Today, August 1st, is designated as Respect for Parents Day. As a family therapist, a common complaint that I hear from parents is that their children don’t respect them. As with most relationships, respect between parents and children needs to be mutually given. However, most parents and children, especially teenagers, feel that the other should have to earn their respect. This tends to lead to a Catch-22 where neither gives nor receives respect. Here are some tips to work on building respectful relationships within your family.
- Remember the basics. Simply remembering your manners can go a long way. Saying “please” or “thank you” can go further that you would think. Don’t forget to say “sorry” if you’ve made a mistake. Children and teens can learn a lot by experiencing their parents owning up to their mistakes. Not apologizing also teaches them a lesson, but not the kind you want them to learn.
- Avoid double standards. If you wouldn’t accept a behavior from your child, don’t do it yourself. In other words, if you would punish your child for doing or saying something to you, avoid doing it to them. For example, I often see parents who are upset because their child will cuss at them yet the parents cuss at the children or call their child names. Just like anyone else, children recognize this as disrespectful and as a double standard.
- Don’t stoop to their level. As the parent it is your job to be the adult and behave appropriately no matter how your child is behaving. It is not ok to start cussing and name calling simply because your 15 year old did it first. Keeping your cool and continuing to speak and act respectfully shows your child how to behave in tough situations, how to manage anger or frustration, and conflict resolution skills. It sets the bar for how you expect your child to behave.
- Listen to your child. Everyone wants to be heard. Give your child some undivided attention and avoid interrupting them. Listening to your child in a way that encourages them to continue talking can be challenging but with practice you’ll get the hang of it. Also, sometimes children just need to express how they are feelings without it being considered talking back. As long as kids are expressing themselves with appropriate words and tone of voice, try hearing them out and practice reflective listening skills.
- Treat each other the way you would treat an acquaintance or peer. Unfortunately, we often treat those we are closest to the worst. Teens frequently tell me that while they may be rude and disrespectful to their parents, they behave differently toward teachers or friends. I encourage kids and parents alike to treat each other with the respect they usually reserve for their friends, co-workers, or other acquaintances.
Practicing listening skills and giving respect without expecting anything in return is a healthy way to begin to rebuild a tarnished relationship with your children. If you find that you are having trouble being respectful to your child or communicating in a healthy way, check out Mesa Public Schools’ Parent University for workshops and seminars on communication and relationships.
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