How should we deal with disrespectful children

How children learn to respect
by Pam Leo

"Children have never been particularly good at listening to older people,
but they never missed imitating them. "
(James Baldwin)

Children are like mirrors; they reflect everything we say or do. We now know that 95% of what children learn is learned through imitation. Only 5% learn it through direct teaching. People are like tape recorders. Every word we hear, all of our experiences, are permanently recorded in our subconscious. Whenever adults speak, we are role models for the children present. We teach what we speak. Children record every word we address to them or speak in their presence. The language children hear when they grow up is the language they will speak.

We often make the mistake of thinking that children don't feel the same way we do because they are smaller and have less information and experience. But that is a mistake. Behavior that embarrasses, humiliates, or hurts us also embarrasses, humiliates, or hurts children. When we humans are emotionally hurt, our thinking turns off. When our thinking turns off, we cannot learn, we can only record. When adults try to "teach" children something through criticism, lecturing, shaming, ridicule, commands, shouting, threats, or beating, it turns off their thinking so that they cannot learn what the adult was trying to teach them; they can only record which behavior is presented to them as a role model.

The most common criticism of young people I hear these days is “they don't treat anything or anyone with respect”. Ironically, adults often try to teach children respect by treating them disrespectfully. Children learn respect or disrespect from the way we treat them or how we treat each other. When children live with disrespect, they learn disrespect. We can only teach respect by showing children how to treat one another with respect and by showing them the same respect that we expect.

Since children have long been treated like second-class citizens, as "less than," adults carry around with them "recordings" of disrespect that we recorded when we were children. When children's behavior challenges us, it triggers the “play” button on our recording and we hear and say the same things that we got to hear as children. Haven't all mothers and fathers had the experience of hearing their parents' words come out of their own mouth now that they are parents themselves? Most disrespectful answers come so automatically that we have already spoken them before we even realize what we are saying.

Treating children with respect requires a change of heart: we have to learn to develop a new awareness of the way we perceive our children and how we define respect. Children are born with human dignity. Treating a person with respect means recognizing and preserving their human dignity. Treating a person with disrespect is to attack their human dignity.

Treating children without respect is like using corporal punishment as a disciplinary measure; it only "works" as long as we are bigger than them. It is up to every adult who wants to be treated with respect to behave respectfully towards children. Whether children grow up under our roof or not, they live in the same world as we do and their behavior affects our lives. However we treat a child, that is how the world will treat it.

How can we expect children to understand and apply the Golden Rule if we treat them with less respect than our acquaintances? When I say children deserve the same respect that we would treat our friends with, I am not saying that we should treat children like adults or that we should never get angry. I mean that we don't have to say anything that we have to say to our children in a disrespectful way.

It is not disrespectful to shout “I'm angry, I don't like this behavior”; Shouting at, shaming, humiliating, and looking down on children is disrespectful. When we wonder whether or not something we said to a child is disrespectful, we can consider, “Would I say these words in that tone to a good friend?” If not, they were probably disrespectful. And if we show children disrespect, we have to show them how to apologize.

If we are to earnestly teach children respect, we must expose and acknowledge and work to eliminate all behaviors that exemplify disrespectful behavior. Even if we do not engage in the overtly disrespectful behaviors such as criticism, lecturing, shaming, ridiculing, commands, shouting, threatening, or hitting, there are many ways we talk to or treat children that we certainly no longer consider feeling disrespectful because children have been treated this way for too long or you have been talking to them this way for too long. Still, we would immediately identify them as disrespectful, would we be spoken to or treated like this.

In my parenting courses on how to treat children with respect, we read an excellent piece by Erma Bombeck entitled “Treat friends and children equally”. She imagines having invited friends over for dinner and saying to them all these things that most of us heard in childhood and that we therefore say to our children. "Close the door. Do you have bags in front of the doors? ”“ I didn't stand by the stove all day so you could nibble on your food like a sparrow. ”“ Sit up straight, otherwise your spine will grow like that. ”Most parents roar with laughter at the thought to talk like that to their friends and then realize that it is equally disrespectful to talk like that to their children.

We don't confront our friends with “What do you say?” Or “What's the magic word?” But our children get to hear it all the time. If we expect children to always say “please” and “thank you”, then we always have to say it to them and to each other, otherwise we set an example for them that sometimes you say it and sometimes you don't. Children imitate what we do. If we expect children to have good manners, to share, to apologize, to be honest, kind, and to be full of respect and love, we need to set an example for them so that they have a role model to emulate.

Children mimic parents, family members, friends, caregivers, teachers, and television. The more children there are out there in the world, the more role models they are exposed to. We can't stop children from seeing role models who exhibit behavior we would not like them to emulate, but we can be a little more picky about what role models they are exposed to, especially through television. Since parents are the primary role model in the early years, we need to work to model the behavior we expect and avoid the behavior we do not want to see in our children.

The old wisdom “how to call into the forest, so it resounds” and “what you sow, you will reap” also applies to how we teach children. Moving away from a disrespectful way of teaching through criticism, lectures and commands towards a conscious role model function takes time and practice and a willingness to look at our own behavior and sometimes to change it. Gandhi said, "We have to be the change we want to see in the world." Joseph Chilton Pearce says, "We have to be the kind of person our children should be."

Most of the disrespectful things we say or do to our children are unintentional. Our old "recordings" are only played automatically when the buttons are pressed. It is easy to learn to teach respect by living consciously; it's just difficult to shake off old habits. When a child does not behave as we expect, we need to ask ourselves, "Am I a role model for the behavior I expect my child to behave?" we have to ask ourselves the question: “Does this behavior imitate me?” If we can honestly answer the question with “no”, then there must be another reason for this behavior.

We can train ourselves to pause and think before speaking by reminding ourselves that whatever we say is being picked up and imitated. We can stop or at least interrupt these old "recordings" and consciously exemplify the kind of behavior that we expect and accept from our children. When we show children the same respect that we expect them to be, we teach them respect. They will learn to be the way we treat them.

© Copyright Pam Leo

Translated from the American by S. Mohsennia