Monday, September 28, 2015


I'm fairly certain that we've all lost count of the amount of times in our upbringing that we heard our parents demand or request or advise us to respect them. Or our elders. Or our neighbors. Or our peers. It becomes clear to us early on that respect is an integral part of our relationships with others, but navigating what that looks like is a much more complex thing than one might think.

Interestingly enough - parenting is also a much more complex thing than one might think. 

I can't remember whether I heard it at my moms' group or if I read it in a book or a blog or - more than likely - all of the above, but I once heard and have kept with me that if you want your children to respect you or to learn how to respect others, that you first need to respect them. 

The first time that I heard this - and I have heard it several times - it was the cliche lightbulb moment. Respect your kids and they will learn respect. Why? Because kids learn by example; they watch us, they watch how we interact with our spouses and other adults and they model what we do.

For example, there was one day that I was just crying. I don't remember why - the stress of the day had probably gotten to me and I just needed that physical stress release so I fell to the floor crying. My son - who I come to his and his sister's side when they cry - came running in from another room and just hugged me and told me that it would be OK. He did this until I stopped crying - and his sister, two years his junior, followed suit by touching my forehead with hers and say "Otay Mommy! Otay Mommy!". Now those who know my son will comment on his naturally-inclined empathy, but it is up to us as his parents to teach him how to take that God-given-gift and channel it into a way that shows people he cares. When my kids cry, we are there and so he knows that when people that he loves cry - he can be there for them.

And so - if we first respect our children, they will in turn learn how to respect others very likely starting first with their parents. \
But what in the world does it look like to respect a tiny person? has many definitions for the word respect, but in this instance I think that the one that is applicable is "to show regard or consideration for" and to complete that thought we add "our children.

"To show regard or consideration for our children" - this is what it means to respect our kids. The way that we do this is to first remember that our children are not just these little mini-me-clones walking around: they are indeed uniquely designed people with their own thoughts, their own feelings, their own ideas, their own personalities, and their own needs and desires. Who are our kids? What kinds of things make them tick? How do they react?

So what do we do?

To teach our kids respect, we need to show regard for their feelings when they're having those "terrible, horrible, no good, very bad" days and when they're having their "bright, bright, bright sunshiney" days. Then they will learn to regard the feelings of other people too.

To teach our kids respect, we need to take their opinions or interests into consideration when we're planning our days and weeks or signing them up for activities or even something so simple as picking out their clothes. Then they will learn to take the opinions of others into consideration too.

To teach our kids respect, we need to let them take ownership of their bodies and let them know it's OK to not hug someone or high five someone if they don't want to. It's OK to ask someone safe to hold your hand or rub your back and it's OK to tell people who might want to do those things that you don't want them to do that. Then they will learn to protect their bodies and let or help other people protect theirs too.

To teach our kids respect, we need to listen to them actively. Pay attention to the words they're saying, make sure that you understand and ask for clarification when needed, and don't insert ourselves. Give advice when appropriate and just be a sound board when needed. Then they will learn to be a good listener and be able to be a good friend to others too.

There are so many things that we do every day that are opportunities to respect our kids and in turn teach them to respect others.

So what does this look like practically? 

My kids could not be any more different from each other; we often joke that when blessing us with children, God had a checklist and whatever Will didn't get He gave to Evie when she was conceived. My son is our little pensive introvert and my daughter (when she's not completely mimicking her brother) is an extrovert on the rise. When we made the decision this year to enroll our son in a 1-day-per-week preschool environment to ease him into the next couple of years of preschool and kindergarten, we knew that it had potential to be a difficult transition for him. He thrives in one-on-one or two-on-one situations and the more and more people that get added to that equation, the harder time he has. 

This last week was his second week in the class, and you could see that he was continuing to see how he fit into the social structure of a classroom. He sat through the opening song and story, but observed during the dancing. He participated in craft time and played during playtime. He seemed to be doing OK... and then snack time came. And the teacher had brought string cheese.

Apparently - and unbeknownst to me - Will does. Not. Like. String cheese.


Fifteen minutes later, we moved past the string cheese incident (yes, I realize that is also a band) and were back to attempting to participate in the class. I watched as Will stayed with smaller groups or played by himself, and appreciated how his teacher checked in with him but also recognized that he needed some space. Preschool wrapped up, we packed our little sunflower crafts in the car (the teacher invites Evie to participate where she might be interested), and went to a nearby park to enjoy the sandwiches and apples I had packed for lunch. We sat down, I opened their lunch containers, and let them settle down in our grassy spot however they were comfortable eating their lunch.

Evie sat close to me, ate her lunch, then bounced up and down on my lap, ran in circles, rolled in the grass, laughed, talked... it was clear that the morning at preschool had energized her and she was glad I had brought her someplace that gave her an immediate outlet for that.

Will took his lunch, said "Thank you, Mommy", and quietly moved about a foot away from where he started and turned his back to me and his sister. He watched as cars and trucks and buses drove by and he gazed at the nearby group of teenagers playing soccer. He would occasionally ask a question or make a verbal observation, but by and large he just sat there quietly while he ate his lunch. 

I sat back and thought about that morning and pondered the differences between my two kids as my daughter ran at me and tackled me as best as her little 17-month-old body could. I watched as my son's eyes followed a soccer ball fly through the air and land at the feet of a long-haired girl who kicked it to the next person.

I resisted the urge to pick my son up in my arms and cradle him and talk him through his morning. I held back the words that wanted to ask him if he was okay.

Will needed his space to recuperate from the activities of the day so far. He needed to just have a quiet time to recenter and sitting there watching cars and soccer balls and dump trucks and school buses and his energetic sister occasionally running in front of him as she circled us was exactly what he wanted in that moment.

And I respected that. Just as I know sometimes I need space and as I've given his dad the same space dozens of times over the years. I respected that need for space, I let him have it.

By the time we left, he was ready to explore a nearby monument and run around again with his sister. He even asked me to climb up and play with them. There were even smiles... and boy, the smiles and laughs of my kiddos fill my heart with joy.

How do we respect our kids?

By treating them the same way that we would want to be treated. Lead by example in performing the Golden Rule.