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When it comes to teaching respect, your actions speak louder than words

"Mom, why are kids supposed to respect adults? Adults don?t respect kids and we?re people, too."

My 9-year-old?s question prompted me to do some serious thinking. How do adults?especially parents?show respect for their children? And why is it important that they do? Perhaps the most compelling reason is that children learn by example. "Children have never been very good at listening to their elders," wrote author James Baldwin. "But they have never failed to imitate them." If we try to teach our children respect without respecting them in the process, our teaching will have little effect.

Treating children with respect starts with our view of them. If we see them as incomplete or inferior beings, we?re likely to give the impression that they have little value. We need to see our children as God does: little human beings created in his image and worthy of respect. As you work to teach your children to respect others, ask yourself the following questions:

Do I say "please," "thank you" and "excuse me" to my children?

In today?s fast-paced world, it?s easy to get lazy in the manners department, especially when talking to children. But a little common courtesy can create a new sense of closeness between you and your child. And it?s one of the easiest and most natural ways to establish mutual love, acceptance and respect.

I admit that when my kids were young, it was difficult for me to be consistent in this seemingly small area. But I found that diligence pays off. My children recognized that it felt good to have someone be polite to them. That feeling gave them the motivation to be polite themselves. Often, my children surprised me with a "thank-you" or an "excuse me" when I least expected it. And as they grew, they sometimes found the need to remind me: "Say thank-you, Mommy."

Do I allow my children to express their negative feelings?

Kids need to be able to express all their feelings, even unpleasant ones. When they?re angry, even if it?s toward you, assure them that you want to know what they?re feeling. But remind them to speak respectfully. When one of my children said "I hate you!" in response to my discipline, I told him, "But I still love you. I want to know how you feel, but please say it in a nice way."

If your daughter comes home angry because her teacher assigned too much homework, let her express her feelings, then suggest ways she might work out an effective solution. This will help your child learn that negative feelings are something she can handle?without lashing out at others. With the security of knowing you?ll listen and help her resolve her negative feelings, your child will be less likely to become disrespectful.

Do I compliment and praise my children?

As parents concerned about raising children with a Christlike character, we can easily fall into the trap of looking for things our kids do wrong. But don?t forget about all the things they do right! There are lots of opportunities to praise your kids. When your children pick up their toys at the end of the day, recognize their hard work. I remember a time when my 10-year-old was being teased by a friend. I watched as my son struggled to hold his tongue and maintain self-control. Later, I praised him for his maturity in handling the situation.

Do I show respect when disciplining my children?

Discipline is most effective when it?s done in love and with respect for your child?s needs. For many parents, the best way to move toward loving discipline is to be aware of our tone of voice. How we speak and the words we use are key factors in how our kids respond to our training.

It?s easy to use an aggravated or condemning tone, especially if you already feel frustrated. But children are more likely to listen and, in turn, respect you if your tone is even and calm. If your 5-year-old draws on the wall, you might be tempted to yell, scold or even belittle her with a comment like "You never listen!" or "You?re a bad girl!" Instead, try a statement like, "I?m very angry that you drew on the wall. I need to calm down for a minute and then we?ll talk about what you did and what we?re going to do about it." Once you?ve gotten over your initial anger, you?ll be better able to determine a punishment that fits the crime and administer it in a calm, respectful way.

Do I use unnecessary or unkind remarks when speaking to my kids?

If you?ve overheard kids on the playground or at the mall, you know that cruel words and foul language are some of the most frequent ways children show disrespect to others. By using kind, respectful words yourself, you can model respectful behavior.

A parent?s words are vital to a child?s development. Positive words nourish and sustain their growth. Negative remarks wound and destroy. So when your child brings home a poor grade on what seems to be a simple math test, use the opportunity to build him up rather than tear down his efforts: "Wow, you really struggled with this. I know you have the ability to do these problems, let?s see if we can figure out what went wrong."

God says to parents, "do not embitter your children or they will become discouraged" (Col. 3:21). When my children were young, I often had to stop in the middle of a lecture to pray silently, asking God to keep my lips from speaking hurtful words. Stopping momentarily for prayer can make the difference between building our kids up or tearing them down with our words. It also sets a terrific example.

Do I listen attentively to my children?

As a young parent, I often had my mind on other things when my children talked to me. Finally, I realized that I needed to really listen when they were speaking. To shut out the distractions, I would sit down, look my child in the eyes and really focus on what he or she was saying. If I was in the middle of something that couldn?t wait, I?d say "I really want to hear about your new project, but I have to make this casserole for tonight?s supper. Can we talk after I get it in the oven?"

Pastor and author John Drescher says that if he could parent all over again, he would listen when his children shared their little hurts and complaints, joys and excitements. He would put down the newspaper when they wanted to talk, rather than being upset because his reading was interrupted. His words help me remember that there will be plenty of time to read or cook or clean, but only a few fleeting years of having daily conversations with my children.

Do I discipline my children in the presence of others?

Just like adults, children are deeply embarrassed when their mistakes are pointed out in front of other people. I made the mistake of reprimanding my daughter in the presence of her friends once and I?ll never forget the look of hurt and shame on her face. If I had talked to my daughter in private, she would have been more focused on what I was saying and less worried about what her friends were thinking. In addition, gently taking our kids aside for discipline keeps their self esteem intact and maintains their respect for us.

Do I apologize to my children when I fail?

One day, I found my 4-year-old trying to give his 2-year-old sister a drink of water from his cup. Pam?s clothes were soaked and I scolded my son for his carelessness. Only later did it dawn on me that my son had simply been trying to share his water with his little sister. But because I spoke on impulse, his generosity only earned him criticism.

I knew I needed to apologize. "I?m sorry, Harry," I told him. "I shouldn?t have scolded you when you were being so nice to share." His look of relief told me I?d done the right thing. No matter how much we love our children, we still make mistakes. Apologizing shows integrity and respect and encourages our children to do the same when they made mistakes.

Instilling a sense of respect in children is no easy task. But as your children sense your care and respect for them as bearers of God?s image, you?ll see them return that care and respect tenfold.

Elsie Brunk is from Virginia. She and her husband have four grown children and ten grandchildren.

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