Teaching Your Kids How to Show Respect


Do you eat out with your family?  If so, you know what a great environment restaurants are for teaching your children how to demonstrate respect. When our family goes out,  my husband and I  gear up for a rapid-fire, non-stop coaching session with our kids. For us, this seems to be a particularly difficult environment because we're all a little "hangry," and there are so many opportunities to be discourteous.  And so our coaching sounds a bit like this:

  • Say thanks to the person showing us to the table.
  • When the server asks you what you'd like to drink, look them in the eye.
  • Place your drink order by saying "May I PLEASE have ______."
  • Speak up when ordering.
  • "Napkin check!" (Code for your napkin needs to be in your lap)
  • Don't crawl under the table!
  • Do say thanks when your food comes.

...And on and on we go!

As important as table manners are, we realize that's just the start of teaching kids to show respect. And make no mistake, if our 9 and 7-year-old kids are disrespectful, the blame falls on us.   No matter how much "outsourcing" you use to train your kids in sports, crafts, or performing arts, the lessons about respecting others is something rooted in the family.  And so our coaching will continue as we polish our still-developing skills!!

There are plenty of strategies, but we're still working on the basics.  Here's how we've started:

  1. Demonstrate Respect:  if we want our kids to show respect to people outside of our home, we have to be showing respect INSIDE the home.  For us, that means breaking the habit of sarcasm and purging even subtle "put downs."
  2. Practice Manners: there's a funny thing about manners; if you practice them enough, you won't even realize that you're using them.  And, when you demonstrate those manners, others feel like you're showing them respect.  I have nieces who issue "yes, please" and "no, thank you" (along with the Southern "ma'am" and "sir") so routinely it feels as if they are part of the air they breathe.  As you can imagine, among other great qualities, this routine behavior makes them very pleasant to be around.
  3. Talk About Behaviors: kids are excellent observers, and their ability to sniff out rude and demanding people is sharper than you might imagine. Once, when traveling to see my family in CA, I remember the kids being fascinated by a passenger who was yelling at a ticket agent.  We had a long discussion about whether or not that behavior was appropriate and what would have been other ways to deal with the situation.  Our questions centered on thoughts like, "was that a nice thing (or not a nice thing) to do?"  or "how would you have acted differently?"
  4. Create a Shared Vocabulary:  since we spend a good bit of time talking about how we treat others, we have developed code words (or questions, more precisely) around the respect topic.  We say things like: "Were you a good friend to that person?"  "How did you make that person feel?"  "How can you honor that person?"  Whenever we ask these questions, we are reinforcing the idea that how you treat others matters in our family.
  5. Listen Well:  there is no better way to show others respect than to pay attention and listen to them.  That means being interested in their school stories and hearing all about their Lego plans.  We reinforce taking turns talking ("let the other person speak!") and hearing people out. This is perhaps the most convicting strategy we tackle because we are, like so many iPhone owners, so easily distracted.

Of course, there a plenty of "bad days" when we can't save our attitude if our lives depended on it.  Still, our goal is to make that the exception rather than the rule.

What are some practical ways that you teach your kids to show respect?