5 Ways to Foster Respectfulness In Children

Attachment parenting and gentle discipline are often wrongly considered to be the same as permissive parenting. This could not be further from the truth.5 Ways to Foster Respectfulness In Children

Permissive parenting is not respectful. It does not allow children to have an authentic view of the world. Attachment parenting is the foundation for gentle discipline, and provides a solid base to help them feel secure in a world that isn’t always kind, fair or fun to be in.

An example – allowing your child to dictate everything that happens in your day may make them happy temporarily, but in the long run it will not help. When they are older, and realise that the world just isn’t like that, they will have quite a bump back down to earth.

Respecting children is the key to ensuring that they will be respectful. Unfortunately we live in a world that treats children like lesser beings; like second-class citizens not worthy of the same level of autonomy and respect as an adult. How can we expect our children to respect us if we do not respect them? Respect must be earned – and that goes both ways.

I have read a lot over the years about how to raise respectful, responsible children. I’d like to share some of the helpful titbits I’ve picked up along the way.

#1 – You Don’t Have to Sing!

“Sing it again, mummy! AGAIN MUMMY”

We’ve all heard that at some point. And doesn’t it sometimes feel like we must do everything our child wants us to do in order to make them happy? Doing things to make our children smile is wonderful, but we must remember that it’s not our job to make them happy. If you’ve sung Old McDonald for your preschooler seven times and you just can’t make another chicken noise without going completely batty, don’t feel like you have to. After all, what is that teaching them? To consistently put their own needs to one side to make others happy. That’s not a great lesson. If you’ve had enough, tell your child that.

#2 – Mind Your Own P’s and Q’s.

Negotiating ‘pleases’ and ‘thank-yous’ is a difficult thing to do. Most of us know that the best way to teach a child a polite behaviour is to model that behaviour ourselves, but it’s sometimes difficult when somebody else does something for our child and we don’t tell them to say thank-you. Finding the balance between behaving in a socially acceptable manner as a parent, and yet not coercing or threatening our children into politeness, is no easy task.

What I have begun to do is allow my son to say thank you of his own accord, but if he doesn’t, I will ask him “what do we say now?” If he doesn’t wish to say thank-you, I won’t force him. I will simply thank the person on his behalf and explain that I don’t believe in forcing children to speak when they don’t wish to. This way, I have modelled the polite behaviour, and the other person gets their thank-you. This goes for any polite and respectful behaviour you wish to instill in your children. The problem most people have with gentle discipline is that the “results” aren’t usually immediate – gentle discipline is all about your child learning how to behave through natural consequences rather than punishments and rewards, and that kind of life learning can take time. You get out what you put in.

#3 – Respect Their Boundaries

If you expect your child to respect the boundaries you have set, you must do the same for them. If there is a particular T-shirt or dress that they despise, don’t force them to wear it. If they don’t want to play with Timmy at the park, don’t make them. If there is a special toy that they really don’t want to share, ask yourself if it’s really necessary that they do. Children are people too. Ask yourself whether you would be happy if your husband forced you to wear clothes you hate, talk to people you can’t stand or let other people go through your precious and private keepsakes.

#4 – Their Time Is Important Too

I think we are all guilty of this one – I know I definitely am. Imagine the scene – you’re getting ready to leave the house and your child is playing. You tell them it’s time to go, and they say “One more minute, I’m playing.” How many of us have forced the ending of the game and told them to hurry up?

We must remember that our children’s games are just as important to them as our pastimes or work are to us. If I am sat at the computer working, and Monkey wants a snack, I expect him to respect the fact that I am busy and wait for a minute for me to finish whatever it is I am doing. Similarly, we must try to make an effort to remember that our children’s games are really important to them – just as important as it is for us to make it to that appointment on time. Obviously we cannot allow our children’s playtime to dictate our day – nothing would ever get done – but their playtime deserves the same respect as our to-do list. If you need to get going, make sure you tell your child in advance. I give Monkey a 10 minute warning, then 5, then 2 – by the time it’s time to leave, he has had time to finish his game and we avoid any tantrums that would have occurred should I have demanded he finished right away.

#5 – Allow Them Their Basic Autonomy

There are some things that are non-negotiables. Teeth brushing, for instance, and the wearing of protective hats in the hot sun. We obviously have to remember that our children are children, after all, and that sometimes we have to make an executive decision that they may not like. However, there are plenty of opportunities day-to-day where we can allow our children to make choices over what happens to them and their bodies.

One example that comes to mind is the fantastic story of Mamapoekie’s daughter’s first haircut. Mamapoekie is, and always has been, very mindful of her daughter’s autonomy and right to choose what clothes she wears or whether or not she brushes her hair, and that respect didn’t stop when she expressed a desire to shave her hair like her daddy. The heartwarming story of her first haircut hair is here at Mamapoekie’s blog, Authentic Parenting.

The key to raising respectful kids is remembering that our children’s choices are not less important or worthy of less attention than our own. I would not allow somebody to tell me how I should wear my hair or what clothes I should wear, and therefore I try hard to allow my children the same choice I have. As long as their clothing (or lack of) is weather appropriate, it really is no business of mine what they wear. The same goes for meals, sleep and other basic needs. If they’re not hungry, don’t make them eat. If they’re not tired, don’t force them to sleep. Etc.

I think a large part of the obsession with making our children be “socially acceptable” – flattering clothing, grown-up, neat hairstyles, polite and restrained attitudes – is down to the fact that society views our children as extensions of ourselves. If our children are noisy, or dirty, or cry, or shout, or forget to say please, or run around screeching because they are just so damn excited, it is assumed that we have failed. We have done a bad job – just look at our little hooligans behaving like the children that they are. I know it’s so hard to forget about the social expectations heaped upon us, but when we manage to let go of them the rewards are sweet – for ourselves as well as our kids.

image: D. Sharon Pruitt @ flickr


  1. Marie says

    Beautifully said! Thanku, just what I needed to read. Struggling a little with my almost 2 year olds behaviour (new found desire for more independence). I have always tried to follow these principles, but at the moment his skills aren’t quite up to what he wants to achieve. This makes for lots of frustration for both of us and often results in things taking a lot longer. But to put myself in his shoes and truly ‘respect’ him I must listen to him and b there for when he needs me, he deserves this as much as any adult. Thanks for the extra confidence :)

    • says

      Thank you for your comment! :) That’s such a tough age; all of that independent thought but a lack of skills to carry out what they want to do… very tough for baby, and for mama! Hang in there :)

  2. Ashley says

    I really like #5. A friend of mine allowed her 8 year old son to grow his hair out long for a while. Then one day he came to her and said he wanted to cut it short again and donate the tresses to Locks of Love. He decided this all on his own and in his own time, without any prodding at all. His mom was so proud of him and glad that she had allowed him to have that autonomy over his own hair.

    • says

      Oh what a wonderful story :) My oldest had gorgeous long curly tresses until he was about 2ish, when we finally succumbed to the pressure to cut it :( I wish we hadn’t now. I mean, i’d been forced to cut a fringe long before then because it was just constantly in his eyes but the rest of it was as nature intended. Isn’t it strange how people are SO concerned with the appearance of other people’s children?!

      Thanks so much for commenting :)

  3. says

    Little time, bc I have to go out and play. I just wanted to say that prompting is seriously disrespectful and that it is coercion too… What would you feel like if you went to the store, you ask for a bread and the vendor says: “what do we say?”.
    I can greatly recommend “Parenting for social change” to that extent
    Plus, yes, you don’t have to have them walk all over you, but there’s a very thin line between being an intolerable person and someone who is authentic. I think just saying: I’m not singing another song is not very considerate. There are gentler ways about this, like finding a solution together.
    And I highly dislike the term gentle discipline.

    • says

      I can understand what you say about prompting. I’d like to hear why you dislike the term gentle discipline, care to explain that one a little further?

      Yes, finding a solution together is the best way to go about it. My point was that we shouldn’t feel like we *have* to do something to make somebody else happy if we really, really don’t want to. I don’t want my children to grow up feeling like they must sacrifice their own needs to make others happy.

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