A few years ago, as I was taking my morning walk, I entered a park near our home and came upon some young children. As I walked past, one of them suggested that they throw rocks at “that old lady.”
It was bad enough that they considered me, in my early 40s, to be an old lady, but their utter lack of regard for one they thought to be an old lady astounded me.
Many adults are afraid of children, and after this little episode I can understand why. I am thankful the children who tried to assault me couldn’t throw far enough to hit me, but I must admit I was leery of walking in that park again.
One dictionary defines respect as “to consider worthy of high regard: esteem.” Are we passing this biblical principal on to our children?
The Bible instructs us how and when to teach our children. It says to instruct them by talking to them when we sit in our houses, walk by the way, lie down and rise up (Deuteronomy 6:6 Deuteronomy 6:6And these words, which I command you this day, shall be in your heart:
American King James Version×, 7).
Children learn their standards of respect from what they see around them. This may seem discouraging when we look at the disrespectful world around us, but parents are in a powerful position to teach by their own example, as well as their instructions.
The way we treat our children is the first model they learn for behavior toward others. They will also learn to copy our behavior and attitudes toward other children and adults.
Respect can seem to be a daunting subject to explain to a child. As we strive to show our children the virtue of honoring other people, there are some specific rules of behavior that we can teach them. We can instruct our children to be courteous toward others even in seemingly unimportant matters.
Some rules of courtesy
It is important for children to learn to respect authority, and respect begins by showing honor to parents and other adults.
If we don’t teach our children to respect others, we leave them at a disadvantage in society. We all want our children to be well liked, successful and respected. By teaching them to be courteous, we can help them on their way.
The Bible teaches respect for the elderly (Leviticus 19:32 Leviticus 19:32You shall rise up before the hoary head, and honor the face of the old man, and fear your God: I am the LORD.
American King James Version×) and the widow (1 Timothy 5:3 1 Timothy 5:3Honor widows that are widows indeed.
American King James Version×). Have our children learned to give up their seats to someone older than they when there are no other seats to be had?
Do our children know that, in most societies and cultures, it may be impolite to call an adult by his or her first name unless asked to do so?
Do our children know to share the sidewalks with others by moving to one side? Do they move out of the road quickly when they are about to impede traffic?
Regard for belongings
Have we taught our children to respect others’ property? For instance, when we take our children shopping with us, do they know not to touch anything in a shop or store unless they plan to buy it?
When we visit someone else’s home, do our children respect that person’s property and privacy? It is, of course, impolite to use others’ personal belongings without asking. “Ask before taking or using” is a phrase we can teach our children that will cover many situations.
Owning up to accidents
On one occasion my husband, who coached basketball, invited his team of teenage boys over to spend the night before a big game.
Sometime during the evening someone spilled cranberry or grape juice on the carpet and didn’t tell anyone. I found the stain the next day covered with a sheet. I never got that discoloration completely out. I might have successfully repaired the damage had someone told me about it right away.
We should explain to our children that accidents can happen to anyone. Rather than hiding the incident, they should tell someone right away so the damage can be minimized.
I know a young man who accidentally broke an antique teacup. He owned up to it immediately and apologized. I respected him for having the courage to come forward. The courtesy he showed by doing the right thing was of far more value than any antique dish.
Along the same lines, do our children know not to put glasses, cups or wet towels on wooden furniture? We should teach them to use coasters and to ask where to put their wet belongings.
Do our children know it is impolite to arrive late and keep others waiting? When we are late we show a disregard for others. We are saying their time isn’t as valuable as ours.
Do our children know it is impolite to eat in front of others without offering them some? Do our children know not to chew with their mouths open, talk with their mouths full or smack their lips while they are eating?
Years ago it was illegal to spit on sidewalks. Why? Because spittle on a walkway makes a repugnant sight and shows disrespect to others. I can tell, as I walk around the school near me, that this behavior is not an uncommon practice.
Here is a simple four-step plan that we can use to teach our children:
- First, point out incorrect behavior.
- Second, explain why the behavior is wrong.
- Third, explain the correct behavior.
- Fourth, expect correct behavior in the future.
For example, if your child addresses an adult in a too-familiar fashion, privately take the child aside. Tell him you noticed he was impolite to Mr. Smith. You could explain that we are to respect people who are older than we are. One way to do that is by calling them Mr., Mrs. or Miss and using their surname.
You can further explain that it is all right to call other children (and certain adult relatives and family friends, depending upon local custom) by their first names.
Then tell the child that you will expect him to call adults by Mr., Mrs. or Miss from now on.
It is important to give these instructions without disrespecting the child. Parents can quickly lose credibility if they are rude to their children while explaining how to be polite.
Respect is a dying virtue. We individually can’t change the world, but we can make a big difference in our little corner of it. Let’s make sure we’re doing our part to be respectful adults and teach our children to do likewise. GN