We live in a day where respect of others is a dying character trait. Why do we think that bullying and social media rants are so pervasive in our culture today? There’s no respect of others. Really, it’s just the opposite—most people only think of themselves. Yet, it doesn’t need to be this way.
I believe that respect is only found when there is love. If we live and teach our children the two greatest commandments—to love God and to love others, respect of others will become intertwined within their developing character traits.
As dads, we can raise a generation of girls and boys that respect others. Yet, it starts with us and our willingness to proactively engage the hearts and minds of our children. Here are seven ways to teach our children how to respect others that I’ve gleaned from friends and my own parenting experiences.
7 Ways to Teach Our Kids Respect:
1. Teach them that all of human life is created in God’s image and is precious. This is an essential teaching we must communicate to our children at a very young age and is paramount to learning and living a life that loves and respects others. It also establishes in their own minds that they are uniquely created by God with His fingerprints all over them, and God doesn’t make mistakes.
This is why I love Steven Curtis Chapman’s song, “Fingerprints of God“(every child is a masterpiece of God). If you’ve never listened to it with your children—do it. I would sing this all the time to my kids, which reminds me it’s been too long since I last serenaded them. If our children value their own lives and the lives of others, love and respect will be a natural outflow of who they are and how they live.
2. Live it. Like everything else in life, our children will learn to respect others by watching our lives. Dads, if we treat our wives disrespectfully, our children will follow suit. Sadly, this generational cycle of sin is repeated too many times in our marriages. This also holds true for how we treat all people. Regardless of our differences with the surrounding culture or certain individuals, we are called as Christians to carry ourselves like Christ—embracing and exuding both grace and truth. If our children witness this first-hand on a regular basis, it will become their foundation as well.
Dads, words are cheap. Our actions mean everything. As I remind myself often, God doesn’t want me to beat myself up. He wants me to look more like His Son on a daily basis. One verse that drives this reality home for me is Ephesians 5:25. If my children see me loving my wife as Christ loved His church, they will begin to understand what it means to respect someone.
3. Never discipline your child through anger. Always discipline your child through love. This is not an easy one. I’ve failed with this one many times over the years. However, my adult children in their 20’s know without a doubt there is nothing they can do to lessen or increase my love for them. They know that after God and then my wife, they are the greatest loves of my life. Every son and daughter needs to know this. As shared, that love is interwoven within the fibers of what it means to respect someone. As Christians, this is who we are and one of the greatest life lessons we can teach our children.
4. Don’t negate or make light of your child’s feelings. This is yet another area I constantly need to watch when helping my children through difficulties or challenging moments in their lives. My wife does this very well. She bleeds empathy for our kids and has taught me a lot over the years.
I often joke with my older children that they helped make me a better dad for my younger ones. Yet, even now when my six-year-old is crying over something that seems trivial to me, I need to remind myself that, to her, it’s a big deal. I need to take the time to just listen to her express her feelings (not necessarily try to fix it). I have learned that after listening to her, a hug is often what she needs most from me!
5. Look for ways to build them up. One of our memory verses we continually revisit as a family is Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (ESV). This hits at the core of what it means to actively respect someone. It’s our jobs as dads to build our kids up in Christ. It’s a lot easier to respect others when you’ve been raised in a household that fosters an environment of encouragement.
This is another reason why memorizing Scripture is a must for every father out there. Speaking God’s Words into the hearts and minds of our sons and daughters is one of the best ways to build them up, i.e. train, encourage and equip them.
6. Teach them the joy in serving others. By focusing on the needs of others, our children learn that life is not all about them. It’s hard not to show respect to someone if you’re looking out for their best interest. I also believe God has wired us to enjoy helping others, especially when we’re using our unique gifts and skill sets. We do our best to include our children in age-appropriate chores around the house—washing the dishes, taking out the garbage, cleaning their rooms, etc.
We have also taken our children along on ministry events through our church and also our own ministry opportunities, i.e. short-term mission trips, community outreach, and ministry conferences/retreats. Over the years, they’ve learned first-hand the joy that comes when we serve others.
7. Pray with your children and for your children. Another core trait, alongside love, that compels the ability to respect those around you is humility. Without love and humility, our children will never learn how to respect others. Through our prayer life, we demonstrate to our children that we are totally dependent upon God. In a very real way, the act of prayer demonstrates our greatest respect for God as we humble ourselves before Him. At bedtime, I pray with my children and then I pray for them. I want them to hear my neediness before God and their father’s blessings upon their lives. I specifically pray that God will work in their hearts and minds to make them children that love Him and love others.
I tell people that the man that raised my eldest son, now 23 years old, is not the same man that is raising my six-year-old daughter. I am a different man. By God’s grace and the help of my wife, older children, friends and mentors, my little girl will know a dad that pursues these seven examples and many more on a regular basis. I’ll never get it all perfect, but I will do my best to teach her how to love and respect others, and perhaps God will use her someday to change the world.
“but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”
1 Peter 3:15 ESV