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Teaching Tips for Parents by Cindy R. Lee, LCSW

R-E-S-P-E-C-T! Humans show this trait when engaging in meaningful connections with others throughout our lives. Driven by love, we strive daily to be respectful and to teach our children to be respectful. We teach proper table manners, the importance of sharing, the value of cleanliness, and the need to say please and thank you. We model respect as we teach these skills by offering praise and playfulness to validate the dignity and worth of our children. As a society, we value respect because we believe we are worthy of love and others are worthy of love.

In her article, “Truth, Lies and Intimacy: An Attachment Perspective,” Jude Cassidy outlines four traits associated with the capacity to participate in intimate relationships. These include the ability to give care, to receive care, to negotiate personal needs and to be our authentic self.

These four traits are beautiful and mastering them is something we all strive to achieve.

One of the best ways to teach our children to be respectful is through modeling. Let’s start with an inventory of how comfortable you as a parent are with the four traits. Ask yourself, on a 1-10 scale, 10 being the most comfortable, how comfortable are you…

Accepting help from others? Giving help to others?

Being your authentic self? Negotiating your own needs?

If you scored a low number on any of the four traits, you may have some reflective work of your own to do before you can properly model these core beliefs for your child. Often, adults who have difficulty trusting others will score lower on the 1-10 scale than adults comfortable with trust. This mistrust generally comes from early life experiences. Making sense of your own
experiences and beliefs will help you model these traits for your children as well as provide you with a general sense of peace and understanding.

Accepting Help from Others

Many of our foster and adopted children have had to meet their own needs as a way to survive. Some even cared for their younger siblings and assumed a parenting role. Children without a parent able to care for them likely did not learn to trust. Without trust, accepting help from others feels very uncomfortable and scary. A language of playfulness and safety is recommended when teaching your child to accept help. Statements such as these send a message of love and trust: “I love you very much. May I show you by tying your shoes for you?” or “While you go play and have fun, I will make the macaroni and cheese for you and your sister.”

Giving Help to Others

One way to show respect is to care for others when they have a need. Imagine your child offering a hand to the opposing teammate knocked down during a basketball game or holding the door open for another person. You would beam with pride! Helping others in need validates our belief that humans (and animals) are worthy of love and care. When you find yourself helping another person, point this out to your child and when you witness your children helping another, praise them.

Negotiating Needs

Children from hard places were often on their own or were mistreated by adults who assumed power and control over them in hurtful ways. As a result, the ideas of shared power, choices and compromises are likely new to them. The first step in teaching this skill to our children is by negotiating with them ourselves. We give them a voice by offering compromises and sharing power. You can say something similar to, “It is time for snack. Would you like apples or bananas or another healthy snack as a compromise?” In this example both you and the child have their needs met.

You ensure the child has a healthy snack and you shared power by allowing the child to choose the snack. In addition, playfully teaching them how to share with siblings and peers reinforces their ability to negotiate their own needs and the needs of others.

Being Your Authentic Self

To be authentic we have to feel safe. To feel safe we have to be validated and given the opportunity to show our identity and creativity. Psychologists and therapists accomplish this with children by allowing opportunities for connecting through child-led play. As parents, our interactions with our children usually revolve around teaching, correcting, and questioning. Children explore being their authentic selves through play. Playing with them without leading allows you the opportunity to get to know them and to validate their unique ideas and creativity.

Teaching Respect

How do we teach these four traits to our children and how do we help them believe that they and others are important and worthy of love? We provide children with opportunities to be authentic, we deeply connect with them so they learn trust, and we model our own beliefs through action.

To connect and allow the child an opportunity to be authentic, practice this child-led play exercise:

To model your beliefs through action, work on being comfortable with the four traits. Your mastery will reflect in your actions and your children will model them. Be purposeful. The next time you write out that charitable gift check, show it to your children and explain why you are writing it.

To begin the conversation about these four traits, as well as teaching respectful behaviors, read Penguin and the Fine- Looking Fish to your child. You can process the book by asking your child the following questions:

  • What disrespectful behaviors did the penguin show in the beginning?
  • Penguin accepted the fish’s help to pull the seaweed from the sea floor. Do you accept help from others?
  • Penguin helped the fish by telling his family that he was safe. Do you offer to help others?
  • How did Penguin and the fish negotiate their needs at the end of the story?
  • Did Penguin show others his authentic self? In what way?

Once your child learns these traits, he or she will have an easier time showing respectful behavior. For example, when your child is sassy, you can say, “The way you are speaking does not show others respect. Please say that again with respect.” When your child forgets to say “thank you,” you can say, “How can we show respect when somebody gives us a gift?” Then your child will follow with a thank you. Using this model, children learn because they are given a reason why your request is appropriate, and they are given the chance to fix the behavior through action.

Have fun reading The Penguin and the Fine-looking Fish with your cuddle bugs.

For more great information, please read The Connected Child by Purvis, Cross and Lyons-Sunshine and visit www.empoweredtoconnect.org & www.tcu.child.edu.

The handout above was derived from Purvis, K.B., Cross, D.R. & Sunshine, W.L. (2007) The Connected Child: Bringing Hope and Healing to Your Adoptive Family. New York: McGraw-Hill and Cassidy, Jude. “Truth, Lies and Intimacy: An Attachment Perspective.” Attachment and Human Development, Vol 3 No2. 2 September 2001: 121-155. Print.

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