Whenever you are setting rules with your children you can use this rule of thumb.
Every rule you make should fall into one of these 3 general rules:
- Respect Yourself
- Respect Others
- Respect Property
If your rules do not fall into one of these categories, they are likely to be arbitrary and may seem unfair or illogical to your children, hence will not be followed without a power struggle.
For example: No hitting falls under both rules of Respecting Self and Others. Doing chores or jobs around the house comes under Respecting Others (and Property) as does no throwing in the house or no kicking the dog.
However, homework must be done before any gaming time is tricky. It isn’t about respect as much as it is about obedience, which children don’t do well with. Homework time is more of scheduling issue. Be sure not to send the message that you have to do homework when I say so because I don’t trust you. It always backfires when a child feels he has to prove himself to his parent.
To make a homework rule effective you want to insure that it follows the “respect yourself” rule, which means that homework time should be considered mostly by your child with your help and involvement. He must have the right to decide what his needs are after school hours. In other words, if you insist on homework being done first thing after school (so it’s out of your hair and you don’t have to worry about it), that is being disrespectful of your child’s needs. He may need to chill out for a while after a long day at school and have an hour of video gaming or playing outside or whatever before homework, which he might rather do after dinner.
Respecting Yourself means that you can say, “I am available for help and questions at these times only”. And then let him consider that when he is choosing when to do it.
Bedtime, teeth care, physical hygiene might be easier managed if you are clear about them coming under the Respect Yourself rule. Then be sure that you don’t expect your child to understand the importance of self-care until she is much older. Some rules must be parent-set when the child is too young to know what is needed to care for and respect her body.
This is when I suggest calling on the Parent Card. This is a good example of you being respectful of your child. “I don’t expect that you will know and understand how much sleep you need to be healthy and strong (the importance of brushing your teeth…maintaining a clean body). That’s what I’m for. It’s a parent’s job to make sure that things you don’t or care about yet get done.” Then respect for your child shows up by giving some choices about how these things get done. “What song shall we sing for marching up the stairs tonight?” “Do you want to brush your teeth or get in pajamas first?” “Shall we read 2 long books, or 3 short ones tonight?” “Which 3 days of the week do you want to take your shower? Morning or evening?”
We must never forget the importance of modeling respect for our children, for their desires and ways of looking at things. In order to respect our children, it is imperative that parents have an understanding of the developmental needs and wants of their children at different ages as well as their specific temperamental needs.
Getting angry at a 2 ½ year old for grabbing a toy away from another child and expecting him to apologize is being disrespectful to him. Expecting a 13 year old to understand and care more about you and your needs than her own will lead you right into disrespect. We quickly label a child as disrespectful of us when we don’t even enter their minds.
Rather than disrespect, it is far more likely that the child is focused so intently on what she thinks she looks like or what someone at school said to her yesterday than what you asked her to do for you. That doesn’t mean let it go because of the general rule of Respecting Others. But it does mean that as a parent, you can show her respect by understanding that she is NOT showing disrespect. She is merely being normally egocentric and needs reminders of what is being asked of her—without tones of disapproval and disappointment.
Respecting our children goes miles toward gaining their consideration and appreciation, not to mention their respect of others needs and rights as they grow. We just need to know how to set our expectations in a way that is respectful of their stage of development and individual temperament.
You wouldn’t ask a child in a wheelchair to run upstairs and get your sweater. Likewise, you should not expect the same of a child who is experiencing fear of being alone without a good deal of help, even when your other younger child can do it without missing a beat.
We can set limits, problem solve in order to hold our children accountable for their unacceptable behavior, and express our anger all with full respect and consideration of our children. Take the rest of today and watch yourself communicating with your child. Ask, Am I being respectful? with everything you say. Ask, How would I like hearing what I’m saying right now?
For information on development, anything from the Gesell Institute is a good resource. Ilg and Ames write books for each age, Your One Year Old, Your Two Year Old on up through the teen years.
For temperament, the best is Mary Sheedy Kurcinka’s Raising Your Spirited Child, whether your child is spirited or not. She helps you understand your own temperament as well.