Parents' Guide to Explaining Respect to a Child 

Published May 6, 2022
Father helping his son with his homework at home

There are several elevated concepts that parents want their children to learn in order to be their best selves, one of which is respect. Respect is a complex notion, but through talking with your child and rooting the definition of respect in real-life examples, you can teach your child what respect is and how to be a respectful person.

Talk to Your Child

The first step in explaining what respect is to your child is to talk to them about it. Introduce the word into their vocabulary and ask them if they have ever heard it before. Let them know that respect is important, and that's why you want to have a conversation about it.

Read the Definition of Respect Together

Reading the definition of "respect" with your child is a helpful way to give them more information about what the word means. There are big words in the definition that may be confusing to kids, so breaking it down into a simpler sentence, and maybe even writing it down on paper, is ideal.

Use The Golden Rule for Help

If you and your child have read the definition of respect and they seem to need more help understanding the concept, introduce them to The Golden Rule. Odds are that they have come across the phrase, "Treat others how you want to be treated" in their school setting. This will give them the vocabulary on respect that is used by many and easy to understand.

Explore What They Have Learned

After you have introduced a few ideas about what respect means, it can be helpful to see what your child has taken away from those definitions. This will give you a better idea of how they view respect, and allow you to share how you view it.

Ask Your Child What Respect Means to Them

If your child already has an idea about what respect means, then you may not need to go through reading the definition with them and may choose to start the conversation by finding out what they know about the word and what it means to them. Some helpful questions to ask are:

  • What does respect mean to you?
  • When/where did you hear someone use the word 'respect'?
  • Why do you think we should treat others with respect?
  • Who do you think we should be respectful to, and why?

Tell Them What Respect Means to You

After listening to what respect means to your child, you should also let them know what the word means to you. Sometimes the definitions and takeaways can be very similar, and other times they may be quite different. If you and your child's definitions of respect seem too far apart for your liking, continue the conversation by asking more questions.

Work With Real-Life Examples

After your child has a better sense of their definition of respect, it can be helpful to get into some examples.

Have Them Give an Example of Respect

A good way to check your child's understanding is by having them provide examples from their own lives that demonstrate the definitions that you have come up with. After your child gives their example of respect, ask some follow-up questions to further their understanding. Some helpful questions are:

  • What did they do that was respectful?
  • How did it make you feel?
  • How do you think it made the other person feel?

Have Them Give an Example of Disrespect

Learning about respect and disrespect goes hand in hand, and can also help increase your child's understanding by noting behaviors that do not align with their definitions. Having your child give a real-world example of disrespect offers an example of hurtful behavior that they will know not to follow. Some helpful questions to ask about their example are:

  • What did they do that was disrespectful?
  • How did it make you feel?
  • How do you think it made the other person feel?

Discuss How to Practice Respect

Man signing papers with daughter in his lap

After you and your child have talked about what respect means, it's a good idea to discuss how to bring it into your everyday life. It may be helpful to make a list with your child of ways that you can both practice respect. You can use simple bullet points or incorporate drawings and stickers to describe the examples you and your child come up with. Taking turns giving examples is a good way of keeping your child involved. Some good examples to talk about are:

  • How you and your family can show respect to one another in your home.
  • How your child can show respect at school, to their teachers, and with their friends.
  • How to show respect to members of your community.
  • Respecting the earth and all its creatures.
  • Respecting people of different religions, ethnicities, backgrounds, and cultures.
  • If your child plays sports, talk about being respectful on the playing field.
  • What to do if someone disrespects your child and how they should respond.

Be a Role Model

As a parent, you will be your child's example of how to treat others, which means that being a good role model and practicing respectful behavior in front of them will help you lead by example. Throughout the day or time period that you and your child are discussing respect, point out examples in your day-to-day life in which you are being respectful, to give your child even more examples. Modeling respect can look like:

  • Not yelling when you are upset.
  • Allowing your kids/partner time to talk during conversations.
  • Helping with the dishes after your partner had a long day.
  • Staying off of your phone when your child is talking to you.

Discuss Why Respect Is Important

After you have spent some time with your child discussing what respect is, creating examples, and relating it to real life, you may want to talk to them about why it's so important for them to learn what respect is. There are several reasons why you as a parent would want to teach your child about respect, and some helpful phrases in describing why it's important are:

  • It helps you be a good friend and family member.
  • It's important to treat others in a way that makes them feel understood.
  • When we respect others, it helps us be better human beings.

Helpful Examples in Media

After you have a conversation with your child about respect, you may want to turn to different types of media and activities to help supplement what you talked about. There are many books and other sources of media designed with children in mind to help with their understanding.

Books About Respect

Reading is a great way to spend time with your child and increase their literacy. It's also a good way to help them learn about topics you want them to know about, and children's lit has titles that are specifically designed to help kids learn and understand. Some children's books about respect are:

Videos About Respect

There are also several children's TV shows dedicated to teaching children about the meaning and importance of respect to help your child's understanding. Some helpful and fun clips that cover the concept are:

Questions to Pair with Media

After you read a book or watch one of the episodes on respect with your child, it can be helpful to ask them questions to get a better idea of what they took away from it. Some good questions to ask are:

  • How does being respectful/disrespectful affect your relationship with others?
  • What are some characteristics of someone who is respectful?
  • What are some examples of respectful behavior?
  • Should we show respect to others even if we don't like them?
  • Why do you think [character] was disrespectful?

Explaining Respect to a Child

It's normal for parents to want to see their children be respectful human beings, and teaching the concept to your child can seem like a daunting task. Introducing the word, discovering what it means to them, and working with real-world examples are good ways of helping them grasp the concept of respect and practice respectful behavior in their own life.

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Parents' Guide to Explaining Respect to a Child