Obviously, every child and every parent is different, so there is no magic formula to get your kids to listen to and respect you. All any parent can do is try their best, but it helps to know some practical strategies. I’m not a parent, but I do have two parents that I respect immensely, so they must have done something right, and according to research, they did.
It may not have always been the case growing up, but as a young adult, I still listen to and respect my parents. I live on my own, so they can’t tell me when to go to bed anymore, but I still ask for advice, and I often take it because they always want what’s best for me.
Walking the line between being friends with your kid and being their parent is hard. You don’t want to be Regina George’s mom. In Mean Girls, she was so desperate to be a “cool mom” and be friends with her high school daughter and her friends that her kids walked all over her. No one respects or listens to the parents who have no authority and are obsessed with being their kids’ friends.
But on the other hand, you don’t want to be a dictator either. Growing up, we all heard the expression, “Strict parents make sneaky children.” And as much as authoritarian parents don’t want to believe it, it’s true. I had a neighbor whose parents were very religious and conservative and, therefore, strict. They didn’t think that their daughters were out drinking in high school, but they were the ones going the hardest. If your grip on your child is too firm, the more they fight to get away and go out of their way to not listen to you.
Make Sure You’re On the Same Page
Talk to your child about what respect means to you and ask them what they think respect is. This should be a discussion, not you merely telling them. In school, a common lesson is that you should treat people how you would like to be treated. This concept is an easy way to help young children understand the concept of respect. They may not completely understand that their actions have an impact on others, but even young children can understand that they wouldn’t like it if someone pushed them down on the playground.
When you have different definitions of a word, things can get confusing. Imagine that your boss gives you a task. Your boss expects you to meet certain criteria, but you have different criteria in your mind. It’s the responsibility of both parties to make sure that everyone is on the same page so you can meet expectations. You would feel frustrated if your boss didn’t communicate to you what their expectations were for you, and the same goes for your child.
Misunderstanding is not the same thing as disrespect. If your child thinks that they are acting appropriately and you think they’re disrespectful, it’s more valuable to explain to them why you are thinking different things instead of just punishing right away. It’s not fair to expect someone, especially your child, to meet expectations that you have not made clear to them.
Setting a standard of what you consider respectful behavior makes it clear what is expected of your child and makes things easier when enforcing respect. If you and your family decide that raising your voice is not respectful, and then one of your children does raise their voice, the line that they crossed is clear.
Show, Don’t Tell
Of course, you’ll need to tell your kids what respect is explicitly sometimes, but a lot of what children learn during their formative years is learning by watching others around them, especially their parents. Have a conversation about respect with your partner and talk about how you can show your children what respect looks like.
If you’ve made it to the point of having a family together, the chances are that you probably already practice respect and listening with your partner. Those are two of the most important things in a healthy and functional relationship. But we all know that children’s minds are like sponges, so it’s important to be mindful of how you speak to your partner, especially when your kids are around.
Make eye contact with your partner when you talk to them, and when you ask them to do something, do it respectfully. Show your children that people, not just kids, respond well to being treated with respect. Even if you think they aren’t paying attention, your kids are watching your every move. You can accomplish a lot in the way of teaching respect just by exhibiting it between you and your partner.
Respect is Not the Same As Fear
Before you get on the same page as your child about what respect means to both of you, you should also make it clear with yourself that respect is not the same thing as fear. Don’t mistake your child’s fear for you as them respecting you. Respect is something that should be earned by you as a parent. Reverence out of fear of punishment is not respect because you did not earn it. Your child is merely acting that way because they are scared of you.
Although the outcomes look similar, your child won’t respect you just because you are an authority figure that can punish or reward them. Respect comes from a place of mutual recognition and trust and you should recognize it as such.
While on the topic of respect and fear, it’s also important to note that when becoming a parent, you agreed to provide necessities to your child. These are things like food, a clean home, and clean clothes. Withholding these things or telling your child that you are lucky to have them borders on emotional manipulation. Children shouldn’t have to earn necessities.
Trust and Respect Go Hand in Hand
Kids that feel like they have to hide things from their parents all the time don’t respect them, and they don’t listen to them.
In life, not just in parenting, trust is a foundational element of respect. Those who trust each other, respect each other, and the same goes for parenting. If you want your kids to respect you, they have to feel like they can trust you, at least a little bit. Creating an environment where your children feel comfortable telling you things about their lives not only fosters respect but also brings you closer.
If a child feels like they have to hide things from their parents in order not to be yelled at or continuously punished, they’ll just start withholding parts of their life, and no parent wants that. Open communication is the key to any relationship, including parent-child links.
This idea goes both ways. You don’t have to tell your child all of your secrets, but if you share things about your life with them, they will understand that they can tell you things as well. Teaching respect doesn’t always have to be explicit lessons; sometimes, it’s just about showing your kids different ways that people respect each other.
If your child tells you something in confidence, it may be hard not to be immediately upset, depending on what they tell you. Many parenting guides will tell you that one of the most important things to keep in mind when parenting is trying to remain calm. Keeping your cool can be difficult, especially when you are caught off guard, but it’s important to do your best in order to have a productive conversation with your child.
If your daughter tells you that she wants to start birth control, a natural reaction may be that she is way too young to be having sex. Panic and anger may flood you. But try to look at it from her perspective, she trusts you enough to come to you and ask for this, and ultimately, she’s trying to make a safe and smart decision that many other girls don’t.
You can still use this opportunity to speak your mind and voice your concerns, but you can also use it as a way to start a conversation about safe sex practices and help her make good decisions about her health. Being someone that your children feel that they can trust and talk to about difficult issues like this is imperative.
Give Respect to Get Respect
It’s true in the workplace, it’s true in academia, and it’s true in parenting. To get respect, you have to be willing and able to give it. The age of “respect your elders because they’re your elders and don’t question them” is over. Of course, you should teach your children to respect everyone, but if an adult is disrespectful to your child, what message is that sending to them? That they should unconditionally respect people who don’t show them respect? That they can disrespect people if they are older than them?
Respect should be earned, and that goes for parents too. If you want your child to respect you, you have to be willing to give respect back to them. That means speaking respectfully to them when you have to discipline them.
You wouldn’t want your child to scream at you, so you should do your best not to scream at them. After all, you’re the adult in the situation, and you’re trying to teach your child about respect. It’s hard to remain calm when you feel like your child is disrespecting you, but it’s important to remember that your ideas of respect may be different and may require you to talk through difficult situations.
Set Clear Expectations for Your Child
Setting expectations should go without saying, but if a child doesn’t know how you expect them to act, it’s hard to discipline them when they don’t act accordingly. Setting clear expectations and guidelines for how you want your child to act and treat you is an important first step in getting them to follow through.
Making your kid guess at what is appropriate behavior isn’t only unfair; it’s a bit cruel. It may seem obvious to you what respectful behavior is, but it may not be to your child. They’re learning how they are supposed to treat people, and you’re the one teaching them. Being clear about how they should speak to you and others, for example, is helpful in the long run, so punishments don’t seem to come out of nowhere from you as the parent when they don’t meet your expectations.
A correction could be something as simple as saying, “I know that you get frustrated with me sometimes, but I expect you not to raise your voice at me, and I’ll do the same for you.” This is a clear statement that also conveys respect towards your child while also expecting it in return.
The same goes for getting your child to listen. When you want them to listen, make your expectations clear. A simple direction such as, “Please unload the dishwasher. I expect you to do this within an hour” is reasonable and clear. Make eye contact and get verbal confirmation that your child heard you, and thank them when they have listened.
If it doesn’t happen, then you can talk about the consequences. Reiterate that you asked them to do something and that they failed to do so. Punishment should fit the crime so that you are operating on a level of reliability with your child. For example, if they don’t listen to you about something very important, a more extreme punishment should be used to convey the importance of what they failed to do.
When Respect is Earned, Listening will Follow
When you think about who your role models are, are they people you respect? Of course, they are. No one chooses to model their behavior after someone they don’t have respect for. When I think about my parents, I think the reason that I listen to them and take their advice when I ask for it is because I respect them. We’ve worked hard at having a good relationship throughout my life so far, and I trust what they say.
You hear parents say it all the time, “You may not agree with me, but I just want what’s best for you,” or something along those lines. As a child who’s had this said to me, it can be annoying. I know that it’s probably true, but no kid wants to admit that their parents are right about everything.
But like it or not, you have a lot more life experience than your child does, and deep down, they know that. It’s hard to imagine that your parents went through the same things that you’re going through when you’re growing up, but as a parent, you can always offer your advice. For most children, their parents are their role models, and it’s natural for your child not to want to disappoint you.
Acknowledge Good Behavior and Good Efforts
Everyone likes reassurance they are doing a good job; kids are no different. Parents should expect respect from their children, but it’s also important to acknowledge when a child exhibits good behavior instead of only pointing out bad behavior. Saying “Thank you for listening,” or “Thank you for using a respectful voice,” reinforces that that is the behavior that is acceptable and is also a small reward for doing the right thing.
You should also acknowledge when you see your child making an effort to listen or be respectful. They may not get it right the first time, but if you recognize that they are making an effort, maybe next time they will get it right. This point is emphasized throughout this guide, but it’s worth saying again: children are constantly learning, and whenever someone is learning, it helps tremendously to check in and let them know what they are doing right and what they can improve upon.
Nip Disrespectful Behavior in the Bud
Even if you go to all lengths to teach your child respect and listening skills through your behavior, disrespect may still happen. It’s important to remember that your child is still learning, but you need to acknowledge disrespectful behavior when it happens and put a stop to it right away.
For example, if your child yells at you in a demanding voice to give them candy, don’t reward the behavior and then correct it. Address the fact that they are not speaking respectfully and make them change their behavior before and if they you give them what they want. If they use inappropriate language towards you or another family member, tell your child in a calm voice that they are not to use that kind of language towards people they love.
Children often act impulsively based on their emotions, so their disrespect may not be intentional. If they are feeling angry or frustrated, just like adults, they can lash out without thinking through what they are saying. The behavior should still be corrected, but it’s also important to acknowledge why it is happening so that your child can be more conscious of their emotions in the future.
If your kid uses disrespectful language towards you, be sure to make it clear that it is not okay to speak that way. However, you can follow it up with something like, “You sound like you’re angry, is that why you said that?” Kids experience a range of emotions just like adults, and even if they are more likely to succumb to those emotions than adults, it’s valuable to teach them that their feelings are valid just like everyone else.
Often, parents expect their children to remain level headed at all times and not have any outbursts because you see it as being disrespectful. While it’s a good idea to teach your child to control their emotions, it’s just not realistic all the time. Sometimes you just need to be angry. That goes for kids and adults. Lashing out and hitting and yelling isn’t acceptable behavior, but allowing your child to experience a human-range of emotions is okay.
Let your kids cry when they are upset. Sometimes you just need to get it out; I know adults feel that way as well. No one likes to be told how to feel, and there’s no reason for you to tell your child how they should feel, either. If they’re sad, let them be sad. If they’re angry, let them be angry, but make sure there is a conversation about how to treat others when you are feeling angry. Anger isn’t an excuse to be disrespectful or not listen, but it is a valid emotion.
Consistency is key. Whether it’s a reward or punishment, follow through. If you tell your child that they can watch play outside if they help with the dishes, make sure they get their outside time. There doesn’t have to be a reward for every good behavior. Still, especially in young children, it can ingrain in them that being respectful and listening yields favorable results for them. Rewarding good behavior encourages them to repeat it, and after a while, it just becomes a habit.
The same goes for punishment or corrections. If your child asks for something disrespectfully, don’t give them what they want without making them correct their behavior. Failing to correct just reinforces that the disrespectful behavior can still actually get them what they want and that they don’t have to do anything differently.
As a parent, you should be a stable figure in your child’s life. Being able to know what to expect from you helps children think through their behavior and act according to what you expect of them. Not knowing what they are going to be punished or rewarded for creates anxiety in children. They might feel like they are walking on eggshells around you, not knowing when they will “mess up.”
If you and your kids have made it clear with one another what respectful behavior is and what is expected of them, make it clear what will happen when they are not respectful. Don’t make your child guess about these things. Set clear expectations and boundaries, and then follow through with them.
Respect your Kid’s Privacy
Just like you want your kids to respect your privacy, you should respect theirs. Especially during the adolescent years, giving your kids their privacy is a great way to show them that you respect them. You may be worried that they’re keeping things from you, but as a parent, you have to put some trust in your child that they’ll come to you if you need help and refrain from invading their privacy.
Letting your child know that you respect their privacy will gain you their trust in return and their respect. Although you don’t have to make it your goal to be friends with your kids, you should also look at the situation like you would if it were a friend. Your friend wouldn’t be okay with you going through their texts, and your kid isn’t either.
Respecting privacy is another example of showing your kids what respect is without explicitly saying it, which sometimes can be more powerful than saying it. Teach your children that respect is honoring each other’s privacy and trusting each other enough not to invade that privacy.
You Owe It to Yourself and Your Kid
Parenting is a process of trial and error. Not all of these things will work for every family, and there is not a surefire formula to have respectful kids that always listen. But they are a good place to start.
Being a parent isn’t easy, and at times you may feel like giving up and yelling at your child because they’ve been chipping away at you all day. Just like your kid, you’re not perfect either, and you’re entitled to your emotions. It’s not always possible to be completely calm, and when it’s not, use the opportunity to talk to your kids about what you’re feeling too. They might not come out and say it, but they’ll respect you for opening up to them about your emotions.
Kids don’t always think about the effect that their actions will have on you as their parent, and you don’t have to keep it a secret. Be open with them about their actions and how being disrespectful makes you feel. It may seem silly to talk about respect this way from your point of view, but you ask similar things about them.
The process of teaching your kids to listen and respect is not an easy one, and it will take time. However, the result will be a well behaved, respectful child that other people like being around. The skills that you teach them as a child will be with them throughout the rest of their life, so it’s more than worth it to put the time in while they’re children. Don’t give up; you got this!