“I don’t know when ‘Please take me to the park’ became ‘I’m going to the park’,” says Asmita, a mother to an eight-year-old, who is wondering where her son’s manners went.
“I doubt if he even respects us anymore. “Rude expressions have taken over and all the pleases and thank yous have gone,” she adds.
Are you in similar shoes as Asmita?
As kids grow up and acquire a sense of independence, we may see them losing their idea of respect and kindness. Like most parenting tasks, this is another uphill climb and we cannot give up.
In an attempt to understand the psychological reasons for such a change and the ways to handle it, I approached Noella, a child counsellor and volunteering teacher at a Mumbai-based convent. Here’s what I learned from the interview:
1) Don’t accept rude behaviour
“Acting polite and being polite are two different things.”
Noella says that the test of whether your child is respectful or not begins at home. Parents accept rude behaviour at home by yelling at children when instances of disrespect occur.
How is asking them to be polite equivalent to accepting rudeness, one might ask?
“Don’t get hyper-reactive when a very unkind or rude thing comes your way from your child. Doing that displays rude behaviour from your end,” she says.
“We might think that yelling is putting our point across strongly, but it is not. We are reinforcing the fact that yelling within the family is justified. Respect given is respect received.”
Give and take of respect
- Don’t yell or shout at home.
- Demand polite behaviour verbally at all times. Reminding is tiring but that’s the best and most workable way out.
- Demonstrate respect and kindness with your association with the other adults at home. “Even the maid is an adult, you know,” she chuckles, as we move to the next point.
2) Offer praise
“Any human being at any age enjoys good feedback.”
I couldn’t agree more with Noella. Kids enjoy positive feedback and praise as much as adults do.
“When I’m with my girlfriends, I’m always giggling,” says Rashmi. “My son doesn’t like all of them. He has a few ‘aunties’ he doesn’t like and he has his reasons, which I don’t counter.”
“I demand respect from him all the time. So when he meets my demands, I should respect him back with a thank you, shouldn’t I?” she asks.
Noella says offering encouragement is paramount. asked Noella about offering encouragement and she says that it’s paramount. “Being respectful is something that children ought to do without expecting rewards. However, it’s amazing if behaviour can be associated with encouragement.”
She thoughtfully adds, “Praise, recognition, love, hugs—these are intangible gifts that a child looks forward to and they prod him/her to become better behaved.”
Well, a cost-free awards system that will bring a host of benefits. Don’t you agree?
3) Pay attention and listen
As I frantically write down every word Noella speaks, she halts midway for a few seconds. I feel like a schoolgirl when I look up to see her staring at me.
Imagine a woman of 60 having tons of more experience is giving me a ‘look.’ Before I start to shudder (really, no exaggeration!), she smiles and then laughs.
“It’s been ten minutes you made eye contact with me,” she says mid-laughter.
“By offering attention, eye contact, and consideration, you let people know that you need (read value) them,” she haltingly starts to explain. “Active listening is one of the most important parts of teaching children how to respect.”
She recounts several instances when we pretend to listen by saying ‘hmm’ and ‘haan,’ but never make eye contact.
Even at the breakfast table we half listen, half plan our day, when our kids speak. It’s exactly like me taking notes but not looking at Noella as she speaks.
Children learn to respect others when they are offered attention. The only way to show them that you’re paying attention , is by looking at them when they address you.
Noella adds that these small gestures are like tokens of respect. When we offer these tokens to little children, they carry them to the world outside.
Well said! While I’m itching to take notes, I foolishly wonder if I can stop eye contact with her?
4) Talk about it
So, you and your kid have been out all day. In fact, you could write a diary of instances when your child was rude, disrespectful, and unkind to the people he/she met today.
What should you do?
“When you’re alone with your child, you should talk about respect and kindness. But mostly, you want to shout and demand apology for bad behaviour, don’t you?” says Noella.
“Just imagine that someone is standing outside listening to you or you’re on CCTV camera,” she adds as I give her looks that say ‘huh?!’
CCTV camera, really? Does she really mean that or the interview has gone on so long that she’s forgotten the context we’re in!
Not pretence; but ‘dealing with it’
Parents need to talk about ethics, respect, kindness and good behaviour all the time (with a respectful tone), and not only when such behaviour has not been displayed, says Noella. This is not called pretending to ignore bad behaviour, but dealing with it in the right way.
“Most of the time, in a closed room, we tell children things that we wouldn’t otherwise. This happens because we take their behaviour personally. We blame ourselves.”
She insists that we deal with disrespect objectively. Talking about it as a family, during everyday normal conversations, makes more sense than grilling it in them once in a while when they have wronged you.
Basically talk about it, but in an objective manner.
5) Your child, your friend?
To say that my talk with Noella was something in the lines of banishing long held myths, will be an understatement. She made me unlearn a lot of my obsolete belief systems and I’m thankful for it.
“I have two sons old enough to have children of their own. But they’re still my children when I want them to be.”
To elaborate on her point, Noella states instances from her sons’ childhoods when she would talk to them about their life and even offer titbits from her own, just like buddies do. However, when it came to respecting, she was always the mother, never the friend.
“Treat the child like a buddy but remember, end of the day, he/she is your child.”
The thin line of difference
“There is a very thin line of difference between being open-minded, friendly, and approachable and then, being a disciplinarian.”
She says that a parent needs to give the child a positive leeway to express emotions. “However, while doing that, they should never let go of authority.”
For instance, when we ask children, “Tell me what’s wrong. Why are you being rude?” we can reword it as, “You sound upset. You can share your concern with me. But I want you to stop being rude.”
Simply asking them about their disrespectful behaviour does not imply that you disapprove.
Smart parenting, isn’t it?
6) Agree to disagree
“They don’t always agree with you, do they? Parents need to learn how to live with that instead of losing it.”
Noella talks about disagreements with kids.
“Isn’t tolerance the key word today?” she chuckles to lead us into a bout of roaring laughter.
On a serious note, the newspapers are full of concerns about tolerance, diversity, and disagreements. Where does that take us in terms of parenting?
First, no kid is completely like his/her parents. Since every child is a separate individual, there are bound to be disagreements in thought processes within the family. “Once parents learn to respect the disagreements, they will generate more respect and kindness.”
Parents should talk about people being different, diversity of behaviour, and still respecting all of it.
“Don’t bad mouth or discuss anyone negatively in front of your children. We don’t realise that we’re sowing the seeds of disparity in our children which manifests itself as rudeness.”
As we start to wind up our discussion, Noella leaves me with a wonderful thought. She says that kids always believe that they are the centre of the family. “Teaching them how to respect others is best possible when you continue to let them believe that they are the core of the family.”
I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life. What about you?
What are your thoughts about teaching children about respect and kindness? Don’t forget to leave your feedback and comments with us!