R-E-S-P-E-C-T? Resources for Developing Respect in your Child


respectMy daughter once told a teacher at school that the hardest rule to follow in our house was showing respect. As a parent, I want my children to be kind and considerate and think of other people’s feelings, so I give them frequent reminders to show respect to others. However, learning to say “please” and “thank you,” share, and treat others with respect can be a difficult lesson to learn, especially for children who joined their family through adoption, and it doesn’t happen overnight. Children who grew up in an orphanage or children’s home are not worried about being nice to others. Instead they worry about things like self-preservation, whether this family will be their forever family, where their next meal will come from, and why they couldn’t stay with their first mommy. Therefore respect doesn’t come easy and can only be learned over time with the consistent help of a caring and encouraging adult who is willing to be a great cheerleader for their child.

Dr. Karyn Purvis and Dr. David Cross, developers of Trust-Based Parenting Intervention (TBRI®), recommend using life value terms, redos and role-playing to teach respect. Life value terms are short phrases such as “with respect” and “gentle and kind” that provide a simple reminder to a child, in the moment, of an appropriate behavior. Redos allow a child to correct a behavior, for example, to rephrase their request in a kind and respectful manner. In our house when we hear comments like, “I want…” or “Give me…” we respond by saying “please try that again with respect.” By allowing your child to redo a behavior it creates muscle memory for the new behavior. Redos work best when parents are consistent and mindful of their child’s daily interactions and follow-through with requests. The Trust-Based Parenting Model also recommends that parents role play with a child, when they are regulated, and act out how to show respect and how not to show respect in different scenarios. You may even incorporate stuffed animals or puppets if your child is interested. It is easier to learn a new behavior by practicing doing it. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

Children’s books are a great tool to help children understand new concepts. Cindy Lee created a series of children’s books to go along with the concepts of TBRI®. Her book The Penguin and the Fine-Looking Fish is about a penguin whose story starts out, much like many other adopted children’s story, by being separated from everything he had ever known and loved. The story goes on to explain that because he is separated he feels alone and scared and doesn’t show respect, share, accept help, or give help to others. The story follows Penguin through his journey to find a friend to love and whom he can trust that will never leave him. He catches a fish to keep him company and the fish teaches the penguin the importance of showing respect through various examples. It is also demonstrated throughout the story that respect is given to those we care about and are in a trusting relationship with. This is a vital key to TBRI® : connection must come before correction. In the end, Penguin lets the fish free, they spend time playing together each day, and continue on with a beautiful friendship. This story also provides an excellent prompt for discussions about adoption and related tough feelings like fear, loneliness and sadness.

Parenting a child who has joined your family through adoption requires following a different set of parenting techniques. Mark Vatsaas, an adoptive parent and author of the blog One Flawed Dad, writes mini-lessons for parenting with connection, and his first mini-lesson states, “Traditional, old-school parenting says that parents must control and fix their children to ensure their children make good decisions. Connected parenting says that parents must control and fix themselves to ensure that they equip and empower their children to make good decisions.” Adoptive parenting requires being actively involved in their child’s life. In order to teach respect, parents have to model respect first. Allow your child to see you going out of your way for other people like taking meals to new parents or someone who is sick, picking up litter, donating to a homeless shelter or just helping someone in need. Lead by example and explain why it is important to do such things. A child will not learn how to be respectful on their own or over-night, there is no easy fix and it will take time. A child will only learn with the support and guidance of others.

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Angela Simpson is an adoptive parent, social worker and adoption advocate. Angela is MLJ Adoptions’ Support Services Specialist and works with families throughout their adoption process. Angela and her husband have two sons and have just recently added a daughter to their family through adoption.