“BECAUSE I’M AN ADULT”: The Double Standard of Respect in Families

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“I want my kid to be respectful and empathetic to others feelings.” This is a common sentiment I hear when I begin my work with a new parent. I usually get this statement as we begin to talk about what changes they’d like to see in their child and what behaviors they’d like to see in their child when their child becomes an adult! But sometimes I wonder: do we have a double standard of who we want our children to become and who they are when they live with us?

Respect can be a complex value to teach. The thing is, though, we cannot only teach our children respect; we must be models of it as well! And in this task, the job of showing rather than simply telling, we adults sometimes fall short! We expect our children to really grasp the complexity of respect – how to give it and how to get it – by just listening to what we say. But, let me be the first one to tell you that this is not how we learn as adults – especially when it comes to complex ideas like respect.

Why is respect so complex?
The idea that respect is this universal black and white value is what we try to teach our children, but we know as adults that this is not always the case. Before you side-eye me, let me explain. When we’re taught to be respectful it’s usually an external task that we must accomplish – how to talk to authority, what to say when we accidentally bump into someone, or how we’re supposed to act in front of certain people – all these tasks fall under respecting others. But, how do we teach our children how to respect themselves? We tell them to act better in public or to watch what they say, but they don’t get to dictate how we act around them or the words we use towards them. In those instances, the standard “I’m the adult” explanation comes into play and their ability to ask for respect is thwarted. What about teaching them to respect themselves? This gets dismissed as well when we tell them that we can take back whatever we bought them – leaving them helpless to speak up for what’s theirs. We also inadvertently tell them that we don’t respect them when they share feelings or thoughts that we don’t agree with. All these minor slights that occur in our everyday interactions with our children actually contradict what we tell them about respect. And, what it really tells them is that they are to respect others but not to expect the same in return, especially when it comes to interactions with adults.

The question then is: how do we expect to raise respectful and empathetic adults when the majority of their childhood is a contradiction of what respect really means?

Dissolving the double standard
The good thing is that we can really work towards moving from just lip service to actually showing our children what respect is by being to be aware of our own perspectives about respect. Here are 3 ways to getting rid of the double standard of respect when it comes to our families:

Define respect in your family
The best way to help your child grasp the complex idea of respect is to begin to define what it means in your home in a tangible way. Let your child know what is respectful and what isn’t -then let them practice with you leaving space for them to make mistakes as they attempt to grasp the concept.

Model respect in the real world
Along with a good definition of what a value is, seeing in real life really helps to solidify the concept in our minds. So, when you’re out in the real world you can point to displays of res[ect to show your child that this is not just a concept just for their family but for everyone in the world too. Be sure to focus on illustrations of respect that go beyond the generic, such as when someone calmly bows out of a disagreement or when you witness someone listening to another’s feelings. Sharing the more broad aspects of respect as well as the intricate ways in which we grow to respect others will help our children as they begin to navigate the complexities of interacting with others respectfully.

Redirect instead of reprimand
No one is immune to being disrespectful in their life and that includes our children. We are quick to discipline respect as a behavior issue when really it’s more of a human fallacy that we all succumb to. When we witness, or become aware of our children, being disrespectful I challenge you to guide them to a different solution than to just discipline them. Practically, this looks like observing the situation to see why your child choose a disrespectful response, helping them to gain that awareness by sharing what you observed, and giving them another alternative to resolving the conflict. The key in helping them resolve the conflict is to understand the feelings behind your child making the disrespectful choice so that you can direct them to get that feeling addressed and heard in a more respectful way.

At the end of the day, teaching our children respect is essential to them becoming a healthy adult. When we think of the example we model for them let’s be more aware of the double standard that sometimes permeates our teaching and make an effort to lessen it!
Written by Mercedes Samudio, LCSW, Founder of The Parenting Skill. She is a parent coach who has been working with families for years helping them achieve results in developing dynamic parent/child relationships, ending the shame around parenting, and giving parents the confidence to raise healthy children in today’s world. She is a leading parenting expert certified in nonviolent parenting and attachment parenting and has been featured in The Huffington Post, The New Social Worker Magazine, Daily Parent, Parenting OC Magazine and Kids In The House.

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