How Parents Can Teach Their Children About Respect and Responsibility

By: Dr Janet Hall

Learning to be respectful and how to act with responsibility, are fundamental lessons for almost all children. Children are never too young to learn to say please and thank you, to ask before taking, pick up toys and tidy their room, or take care with the possessions of others.

Why is a respectful attitude important?
Respect is a way of honouring those in authority who have set up the system of how we live. Respect is the necessary building block for co-operation in a community. When children comply with rules with a positive attitude, they are being respectful. Parents and teachers need to be models of respectful attitudes to authority and demonstrate this to children.

Is there a difference between showing respect and being obedient?
Obedience is a compliance with rules, but it may not be with respect. Respectful co-operation with rules is about an appreciation of the rules and how they serve us to thrive and not just survive. This is a complicated concept which takes time for children to understand. Many teenagers and adults don’t understand respect! Some of these get the severe punishment of being in jail, where they may have to be obedient, but probably still have no respect.

What is the difference between respect and responsibility?
Respect is the attitude, responsibility is the doing word. When you are responsible you are doing the right thing.

What skills help a child to be responsible?
Children need to follow rules. They need to take care of their own things, learn to tidy up after themselves and report anything that is too difficult for them to an adult or older child. They need to know that it is not ok to take other people’s things or to intrude into their private space.

At what stage of their development do most children begin to understand the concept of responsibility?
Most children have an understanding of responsibility by school age. A child with no responsibility, grows fearful in most situations involving change, and excessively depends on adults.
What are some tasks toddlers and preschoolers could be expected to take responsibility for?
Let children take on small tasks that gradually increase in difficulty as they grow older. This may include helping prepare small meals, setting a table, or letting them choose their own clothing for the day; all of which builds confidence and assists in developing simple math skills (e.g. counting and sorting).

Is it a good idea to offer pocket money when children take responsibility for their allotted chores?
Young children do not have a built-in sense of self-reward. They need to be reinforced by external rewards such as praise or visual stickers. Pocket money is a good idea for school age children as it teaches them about the social economy – if you work you get paid! However, it should be managed like a fun game and not be about being stressed or greedy.

Should I rescue my child when they haven’t behaved responsibly?
If a parent is always on tap to rescue a child when they have not taken responsibility, the child will never learn to be independent or to plan for success.
So if your child forgets his raincoat, let him get wet.

What strategies can I use if my child chooses to ignore their responsibilities?
Parents need to set clear boundaries. Children like boundaries, and maintaining a sense of order through routine gives them a sense of security. For example, when moving into a new house, parents who enforce the same rules – no playing on the street, picking up all toys in the play room – remind their children that the same things are expected of them regardless of where they are, which in turn provides children with a sense of security.

If rules are not working, parents may need to consider using rewards and punishers. Rewards work best and should always be the first option!

How can I best handle disrespect from my child?
Firmly tell the child that their behaviour is not what you expect. Tell them the behaviour that you do want and give them a reason for it. For example, if a child grabs another’s toy and runs away with it, catch the child and say – “We don’t take other people’s things. You wouldn’t like it if someone took your toy. Give it back and say you are sorry and that you won’t do it again.

Parents should respect the child in all aspects of his or her personality if they seek respect in return. For example, parents need to consider the child’s opinions and perspectives before setting discipline and behavioral standards. Parents should stay firm on their expectations, yet remind themselves that the child is a human being and deserves to be treated with fairness in order to develop a positive self-concept.

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Dr Janet Hall is a Clinical Psychologist, Hypnotist, Author and Professional Speaker. She is the author of eight books on family and relationship issues including "Sex-Wise Teens" and "Sex-life Solutions". She founded the Richmond Hill Psychology Clinic.

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