Parenting From Heart- Teaching Kids Respect

Knowing how to teach your kids about respect is a question I’m often asked. What process would you go through?

First, ask yourself, “Why do I care about respect? Why is it important to me?”

Respect is important because it’s the essence of people getting along in the world. Without respect we would have disrespect. People would think they have a license to treat anyone any way they want, any time. People would get hurt. There would be chaos.

Respect is also something that we need for ourselves. People who don’t respect themselves don’t care, and when people don’t care, they tend to harm themselves and others.

How much more wonderful would the world be if we each took it upon ourselves to be considerate of other people and their property and avoided violating them. That’s how I’d want to live.

Without respect we have abuse, misuse, and chaos.

Which world would you rather live in? I’d rather be honored than abused. If I want more of that in my world, I need to be willing to give it to others. It begins at home.

Now that you know what you want your kids to learn respect, you want to take every opportunity you find to be sure they learn it.

Most importantly, you want to be sure you’re continually showing them respect, even when you’re angry with them. If you’re so caught up in your own thinking and moods that you blow it and don’t show respect, you want to go back and apologize. You want to let them know that you realize you weren’t showing respect and why that was wrong.

If you wan to teach them respect, you want to be the model of it.

If you want them to respect your belongings, to take care of them, to not get into your things, then you can’t get into their things.

If you break something of theirs by accident, you’re responsible for replacing it.

Teaching Respect by Developmental Age

Toddlers:  Toddlers often like to take what they want, even if someone else is playing with it. If you ssee your child yank a toy out of his little sister’s ahdns, you might want to say, “Sweetie, it’s not OK for you to take something from someone.”

Ages 4-6: While you’re reading a book or watching TV together and a character does something that’s ripe with disrespect, you might say, “Do you think that man/woman was being nice?”  After hearing their answer you can add, “Me either. That’s called disrespect. That’s something we don’t do in this family. We always try to show respect.”

At this age we’re simply trying to plant the seed. Here’s the difference between respect and disrespect, and our family is about respect for everyone.

Ages 6-7+: Take advantage of their curious tell-all nature at this age. You can say, “When you see someone on TV do something that doesn’t show respect, come and get me so we can talk about it.” Or, “When someone does something at school that doesn’t show respect, tell me about it when I get home.”

It’s all about planting seeds and letting them know what you expect. Most of your teachings will happen when you see him either showing or not showing respect.

When you see them showing respect in some way, you want to point it out how much you appreciate it and why. “Thanks for showing respect. It makes the world a really nice place to live.”

When he doesn’t show respect, it’s a signal to you as the parent that there’s more teaching to do. Ask yourself a few questions:

  • Does he understand what respect is?
  • Does he understand why respect is important?
  • Does he understand what you expect about showing respect?

Here’s an example scenario:

Your 8 year old son just knocked over his 6 year old sister.

You: “Drake, was that showing respect?”

Drake: “I don’t know”

You: “Well, tell me what you think respect is.”

Drake: “I don’t know.”

You: OK, if you don’t remember, that explains the problem. Let’s explore what respect is. What does it mean to you?”

Drake: “I don’t know.”

You: “OK, tell me how you like to be treated.”

Drake: “I don’t know.”

You: “If you don’t know, that means I could treat you in any way I can think up and it wouldn’t matter to you, right?”

Drake: “Well, not any way.”

You: “So may be you like some ways better than others.”

Drake: “Well I don’t like to be yelled at or hit.”

You: “Neither do I. Would you say that’s respect?”

Drake: “I guess not.”

You: “Well, what about if you yell or push your little sister? Would you say that’s respect?”

Drake: “She took my truck!”

You: “That’s not what I asked. But since you brought it up, would you say what she did was respectful?”

Drake: “No!”

You: “OK, it wasn’t. Now, would you say that what you did to her in return was respectful?”

Drake: “How come you’re not talking to her?”

You: “Because right now I’m talking to you. I didn’t know she took your truck. After we talk, I’ll have a talk with her, but right now all we’re talking about is whether you understand what respect means.”

Drake: “I do.”

You: “Tell me what you think it means.”

Drake: “It means not hitting.”

You: “It means that to me too. Anything else?”

Drake: “Nope.”

You: “What about if some big guy came along and pushed you down. Would that be respectful?”

Drake: “No.”

You: “What about when you pushed your little sister down?”

Drake: “I guess not. But she took my truck.”

You: “OK. Do you think there might be a better way to handle it where you would still show her respect?”

Drake: “I guess I could ask her nicely for it.”

You: “That sounds respectful. And what if she still doesn’t give it back. How would you still show respect?”

Drake: “I could tell you.”

You: “That’s one approach. It sounds like you understand what respect means now. Thanks for the talk. I love you.”


Don’t kid yourself into thinking that just because you had this conversation that he will always show respect in every situation. But at least you know that he knows what respect means. He was able to make the connection between respect and disrespect in terms of how he would act, and that’s what counts right now.

Age 12+: You hear your drake talking back to his mother….

You: “Drake, is that how you show respect?”

Drake: “I don’t know.”

You: “You told me before that you don’t feel respected if somebody yells at you. What about if someone talks back to you?”

Drake: “I don’t know.”

You: “Would you like it if I talked back to you?”

Drake: “I don’t care.”

You: “Really? So you mean it’s OK if I start talking back to you?”

Drake: “If that’s what floats your boat.”

You: “I wouldn’t do it because I don’t think it’s respectful. Ask your mother how it made her feel when you talked back to her.”

Drake: “I don’t want to.”

You: “So you must think it’s not good, otherwise you would have no problem asking.”


You: “Look son, I’m not mad at you. But I think you hurt your mother’s feelings and, to me, when you hurt someone else’s feelings, especially your own mother, that’s not showing respect. It’s not different than hurting someone with your fists. It still hurts. And hurting someone in any way is not respect. Being respectful is really important to me. So when you feel up to it, why don’t you apologize to your mother for not being respectful, OK.”


You’re now educating your child about some of the finer points of respect. You want to ensure that they’re clear about what’s included in the definition of respect, adn that it’s important to you. You’re not going to let him off the hook.

It’s never too early or too late to begin teaching your kids about respect. Imagine how much nicer this world would be if more parents took the time to make sure their kids not only understood what respect is, but were showing respect to everyone they interact with.


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