Disciplining Children –Teach Self-Respect and Expect Other-Respect
Guest Post by Gary Unruh
Which character trait do you think is the most basic for your child: respect for others or self-respect? It’s self-respect. Teach your children healthy self-respect, and respect for others will develop a lot more easily.
During my forty years of clinical practice, children have explained self-respect in this way after their parents have been through counseling: I like how my parents respect who I am and that they’ve taught me how to be good. It makes me want to treat others the way I was treated.
Establish self-respect with these tried and tested tips.
Teach self-awareness. Focus on two parts: (1) inside feelings and thoughts, and (2) outside comments and actions. Awareness of feelings and thoughts is accomplished by parents teaching their children feeling words (happy, sad, fearful, angry) and encouraging regular expression of these words. Here’s tween Beth’s comment: “I’m really angry that you’re making me stay home for our family-night dinner.” Expect about a year or two of training (starting at two years of age) before raw expressions of anger can regularly be put into feeling words. Consistent acceptance of your child’s deepest feelings is experienced by your child as your respecting his or her individuality.
Then teach awareness of how feelings cause behavior. At first anger comes out raw: yelling and temper tantrums. With training, feelings will be expressed with words, and learning appropriate behavior will be a lot smoother.
Teach acceptance of individuality. Acceptance of one’s individuality is dependent upon the person accepting his or her feelings and developing a commitment to learn good behavior. Validating a child’s feelings in combination with firm limit setting is the part you play in helping your child accept her individuality. For example you might respond to tween Beth’s upset feelings like this: “I know you’re really angry about missing time with your friends, but our Friday night dinnertime is a nonnegotiable.”
Teach respect for others. Respect means supporting another person’s feelings—especially when there’s a disagreement—and then being able to disagree supportively with the person’s behavior, not with their feelings. When a friend says it’s okay to tell a white lie, teach your child to say, “I know it seems okay to not tell your parents if we sneak out if they don’t find out, but it’s something I’m not comfortable doing.” I messages are the best way to disagree respectfully.
And then there’s respect for authority, which means saying nothing at all while doing what is asked or knowing when and how to disagree. Help your child look for situations to practice these skills and role play different ways to handle each circumstance.
Oh, and don’t forget to teach your child to acknowledge things they respect in others, such as making good grades or being skilled at something like dance, sports, or art. In many ways respect is about showing interest in others.
Take-home lesson: Establish self-respect and expect your child to respect others.
Gary M. Unruh, MSW LCSW, a forty-year veteran mental health practitioner, is the author of 2010 award-winning book: Unleashing the Power of Parental Love: 4 Steps to Raising Joyful and Self-Confident Kids (www.unleashingparentallove.com).