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Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child: Respect

How can you inculcate the values of empathy, tolerance, patience, respect, etc? Greta always thought she and her husband Mark had raised their daughter, Joanne, to be respectful and caring at all times. She felt upset, then, to discover that four-year-old Joanne had scribbled all over a library book.

"I thought she understood the importance of other people's property;" says Greta. "I was so disappointed. It was hard not to get angry, but I really believe in showing respect to teach respect. Joanne already looked mortified, knowing she'd done wrong, so we talked it through quietly as a family." Joanne made a mistake that day, as all children (and adults!) do sometimes.

But she felt ashamed of her actions, which suggests Greta and Mark had already done an excellent job in teaching her the differences between right and wrong. Their calm approach helped Joanne learn how to engage in respectful discussion, and the family resolved the situation together. Teaching your child to treat people, animals and objects with respect, then, is one of the greatest social gifts you can give her.

As Dr Michelle Borba, author of Building Moral Intelligence, says, respect is "the quality that presses us to treat others with consideration and to value human life, so it's an essential virtue of moral intelligence:' Fortunately, there are plenty of hands-on ways to instil the virtue of respect within your little one's psyche. Here's how to raise a child who shows care and concern for the world around her:

Be Loving And Supportive

Respect should never be equated with fear. If a child obeys her parents through fear of their actions, she does not have a mutually respectful relationship with them. Creating a loving, supportive family environment - in which everyone is listened to, cared for, nurtured and encouraged - is the foundation upon which to raise a child who respects herself and others.

Establish some family rules, such as never interrupting, banning harsh words and always remembering to knock before entering someone else's room. Being courteous at home and making liberal use of phrases like `please' and `thank you' will help your child learn respectful behavior with very little prompting from you. According to research cited by Borba, the average parent makes 18 disrespectful comments to her child, for every one respectful comment.

As Borba points out, "No adult would put up with such rudeness from another adult, but kids don't often have a choice:' Now while the very fact that you're reading this article - and indeed this magazine - suggests you're a devoted, hands-on parent who actively models and encourages great behavior, don't forget the many other influences in your child's life, too.

Relatives, teachers, babysitters, domestic helpers and friends all play a role in shaping the person she becomes, so be sure to immerse her in a cast of caring adults. And most importantly, make sure your child knows that your love for her is unconditional. Feeling secure and loved is the easiest route towards self-respect, which in turn will help her treat others as she wishes (and comes to expect) to be treated herself.

Be Her Role Model

Borba says that as parents, "our behavior is a living textbook for our kids:' And that's true. We must not fall into ado as I say, not as I do' mentality, where we expect certain standards from our children, yet fail to carry them out on a daily basis ourselves. Try to observe yourself from the outside and behave at all times, as you would like your child to see - and copy - you behaving. Daniel, a psychologist suggests some easy ways to be a wonderful role model. You can set a great example to your child by

  • Not interrupting when she is speaking
  • Listening to her before making judgements or jumping to conclusions
  • Encouraging her to engage in discussions, and listening to her point of view
  • Explaining why you've said "No" - and being consistent
  • Avoiding screaming, shouting at, or scolding her
  • Respecting her for who she is, rather than who you want her to be
  • Praising or acknowledging her when she wants to show you her work or tell you something
  • Avoid ignoring her, no matter how busy you might be
  • Keeping your promises include her in decision-making
  • Never use aggression, anger, threats or bad language
  • Encouraging and aiding her whenever she is engaged in a task, and not finishing it yourself to save time or move on
  • Letting her explore places and communicate with others
  • Show her that you respect yourself, and will not let others use, abuse or threaten you.

Learn To Counter Disrespectful Behavior

Children will always test the boundaries when they can - it's simply part of growing up. Occasional bouts of whining, naughtiness, talking-back or sulking are to be expected, and not indicators of your failure as a parent. Indeed, a child who remains obedient and courteous at all times would seem a strange creature indeed, so try to view the odd slip-up as a natural part of development.

Stamp out disrespectful behavior as much as possible, though, by remaining firm, fair and consistent at all times. When your child is being good-natured and compliant, set out some agreed rules for what will happen if she does err. Never punish her by withdrawing your affection, though, and show respect for her feelings no matter how cross she makes you feel.

Refuse to listen to whiney voices: She will soon stop displaying negative behavior if you stop reacting to it. And teach her alternative ways to behave when she feels angry or upset. Borba suggests practising the 'I' method: encouraging her to begin a message of complaint with 'I' instead of' 'you.' "I feel upset when you don't let me watch TV" is much less inflammatory than "You're a horrible Daddy for not letting me watch TV:"

Similarly, if your child does wrong, try only to criticise her behavior never her as a person - and remember to praise her when she does behave respectfully. It's very easy to scold her for misbehavior, but we are all guilty sometimes of forgetting to reinforce the good things our children do. Be specific in your praise, too - little ones learn much more quickly when you tell them.

"That was a kind thing you just did by holding the door open for the lady" than simply saying "Good girl". Teach her that it's alright to disagree, but that she will fare much better if she airs her point in a non-aggressive manner. Screaming and calling you "Stupid Mummy!" is much less likely to elicit a positive outcome than asking calmly why you don't have time to visit the park today.

You can't go far wrong if you behave courteously as a family, show your child the same respect you expect from her, and give unconditional love and support. Gentle reinforcement of the important principle - treating others as you hope to be treated yourself - is the keystone for raising respectful, caring, loving children.

Things To Do

Here are some simple things you could try this month to help your child respect herself and learn the importance of respecting others:

  • Let your child 'accidentally' overhear you praising her to someone else. The happy, proud feeling she will gain from knowing how much you love and respect her should help to boost her own sense of self-worth.
  • Have fun making creative 'thank you' cards together. Give her an assortment of glitter, felt, sequins, colored pens and stickers, and help her set to work in thanking a cherished friend or family member for something kind they have done lately-or simply for being themselves.
  • Expert suggests playing the 'Spotting~Game'. "Whenever you encounter a situation along the road or on TV, etc, ask your child 'Why is that person reacting in that manner?' and 'is it good for the person to behave in that manner?"' Remember to point out good behavior as well as bad.
  • Help your child to care for her very own miniature garden. If you don't have an outdoor area where she can look after plants, fill a seedling tray with compost instead and keep it on your windowsill. You can plant cress seeds for the 'grass' and help her choose small pebbles and toys to decorate the 'lawn'. Children feel empowered when they have a small world to control, and quickly learn the importance of gentle care.

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