Remember twentieth-century comedian Rodney Dangerfield and his classic line, “I don’t get no respect!”? Whether or not you think much of Dangerfield’s humor (or his grammar), many parents today echo his cry. From toddlers to teenagers, children have—and often adamantly express—their own ideas on dinner menus, screen time, housework responsibilities, and curfews. Since you can’t very well exchange your own kids for a more docile set, what’s to be done?
Many parents (and politicians and CEOs) sabotage their own authority because they confuse commanding respect with demanding it. If you expect everyone to do exactly as you say, no questions asked, under constant threat of punishment—you won’t get respect, you’ll get grudging obedience, passive-aggressive contempt, and perhaps open rebellion.
Commanding respect means that you recognize there are values more important than defending your personal pride. It means being a person of tangible integrity and competence. And, for a parent, it means understanding that “what’s best for your kids” includes not only doing the healthy/responsible/honest thing rather than the easy thing, but internalizing key values while also developing their own initiative in other ways. When your kids sense all this in you, they’ll respect you even if they don’t always show it through immediate grateful compliance.
Holding your integrity higher than your pride doesn’t mean lacking confidence in yourself: remember you are the embodiment of the values you want your children to internalize. If you take the easy way out because you doubt your ability to cope with the right-but-hard path, or if you cave in to temper tantrums because you “can’t handle” public glares or your children’s disapproval, you’re sending the clear message, “I don’t deserve respect. I don’t even respect myself.”
If you have self-doubt problems, start a morning ritual of giving yourself a strong affirmation-based pep talk to keep your mind on your abilities and past successes. You can do it!
Respecting and believing in yourself will also help you respect your kids better. If your first reaction to that is to protest, “Why should I have to respect my children? They aren’t the authority in this house!,” better evaluate your self-esteem again. Respect-commanding authority isn’t so fragile it can be destroyed by allowing others a voice, listening to the reasons behind contrary opinions, or admitting when you’re wrong.
Besides showing respect for your children, if you have more than one you want to teach them to respect each other—and this doesn’t necessarily mean jumping in to rescue the younger ones from “bullying” by their older and stronger siblings. (That’s often a form of disrespect that refuses to hear both sides of the story.) Let kids work out their own squabbles, or send both parties to time-out until they’re ready to discuss the situation rationally. Divide up responsibility according to ability, without burdening the oldest with adult-level expectations or regarding the youngest as a permanent “baby.” Encourage everyone to help each other daily. Make all-around respect one of your family’s primary values, and you’ll always be sure of getting your share.