. I’ve been working on a presentation for my MOPS group, which I gave last Tuesday. It was really challenging–teaching our children respect. Here’s where my researching and writing lead:
When I found out I was having a baby, I began dreaming about what our family would be like. I knew we would “get it right” and we would all get along and laugh and enjoy life together. And then my son turned two… and all hell broke loose with little stompy feet, eyes rolling (seriously?), sassy comebacks, tantrums, rude comments to Grandma and Grandpa at the worst possible moments.
I would love to tell you I have everything figured out and that I have a “Three-easy-step program to enjoyable families full of mutual respect, admiration, joy and giggles” for only 19.99! I don’t. I have gray hairs and a guilty conscience from yelling too much and two little boys whom I adore one minute and the next minute I’m ready to send to boarding school!
We live in a culture that is increasingly self-involved and disrespectful and it seems like a losing battle for our kids and our families, but I strongly believe that there is hope for our families and that the parenting years don’t have to be a drudge-march until they leave the house.
Webster defines respect this way: an act of giving particular attention, consideration. High or special regard: To consider worthy of high regard. The group of ladies I met with on Tuesday night added to this: The Golden Rule—treating others the way we want to be treated. Thinking about how our actions and our words affect other people. Putting others first.
When I was pregnant with Will, I listened to an interview on Focus on the Family with Jill Rigby the author of Raising Respectful Children in a Disrespectful World. She made a statement that caught my attention. For the last twenty years or so we’ve focused on building children’s self-esteem. The problem with this is that the focus of self-esteem is self. Esteem means to value highly. So we turn the phrase around and self-esteem is really teaching our kids to value themselves above all. Me First!
The product of self-esteem parenting is self-absorbed individuals who struggle when faced with a world of other self-absorbed individuals, unable to cope with life. Kids who don’t want to learn to drive because it’s too much responsibility, kids who don’t leave home to get jobs, kids who just don’t want to grow up.
Rather, we need to be teaching our children self-respect. She says in her book: “When we help kids respect themselves, we teach them to focus on others, and how others feel and what others need. This perspective, in turn, leads children to see everything through a window, seeing their own images reflected against the world beyond the glass, rather than in a mirror, and to grow up believing “It’s more about others and less about me.” So what’s the bottom line difference between self-esteem and self-respect? Self-esteem is ‘me centered’, while self-respect is ‘others centered.’”
Now, hear me, this isn’t teaching our kids to be doormats. Rather this is teaching them to be a part of a family, part of the community, part of their schools and sports teams, part of their church—and teaching them that all the parts are needed and important. It’s teaching them that they are a piece of a beautiful puzzle—it is not teaching them that they’re up on a pedestal.
Teaching our kids respect now is the cornerstone to raising our children to be respectful adults and citizens. (People who can keep jobs and move out of our basements, amen?!) As I sat in my kitchen that day, listening to Ms. Rigby’s interview and eating my 11-teenth bowl of cold cereal and milk, I was really challenged. I loved what she had to say and agreed whole-heartedly, but I will be honest—this is not the easiest thing to achieve. In her book she offers a lot of great advice—more than I can reasonably share here. But here are a few highlights in what I would call Respect 101.
- Teach your kids basic manners. Rigby writes “Respect for ourselves guides our morals; respect for others guides our manners.”
A friend of mine had her first baby a couple years before me and I remember a conversation with her when her daughter was about 4: “I so wish we had taught her to say please and thank you! Now all she does is demand, demand, demand—it would make such a difference in the way I respond if I felt she was a little bit thankful or realized I am not her maid.”
I thought this was so insightful. Even if they’re just mouthing words when they’re little, those lessons go deep. And it affects how I “MOM”–when I don’t feel like a hired hand and I feel appreciated, I’m more likely to respond kindly, which has a domino effect on my kids’ responses.
There are many ways to teach manners: repetition, books, songs. Above all—Be Consistent.
- Be PRESENT for your kids. This is a tough one. I love my kids and I know you love yours, too. But sometimes I just want them to go watch TV and leave me alone! Sometimes this is truly necessary for our sanity, but it’s a struggle to not let this become a habit. This is what the author had to say: “Abandonment doesn’t happen only when a parent leaves the home: children are too often abandoned by parents living under the same roof. Parents bury their children in stuff to avoid giving up their own time on their personal pursuits. They relinquish their parental authority by saying yes, because yes is easier than the hard work of saying no. Each member of the family lives in a separate room in the house in a relationship with an electronic box.”
Phones are a problem. It was a wake-up call to me when Sam came out one day and commented casually, “Daddy is on his phone a lot. When I grow up I want to be just like that.” Ouch!!!
I’ve seen the difference it makes when my husband and I put the phones away, turn the TV off and focus on family time—playing, talking, reading, wrestling. Their behavior makes a huge U-turn. When I see them acting up, my new go-to is “how much screen time are they having” and “how long have I been staring at my phone today?” I need to set boundaries for myself the same way I need to set boundaries for my kids with the tv, and focus on spending real time with them.
- Be Character-centered Parents: parents who make decisions that are focused on the desired end result—children who respect God, others and themselves. They focus on building their children’s character above all. Parenting with the end in mind is intentional, not accidental.
- They look to God’s principles for their instructions on how to parent. They don’t trust their own wits or the so-called child experts of the past. They rely on wisdom from solid biblical teaching. There is only 1 perfect parent in all of history—and He did write THE book!
- They keep their promises. “Let your yes be yes and your no be no” says Matthew 5:37. Children who learn that they can trust their parents are more likely to be respectful, and that leads to obedience. It seems like a no-brainer, but this can be tough when I’ve promised we’ll go to the park when the chores are done…and then I just don’t feel like going out. Or, if I tell my boys that there will be consequences if they do xyz, sometimes following through means great inconvenience or embarrassment. But, when we are consistent in our parenting, our kids will learn they can trust and respect us. And that is what I have to remember.
- They keep their priorities straight. The author writes “Character-centered parents put God first, then their marriage, children, others, and finally themselves. We all have our priorities, whether we’re conscious of them or not. The decisions you make reveal your priorities. The consequences of your decisions bring either the devastation or preservation of your family.”
Putting God at the top of the list shows children that even Mom and Dad must show respect and care, putting your marriage before them gives them the example of a loving, foundational relationship. Putting ourselves last gives our kids the living example of putting others first out of respect.
- Be an example in your everyday life. Kids watch how we act and react in any given situation: “Monkey see, monkey do!” It’s almost scary hearing my words coming out of my 5-yr-old! If we are respectful in our day-to-day lives, children will begin to emulate that. The way I speak to my husband and about him to my kids and others teaches them respect. The way I speak about their grandparents? That speaks volumes too. How I treat the servers at a restaurant, the cashier at Kroger, even what I say to other drivers in traffic (maybe ESPECIALLY them), it all shows my kids first of all HOW to show respect to others, and if I really “practice what I preach” (which is scary!).
- Remember: it’s not what’s outside a person that makes us ugly, the ugly is already inside. All of the good manners and careful boundaries we teach our kids cannot alter what is inside them. Making all the right decisions and keeping our children away from bad influences, surrounding them with love and sunshine, cannot change their hearts. No matter how cute the packaging, we are all born with ugly hearts. We are sinful from the start, and only the power of Jesus can change us.
So while we are giving our kids structured boundaries in how to live respectful lives, we need to remember that all of this begins with the heart. The Bible says that “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)
My husband and I have started reading Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp. He writes: “What your children say and do is a reflection of what is in their hearts.” We can nag all day long about our sons’ behavior, but if we don’t get to the heart of WHY he’s doing xyz, then all the behavior modification techniques in the world won’t really change anything. They might alter the behavior, but they won’t fix the problem. And that’s where the crux of the whole matter of respect lies: do I esteem myself above all others, or do I value myself and others and see all of us as a part of a whole—again, seeing life through a window with our own reflections fitted in with the rest. The answer to that question affects all of our behavior.
The best answer I have to this question of teaching respect is this: PRAY!
A friend of mine posted on Facebook a while back, bravely asking moms of older kids what they thought the #1 best thing they could do to help their kids face life challenges. Lots of advice came out, but one woman wrote, “Pray for your children like their lives depend upon it, because they do…” She shared this quote from Stormie Omartian: “The battle for our children’s lives is waged on our knees. When we don’t pray, it’s like sitting on the sidelines watching our children in a war zone getting shot at from every angle. When we do pray, we’re in the battle alongside them, appropriating God’s power on their behalf. If we also declare the Word of God in our prayers, then we wield a powerful weapon against which no enemy can prevail.”
God alone can change our hearts and the hearts of our children and His power is more than enough to give us peace in our struggles as we do battle for our children and our families. Praying for you!
The books are: Raising Respectful Children in a Disrespectful World by Jill Rigby and Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp.