Teaching young children respect for others

My husband and I were driving the kids to school one morning. We were in a middle of a conversation when my 3-year-old son suddenly shouted, “Stop talking!” It turned out that his favourite song had come on and he couldn’t hear it over our voices.

I chuckled, and was tempted to shrug off his cute outburst. But instead, I seized that teachable moment to explain that what he just did was disrespectful. Then I had him repeat after me, “Excuse me, Papa and Mama, I cannot hear the music.”

Children are naturally self-centred, and respect for others is not instinctive. Neither is respect easily defined in words. Here are some ways we teach our young ones respect:

Demonstrate respectful behaviour

Photo Credit: MyTudut via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: MyTudut via Compfight cc

Our children are watching us all the time – we are their first and most important role models. So there’s no better place to teach respect than in the home. Do children see their dad and mum speaking kindly and being considerate to each other? Do they see us working as a team in taking care of the home?

When speaking to my children, I try to be mindful of my tone of voice, not to talk down to them, snap at them or shout. I also try my best to listen attentively when they have something to tell me, no matter how trivial it may seem. It is also important to validate their feelings with words of affirmation and encouragement.

Set ground rules
This will differ between each household. Some of mine include:

  • You don’t get what you whine for
  • “You get what you get and you don’t get upset” (it rhymes and your kids will get a kick out of reciting this phrase, try it!)
  • No interrupting
  • No name-calling
  • Respect physical boundaries

When rules are broken, appropriate consequences should be delivered. The key is to be consistent – you can’t enforce a rule one day and let it slide the next day.

Give children the words for good manners
In our household, we start our requests with “May I”. For example, “Mom, may I please have more juice?” or “May I please play with your toy?” This really helps a young child verbalise his thoughts, rather than whine or cry. I also teach my children to greet elders with the appropriate terms, such as “auntie” and “uncle”, and to look them in the eye when saying hello or goodbye.

Practice showing respect to others
I take my kids to visit their great-grandmother at the nursing home regularly. I encourage them to chat with her and give hugs. She is wheelchair-bound so they take turns to push her out to the garden or the common area to watch TV. This teaches them that everyone deserves respect, regardless of age or capabilities.

So, back to our car ride to school. Shortly after my son’s favourite song was over, my husband and I continued talking again. Lo and behold, we heard a sweet voice…

“Excuse me, Papa and Mama, I cannot hear the music.”

LJ and her husband have been married 7 years and have three delightful children. They keep the romance alive by putting the children to bed early and listening to their favourite playlist of 90’s love songs.


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