A question was submitted yesterday regarding respectful behavior. “How can I encourage my child to feel and express their feelings, when this results in a disrespectful attitude?” First, you must take into consideration the age of the child in question. During the ages of 1-15 months, a child is in the earth stage of development and totally focused on getting their needs met. They will cry when they are hungry, uncomfortable, scared or upset. It is up to the parent to help meet these needs, ensuring a sense of safety in the world. Judging behaviors at this stage as disrespectful wouldn’t be appropriate. During the water stage of development (15 mos.-3 1/2 yrs) a child is fragile and volatile. Emotions rage, language flows and activities abound for the child of this age. The characteristics of water are very present, for just as water can freeze to ice, or boil over on a hot stove, or ripple peacefully by in some quiet brook, our children’s experience of the world at this stage is ever changing and unpredictable. The best way to encourage respectful behavior is through cueing and modeling. A child can be asked to use an inside voice or to ask nicely. They can be asked to treat others nicely and abide by rules that include no name calling, no biting or hitting, etc. Natural consequences can be employed as needed, but modeling is by far the best tactic at this stage.
By the fire stage of development (ages 4-10) children should have a sense of respect for themselves and for others (both young and old). A child who screams at adults or friends when they want something or are angry, can be told that screaming is inappropriate and that their request will not be acknowledged when they do so. A good rule of thumb here: Don’t allow your child to speak to you using a tone of voice or vocabulary that you wouldn’t expect others to use. If you are angry, you can pound a pillow, scream into a pillow in your room, use your words to express your anger, paint an angry picture, listen to loud music. If you are angry you may not hit, demean, demand, scream, shout or use profanity. How long would any of us stay friends with someone who treated us poorly? Not very long! Expression within the confines of appropriate and respectful behavior is always okay. The raging river needs a solid embankment to confine its depths. A fiery inferno needs some water and containment in order to burn itself out without causing damage to others. Respectful behavior is learned, so don’t be afraid to teach your children what it’s all about.