Teaching children respect
is one of the most important and difficult things we have to do as a parent.
It’s important because respect communicates value and love to others, which is one of the reasons God has put us on the planet. Every Christian parent is seeking to guide their child to become a devoted follower of Jesus, which means they need to learn to love people like Jesus does.
It’s difficult because in order to teach our children how to be respectful we have to uncover what is going on in their minds and hearts, and with God’s help, reshape those thoughts, feelings, and motivations into God-honoring ones.
As I said, teaching children respect is one of the most important and difficult things we have to do as a parent.
Respect is not about behavior, at least not at first.
It’s about mindset and heart attitude.
Mindset has to do with what your children believe, what they think about the world and their place in it. Some of the biblical things they need to understand are:
- Life is about God and His glory, not about them (1 Corinthians 10:31).
- They were created to give Him glory (Isaiah 43:7).
- They are His creatures and as such are under His loving authority (Matthew 28:18-19).
- Their lives will be all they are intended to be as they submit to His divine plan (Romans 8:10-14).
- God loves people, so much that He gave Jesus to save them from their own sin and foolishness (Romans 5:8).
- They are one of those sinners God loves so much (Romans 3:23).
These are examples of the kind of truths that shape a child’s mindset about life. They are fundamental truths that give them their bearings in the world and in history. With these, they will view the world according to God’s truth (which is the only truth). Without them, they will go astray.
It’s your job to teach them these things, way before you get to teaching them about respect for other people. But don’t just make it about cold facts, teach them from your own experience what difference these truths make. Tell them how it effects you, what difference these things have made in your own life. Be the example to them of what the grace of God does in a human life. That will help them not only understand but also embrace these truths eagerly.
When they embrace what is important to God, they’ll begin to see that God’s expectation of them is that they extend His love to other people – and that’s the beginning of respect for others.
Heart attitude has to do with your child’s desires and affections. What your kids love and admire and desire is going to shape the way they go about life. That includes the way they treat other people.
If they learn to love the things of the world (stuff, fun, entertainment, popularity, etc.) then they will become inwardly focused, only wanting what they perceive is good for them.
But if they learn to love the things of God (people, His glory, family unity, godly character, etc.) then they will see that life truly is better used for the sake of His kingdom (Matthew 6:33).
It’s your job to teach them to love the right things. It’s your job to build a vision for them that is bigger than them, bigger than the shallow pool of “self” that they are tempted to wade in every day. Introduce them to swim in the ocean of God’s purpose for their lives (Ephesians 4:10).
But like the mindset issue, this means you have to love the right things yourself, because your example matters. If they see you loving sports more than church attendance or time with your hobbies more than time with the family, they will get the message that those things are more important… and they will feel free to adopt similar loves for themselves. They do what you do, not what you say.
Making it practical in life
Everything up to this point has been background work… the stuff you’ve got to do to lay the foundation upon which your children will able to build attitudes of respect for people. Now comes the really hard part, helping them know how to apply their mindset and heart attitude to everyday life.
Your kids are just like you, a complex mixture of body, soul, and spirit… and within that is their mind, will, and emotions. Those combinations are hard to understand and even harder to dissect and evaluate. But that’s exactly what you’ve got to help your kids do. They need to come to understand themselves from the inside out, in light of God’s truth that you’ve been trying to teach them.
Here are some practical ideas for how to go about that:
- Be a mirror to your children (go ahead and click it).
- Don’t be afraid to talk about the sin you see in their lives.
- Learn to ask good questions.
- Help them know how to evaluate what they find going on inside their heart as it compares to God’s word.
- Once they see their responsibility to align their desires with God’s, teach them that His will is most important.
- Hold them accountable to what they know is true (i.e. when you see them being disrespectful, investigate what’s going on inside them and confront them with the truth they know).
This is the SHORT list… there’s a lot more that goes into it.
Do you see how teaching children respect has much more to do with what’s going on inside them than it does with what’s going on outside them?