Definition of Respect for Kids

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We talk about respect a lot in the house. It just comes natural. Not because we are holier than thou and always treating each other with respect, but because it just seems to be a natural concept that comes up when telling the kids why they can’t talk back, or take toys away from one another.

Of course, with young minds, though, the concept is often lost. And that’s OK—we don’t totally expect them to understand the concept just yet, but it doesn’t hurt to get the ball rolling. The easiest way to get started might be by simplifying the definition; put things in their terms and describe respect through elements with which they’re already familiar.

This isn’t new or groundbreaking parenting, but we put emphasis on this approach when it comes to the topic of respect because the conversation often arises when tempers are high—either on the child’s end or ours…which can cloud minds and cause us to lose focus of a valuable teaching moment.

Defining Respect for Kids

For kids, respect simply means caring for the feelings of others through your actions. It’s the idea that you, one, understand that someone has particular wants and needs and that two, your actions don’t interfere with those things.

This could include someone’s need to be appreciated, in which case a child would say “thank you” as a sign of respect. But, it might also be the classic example of a sibling enjoying a toy, and then the fact that your child is to be respectful of their personal space, feeling for enjoyment, and belongings.

Respect can be a difficult concept for kids to grasp. During a time where they are consistently learning more and more about themselves – and just covering the basics at most times – talking about the feelings of others and instilling an understanding that “the world doesn’t revolve around them” can be a challenge.

But is there any harm in getting them to think about these things sooner than later? From teaching respect and then showing respect, there are few different tips and tidbits to keep in mind.

How to Teach Kids to be Respectful

In the Moment

For us, we have found that it’s easiest to teach respect in the moment—and it makes it a little easier with siblings who are constantly going at each other. Youngest is playing and having fun on their own, and oldest walks up and interrupts; either by taking the toy, distracting, or being a general nuisance. Crying ensues, and then the conversation turns toward the oldest needing to be respectful…

  • Of the youngest’s happiness and contentment
  • Their personal space
  • And their belongings

With that, you’ll probably find some of these areas are easier for kids to grasp than others, perhaps with respecting their belongings being easiest as it is most tangible.

And of course, different lessons come from different experiences and circumstances, meaning it’s also important to show that kids need to respect not only their siblings, friends, and peers, but authority figures as well, including parents, teachers, and other adults.

Obviously in these scenarios, being respectful comes in different forms, like not interrupting others when they’re speaking, respecting the classroom and the homes of others, and more.

It doesn’t have to be a big formal scene either—even something simple like the way you treat waitstaff in restaurants, respond to trick or treaters, react to drivers on the road can be an opportunity.

Outside of the Moment

With that said, there is still plenty of value in trying to teach respect outside the heat of the moment, whether that’s through story time or in the middle of everyday normal conversation.

Where “in the moment” teaching helps attach a concrete example to behavior, it can also get washed away with all of the emotion that comes with it. Which means on the other hand, when outside of the moment, you might be able to more clearly articulate your points, while also allowing your child time for those points to sink in.

How to Show Respect

As mentioned in the example above, respect comes in two parts—the understanding and caring, but then also the physical act of carrying out, or showing respect.

For kids, it might be easiest to have kids think about the things that make them upset. Perhaps it’s when another child takes a toy without asking, or when someone is bugging them when they aren’t feeling well, or an adult not listening when they’re asking or telling them something.

From there, have kids think about appropriate responses, and then how those responses translate into showing respect. For instance:

Another child took the toy your child was enjoying, and even worse, was breaking it once they got a hold of it. This means the other child wasn’t being respectful of your child’s feelings of fun and contnentment, nor were they respecting rules of the classroom, etc. So, to show respect, they should instead ask to have a turn, and then, even id the answer isn’t to their liking, they respect it either way.