Raising Respectful Kids: Preschool Ages
Parenting is such a weighted position. It is our responsibility to take incapable infants and mold them into capable adults. If you’re like me, then maybe you feel like you’re not quite a “capable adult” yet yourself, so how on earth are you supposed to guide another little human?
Yesterday, my middle little was honored at school for showing the character trait of the month at school: Respect. I felt so proud of him for displaying this trait at the young age of three. It would be easy to pat myself on the back for being such a wonderful, inspiring mother; but I cannot take too much credit for his respectful attitude. He was born loving people with a desire to please.
This got me thinking, what traits do I find most important for my children to develop? Am I actively teaching them these character traits? How am I modeling these traits to them everyday, or am I even modeling them at all?
Especially as a boymom, respect is integral in my relationships with my children. Men thrive on respect and aren’t I raising tiny men? Recently I read Mother and Son: The Respect Effect by Emerson Eggerichs, which is based on the concept of Love and Respect (by the same author) and how this can be applied to the mother/son relationship. Even at a young age, many boys thrive on accomplishment and recognition. There are several ways to show young men respect that will boost their confidence and security while also modeling how they can be respectful to others.
Here are a few easy, everyday ways to help your preschool age child develop respect:
- Use Respectful Language: When teaching any character trait, it is important to name that trait so children recognize it in everyday situations. We love the books The Way I Feel and The Way I Act. Using real words and not fluffy child-speak teaches children to own their feelings and actions and gives you, the parent, an opportunity to address positive and negative examples as they occur.
Before my son was speaking in sentences we would read these books and as he began to understand the meanings of the words he would bring the book to me, open to the page with the word he was feeling or the action he was doing, and point to himself. Even at age five, J will mimic the illustrations in these books when he is expressing a specific feeling.
- Show Respect Towards Feelings: As children grow they experience all ranges of feelings and emotions. They don’t always know how to articulate what they are feeling so they react in inappropriate ways. By responding to their reaction with patience and respect, we teach them that there is no shame in strong feelings. By responding calmly to strong emotions, we are able to help our children problem solve ways to respond positively to their feelings in more peaceful ways for themselves and others.
For example: J is very interested in sea creatures. So when he begins to feel angry or frustrated, I told him to wiggle like an octopus or blow out air like a puffer fish. The tried and true “count to 10” method didn’t help him calm down, but these activities helped his body loosen up, release tension, and made him laugh at the silly actions. By not reacting to his anger with anger, I was able to affirm his feelings and his anger dissolved so we could work through his frustration.
- Show Respect for Time: Mamas value their time, because there never seems to be enough hours in the day, right? Children value their time as well. One huge way to value your child’s time is to put down the phone. Put down the screen. Put down your work. Play on the floor with them. Sit next to them and read a book. Go outside with them and dig in the dirt. Simply be with them. They notice. Respect their time.
- Show Respect for Belongings: Or creations or imagination or down right trash that happens to be their treasure (anyone else have kids whose favorite “toys” are pieces of trash? Straws and the strings attached to the tape on Amazon boxes are some of my boys’ favorite things). Show respect for their interests, which may be very different than your personal interests. Foster their love for learning or doing or being by appreciating their uniqueness.
J loves sea creatures. He learns all about the different species and has hundreds of little fishy figures. I have this semi-rational fear of the ocean and a general disgust towards sea life. I think sea life smells, tastes yucky, and I don’t even like swimming in the ocean knowing what lurks in the waves. But I listen to J when he tells me about the thresher shark for the ten thousandth time. I buy him books on sea creatures and models of sharks, orcas, and dolphins to further his knowledge. When I see sea creatures through his eyes, it becomes more interesting and shows me a new aspect of God’s creation that I previously hadn’t bothered to appreciate.
- Praise Respectful Behavior: Positive reinforcement goes a long way. Praising your child for respectful behavior gives them an incentive for repeat behavior. By acknowledging when they act respectfully you are telling them that their efforts are seen and appreciated. Also, be sure not to shame disrespectful behavior. Open a line of communication and explain why acting disrespectfully hurts others and hinders relationships. Remind your child how they feel when they are respected or disrespected by others.
I know I have a lot of work to do in acting respectfully towards my boys. So often I get caught up in being the parent and adult that I act disrespectfully in the name of convenience. As I teach them this principle, I need to keep in mind, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” Matthew 7:12a. It is easy for me to make the excuse that “them” doesn’t always include my children, because they need to be respecting ME, right? Can’t I just teach them, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother” (Eph. 6:1-2)?
My actions need to line up with my speech. When I tell my children to act respectfully, I need to show them how to act respectfully. Respect doesn’t have an age limit on giving or receiving.
Do you have any methods on teaching children respect? I’m especially interested in school-age advice as that’s the next stage we’ll be entering. Please share in the comments!