The Character Movement

Christy and her daughter on a hiking trip

How I talk about respect with my daughter

The following content is taken from an interview with Christy Lund, Youth Frontiers Donor Relations Manager — Minnesota. 

What do you think respect is?

I think respect has to do with demonstrating to somebody that they deserve to be treated with dignity, with honor, with care. It’s also a way that a person chooses to interact with something. We show respect to the environment or we don’t. We show respect to materials around us or we don’t.

So we can act in such a way that demonstrates those characteristics. And therefore we do something with respect or regard, or we do something without respect — and obviously degrees in between.

How do you talk about respect with your daughter?

I certainly haven’t sat down with my six-year-old and said, “This is what respect is; this is what you need to do.” But I think I weave it in. When I think about using it with Grace, it’s a matter of consideration. For example, I talk to her about respecting herself, respecting her body, respecting others, respecting others’ bodies. So if I were to replace the word ‘respect’ it would be along the lines of ‘take into consideration — with care.’

How do you explain to Grace that respecting oneself is important?

Just like love, I think one needs to respect one’s self in order to fully respect someone else. And that’s where I model it. For example, I’ll say, “I care about myself too much to argue with you or to listen to the tone of voice you’re having with me or the way you’re speaking to me so I’m going to walk away. When you’re ready to speak to me respectfully, then let’s have a conversation.”

I talk to Grace about loving herself, about feeling good about herself so that if somebody says something to her that she’s not okay with —  if she hears something from somebody that is not respectful to her — she’s learning to use her voice to let that person know.

How do you talk to her about respecting adults?

I take an approach to parenting that is not quite mainstream — there are different words for it: Positive Discipline, relationship-based, non-punitive parenting. With Grace, what I really strive for is mutual respect. While I’m the leader in our family, I try to consider her thoughts and her opinions, just as I want her to do for me. This, of course, is far from a perfect practice, but I strive toward treating her with dignity, and giving her a voice, and really hearing and listening to her.

I ask her to do the same with me — to respect me as a human and to respect me as her mom. There are plenty of times when I want to say, “Well, I’m the mom and you should do this because I said so.” But because I want her to respect me, we have to have a strong relationship and a strong connection. So that’s what I try to return to.

I resist some of the way most kids in my generation were brought up — a more authoritarian style — with the automatic fallback that you respect your elders, no matter what. I want Grace to respect adults, of course, but in a different way than obeying without thought, blindly doing what an elder asks you to do, no questions asked.

Grace is a spitfire and she pushes the boundaries and she questions. That can be really hard as a parent. But I also know that’s a good thing because in doing so she’s learning the ‘why’ of her actions. Why it is important in our culture to look at somebody when we’re talking. Why we pick up trash in our neighborhood and clean up at home when there’s a mess. Right away, she might say, “I didn’t do it.” And I’ll say, “Well, in our family, we do what it takes to keep things running smoothly; that’s showing respect for our family unit, for the environment, for our home and the way we want it to be.” And of course, that’s an ongoing process.

How do you talk to Grace about respecting those who are different from her?

I try to expose Grace to as much as I can in the way of different thinking, different people, and different cultures. We say, “Wow look at how other people live! And look at what we can learn!” And although someone may be different from us and we may not always agree with them, there has to be a respect, a consideration for that person or the way they do something. I encourage Grace to be curious, to ask questions, to appreciate differences, rather than pretending like they’re not there.

Is this definition of respect reinforced elsewhere in her life?

It’s an important concept in her classroom and in her school, which is great. Her teacher has a strong emphasis on social-emotional learning. Before school even started, I said to her teacher, “Grace is smart and she’ll learn to read; she’ll do well in math. She’s very, very curious and she will, I think, continue to love school.” I told her, “I am much more focused on her character. About the kind of person she is. About the way she treats herself and the way she treats other people. The confidence she develops in herself. The other things will come. But if she can develop that strength of character and kindness and respect toward others and their opinions so she’ll be able to say, “I’m going to listen to what you have to say. I may not agree with it, but I’m going to hear what you have to say.” Then she’s on her way. I want that to be developing in her before or alongside anything else.

This year, on The Character Movement, we are trying something new. We’ll be delving into one of our retreat values each month, examining it on our blog and in our Character Challenges. This month’s theme is respect.

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