Those over the age of 50 grew up in a time where you either respected your elders or found yourself at the wrong end of a willow switch (or a paddle, if you were from the North). Children were taught that the older generation that came before them had more knowledge and authority, and many children became fine adults because of this. They recognized that their elders were wiser and had been around longer, giving them more experience in the world that children and teens desired to explore.
Today’s world isn’t quite the same. A trip out back for disciplinary measures with a willow switch will get most parents charged with physical abuse; just take a look at Minnesota Vikings quarterback Adrian Peterson. Rather than being able to discipline our children when they do something wrong, we find ourselves at the mercy of disrespectful teens who hold more power over us than we do over them. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. Physical discipline (which is different from abuse) doesn’t have to be present in order for children to learn to respect their elders.
- Start when they’re young. Young children are like sponges – they soak up everything that they see and hear. From the moment they open their eyes at birth, they are watching wide-eyed the world around them and learning behaviors before we as parents realize it. This is why it’s important to teach them respect at a young age. If you allow your child to exhibit naughty behaviors that go unchecked, it will be even harder to correct these behaviors when they’re older.
- Lead by example. You are the one your child looks up to in the early years of their life, and if you want to hold that respect past childhood, you need to be the example of the person you want your child to be like. Showing respect to others teaches your child kindness, patience and humility. If you treat others badly or display behavior you don’t want your child to, they’re going to follow in your footsteps. Be mindful of how you act. Your child is always watching.
- Reward good behavior. Although disciplining bad behavior is important, positive reinforcement goes a long way. Children need to understand that treating others well is the behavior their parents will praise them for. A trip to the store doesn’t have to be a bad experience. Let your child know what behavior you expect of them when you go shopping (be specific!) and that, if they behave, they’ll get a treat when the shopping trip is over. This teaches them the consequences of good and bad behavior.
Learning to respect one’s elders starts in the first few years of a child’s life, so make sure you’re raising them in a way that encourages that respect. Show them the value of kindness and the rewards that result from it. By doing this, your child will grow up with the manners and morals that will make you a proud, successful parent.