R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Tell Your Kids What it Means to Be #Respectful

Rebecca Hill

People would ask me, when my kids were young, how I got them to be so kind and polite. Please and thank you, yes ma’am, no sir, may I help you with that? They were pretty good at that stuff. They still are. Honestly? We drilled it in to them. Not in a Great Santini I-will-kick-your-ass kind of way, but a non-stop-reminding kind of a way. Like, “come back, you forgot something. What do you say?” “Oh yeah.” Not nagging, just repeating. A lifestyle, if you will.

Manners are big with me, because I am from the South. I grew up in a Yes Ma’am/No Ma’am culture, and so did my mother, who lived with us when my kids were growing up. Please and thank you were just a part of everyday life, in the midst of a house with a lot of chaos and mess and farting and headlocks and muddy shoes. That is to say, we weren’t a home where there were a ton of rules, we just tried to speak with respect. Kindness. How you treat one another in the little things. I wanted my boys to treat people respectfully and, yes, have manners.

A wise friend said to me when I was pregnant with my first, “have as few rules as possible, and enforce them absolutely.” So our one rule? Respect. We said please. We said thank you. We didn’t call one another names. We didn’t demand stuff. If someone did something nice, we said thank you. So even my son who has autism, who might just yell about his butt in public, will say please or thank you if you give him a glass of water.

A lot of other things fall under the umbrella of respect. Farting on your brother? Disrespectful. Shooting the hamster out of a paper towel roll? Let’s try and respect the hamster’s boundaries. I could go on, but you get the general idea.

Practice is helpful. If you send your child over to the neighbors house to return a borrowed tool, or to ask for something, help them with the right words to begin and end that interaction. Create those opportunities, and praise them for doing it right. If after a birthday party you send them over to their friend or the host to say “thank you for the party,” that lesson may just stick. If you always prompt them say “thank you” to the waitress who refills their water, that will become a habit. And it goes without saying that our children watch what we do. So if we treat waitstaff and people who serve us, and our spouses, and people we encounter and yes, our children with respect, it leaves a lasting impression. My late husband was always the first person to offer his seat to someone on the bus. Now I see my sons doing it.  How we treat people we don’t have to be nice to? That makes an impression. Your child will apply that to the kid in his class who no one else likes.

Sending your kids out into the world as polite and respectful people gives them an advantage in life. It also makes the world a better place. Manners matter, because respect matters. Let’s be thoughtful out there.

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