Let’s talk about respect.
Miriam Webster defines the verb ‘respect’ as the act of considering something worthy of high regard. When we talk about having respect for someone or something, we talk about how we treat them and whether or not that treatment is dignified. But what are the measurements that we use to determine whether behavior is actually respectful?
The list of respectful behaviors typically includes things like following directions, taking turns, not interrupting, listening quietly, managing both verbal and nonverbal communication appropriately, and not allowing emotions to dictate communication. However, that list is almost exclusively applied to the behaviors of children and adolescents and an unfortunate result is that adults tend to be disrespectful to the children and adolescents in their lives. That disrespect often manifests in adults interrupting children, dismissing the child’s thoughts and feelings by telling them that they are whining, that they should “get over it”, or that things “aren’t that big of a deal”, and allowing their own emotions to dictate behavior by punishing children for doing something that is “irritating” to the adult.
It is important to remember that kids learn to behave by following the examples of the adults in their lives—when adults don’t treat children respectfully, children will not act respectfully toward them. Adults in general but specifically parents, caregivers, and teachers need to be aware of their own behavior and what it communicates to the children and adolescents in their lives. The way that adults interact with children teaches those children not only how they are supposed to interact with others but what behaviors to expect from others.
So, what does it look like when adults respect children? The great news is that it does not look much different than when children respect adults. Adults who can be respectful—who can listen to children, validate their feelings, honor requests if possible, and keep their own emotions in check—will effectually teach those children how to be respectful to others.