Respect is a hard lesson to learn, both for child and parent. The common consensus in our society is that children must respect adults simply because they are the authority figures. I have never agreed with this idea, and knew before becoming a parent that it wouldn’t be the case for me. I believe a parent should earn respect by being equally respectful.
This does not mean that my children and I are equals in all matter of speaking. I, being the mother and adult, have authority because I have experience and responsibility. I should not receive respect simply because of this responsibility. The wisdom of my experience tells me that the way in which I take care of my responsibility (my children) earns me respect. I give respect and, yet, I must expect it. How else, if I am not to expect it, should I be able to expect that my son would show respect to his little brother, or his father, or even his future partner, when they deserve it?
Around the time Everett turned 4 1/2 years old, we entered into a phase in which he had become quite disrespectful to me. Developmentally, 4 1/2 is a very unstable time anyway, but It was definitely time to lay out some stronger boundaries and remind him what was expected in our family. This was a difficult situation, especially because not once would I want to show anything but respect to him. I may feel like it in a moment of passion, but truly, I want nothing but to model what I am asking for.
One particular example comes to mind that exemplifies the steps I had to take to help reign in the disrespectful behavior. After seeking advice from many sagely mothers (my own, in particular, and the Queen of inner work Amy Phoenix at Peace4Parents) I prepared myself for the next unwanted interaction. We were at JoAnn Fabrics, at the checkout, when Everett discovered Pez candies. Everett has had very little candy, so something novel as a candy with toy was too much for him. He managed to open the package before I could get to him. I had him hand me the candy and had to pay for it when we got to the cashier.
After paying for it, I moved to put it into the bag (to be thrown away later) and he tried to grab it from me, then—long story short—ended up yelling, calling names, pushing, and grabbing as we move through the checkout and through the door. It was quite a scene, I must say, and I was rather surprised at how passionate he became. I ended up being called several names and being hit in the face with the zipper of a swinging jacket. This wasn’t normal behavior, in fact was one of the worse situations we had as of late. I remained calm, however, and followed through with my “plan” of sorts.
Be a Rock
Carrie Dendtler from The Parenting Passageway once wrote an article (forgive me, I can’t find it in archives) that called parents to be a rock for their child(ren). She called us not to intellectually process or reason with them, but to be calm, even and solid. I took it to heart and worked from there, so that in an emotionally unstable state (like at JoAnn’s) Everett would have something stable and loving to hold on to. He has my support to feel what he needs to feel, and my guidance to channel it appropriately. This can be quite challenging because as a parent I had to make a habit of internally examining my own feelings and keeping them out of the situation. In truth, I think when we get our feelings involved immediately, it often just makes a bigger mess of things. Furthermore, when I am holding that space for Everett, I am respecting his process and, in turn, modeling for him how to do the same.
Validate and set a clear boundary
In that light, a show of respect comes when I validate Everett’s feelings. I couple this with a clear-cut boundary for his actions. At JoAnn’s I would have said something like, “You seem disappointed about not tasting the candy, but we cannot open the candy without asking mommy and buying it first.” Then it might have been, “You sound angry but hitting me is not an okay way to show it. When you start hitting, we have to go home.” The boundary was repeated several times as we struggled to leave the store, but I left it at that.
Validating his emotions alone sometimes is enough, sometimes it is not, but it is an important part of the process. Naomi Aldort writes about this in her book, Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves.
Be brief and follow through with action
I discovered last year that until the age of about seven, the brain is dominated by theta waves, which primarily have to do with emotion. Then at seven, beta waves take over, which have more to do with logical thought process. This explained to me why my sons will impulsively act upon their emotions and why those emotions can land all over the map in one day. It also reinforced advice I had read before (like from Carrie) that it is important not to over-intellectualize or over-explain things, especially in the heat of the moment.
What I find most important and effective with Everett is keeping my words brief and following through with actions. I don’t threaten, or warn him over and over. I set the boundary and leave the store. In this case, that included continuing home instead of more outings. A lot of times, this means that I am physically removing him or guiding him from a situation or object, too. The actions, especially at this very young age, definitely speak louder than words.
Be loving and process afterwards
Another reason I keep it brief is to de-escalate the situation. When Everett was mid-tantrum-angry at the store, it would have been unrealistic of me to expect him to listen to my need for respect, let alone understand it. I waited until we got home and got inside, I took his hand and guided him to his bed, sat down and took him in my lap. I held him while we finally processed.
I’m still not sure how much to process with him, really. Where do I draw the line with it so that I am not expecting too much intellectualizing? He can see that his actions have consequences, so I reviewed the situation with him, how he felt, and added how I felt when he pushed and hit. I reminded him that this behavior was unacceptable in our home because of the respect we give each other. I did not expect him to feel bad about it. I did not expect him to understand any lesson… yet. I know that this will take repeating this process in similar situations over and over again.
Select an appropriate consequence
This is also why I select an appropriate consequence to his actions. In this instance, he had been invited to go to one of those big indoor tunnel playgrounds the next day with his cousin and he was no longer allowed to go. When we sat down to process, I emphasized that I know he does not normally act like he did at the store and that this indicated to me that we all needed some time to calm down and relax at home together. I told him I was not sure how our weekend would be spent now that I knew this.
I want to be clear about this term consequence, though. I did not say, “Because you yelled, hit and pushed me, you don’t get to go with Ryan tomorrow.” I was not looking to make him feel bad. And if that consequence had not made sense—had he not really seemed that he needed time at home—it would have been disrespectful of me to not consider what was appropriate to expect of him. The consequence was not emphasized; it was a natural part of the situation. The next day when he expected to be going with his cousin, we said we were just going to stay at home and relax. Over time, repeated natural consequences teach him the lesson, not just one event and one consequence.
With in a couple months and many opportunities for respectfully setting boundaries and asking for respect from Everett, we have made a lot of progress. It is most rewarding when I hear him stop himself in the midst of calling a name or I witness him restraining an impulse to hit. I can see that he is growing up and we are slowly growing a mutually respectful relationship.
Acacia is a stay at home mama playing through life one moment at a time with her husband and two young sons. She is a natural parenting, cloth diapering, gentle disciplining, home schooling, wholesome foods eating, spiritually centered steward to this great Mother Earth.