Instilling Respect into Our Children

Ronald K Martin


"Honor thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee" (Ex 20:12). Paul in Ephesians 6:2 identifies this instruction as being the first commandment with promise, but all of us know that respectfulness is not a natural trait in children. Children are selfish by nature; and selfish people are not respectful of others. Thus the question arises, how do we teach our children to be respectful?

Respect has been defined as feeling or showing honor or esteem for; to hold in high regard. This definition relates to how a person thinks about others. On a more tangible level, respect can also be defined as showing consideration for; to avoid intruding upon or interfering with another. Certainly, these tangible manifestations of respect are borne out of an attitude of respect in a person's feelings toward those around him.

This attitude of respect needs to be instilled into our children. Instill means to put in gradually or drop by drop. Respect is not something that we can expect to communicate to our children in a few short sessions or even in a few long sessions of instruction. It is rather a quality requiring continual, repeated instruction in many small areas in order to be successfully incorporated into a child's way of thinking. The degree to which parents succeed in the task of instilling respect will be easily visible in the lives of their children.

But why is respect for other people so important? First of all, all people are created in the likeness of God. To disrespect others because they are in some way different than we are is to express disrespect for the perfect plan of God Himself. Secondly, respect is an important function of humility. These two characteristics are so closely linked that the one cannot be successfully taught without the other. Therefore, respect is valuable to be taught as a way to reinforce the indispensable trait of humility. another reason respect is important is that respect is like oil in the gears of society. Even the world recognizes this fact and teaches the value of being respectful from a purely selfish motive. If you are respectful, you are more likely to get what you want in life because people are more likely to cooperate with you. While this motive is ungodly, we likely can all recognize our tendency to be more agreeable toward those who respect us than we are toward those who we feel have a disdain for us. This tendency is not all unjustified because respect is a crucial element in trust. Finally, respect is of utmost importance because it is required of us in Scripture.

While respect at its core is an abstract feeling, it manifests itself in many areas. Respect is seen first in reverence for God and holy things. (Psalm 89:7, Leviticus 19:30) This is why children should be taught quietness and reverence in church and to handle a Bible with special care.

Respect is also seen in the recognition of God as the Creator of us and of others. (I Cor 4:6-7) True respect will not reflect negatively against the physical characteristics of others or against their abilities. Rather, it is seen in the recognition of the fact that the variety in individuals is by God's design for the benefit of His purposes.

Another important element of respect is respect for authority (1 Pet 2:17, Acts 23:5, Deut 27:16). Respect for authority is seen in the use of respectful names and titles, obedience to directions given, and forbearance with mistakes and weaknesses. Respect for the aged is also marked not only by polite address but also by helpfulness and deference. (Le 19:32) The weaker and younger will also experience preferential treatment by a respectful individual (Ps 82:3-4, Ja 1:27).

The Scriptures have much to say about how God especially notices our treatment of the fatherless and the widows. Respect for these individuals requires that they are not taken advantage of but rather that they are given special care and consideration. Respect will also be seen in the treatment of the property of others. (2 Kings 6:5) It is respectful to secure permission before we use another's property and to treat that property with even more care than if it were our own.

Finally, respect is concerned for the privacy of others. (1 Pet 4:15) Intentionally listening to conversations not intended to include us or reading the correspondence sent to another without their permission is not respectful. Many more manifestations of respect could be enumerated, but these will suffice to illustrate that the opportunities to instill respect abound.
But, the question still remains, "How do we instill respect?" Respect, first and foremost, needs to be modeled. Respect is on attribute that is more successfully taught by example than any other way, and children usually reflect the respect level of their parents. Respectful parents produce respectful children. But modeling respect is not enough; respect also needs to be taught. Parents need to think ahead and give instruction before hand about what would constitute respectful behavior in a new situation. Parents need to also seize the teaching opportunity when a child exhibits disrespectful behavior by calling their attention to their disrespectful actions and instructing them about what their actions should have been.

Respect must also be required of children. Parents cannot just tell their children what respectful behavior is but must also require them to practice it. Parents also instill respect in their children when they help their children to go back and correct wrong actions whenever possible. a wise parent will also at times employ discipline in the form of punitive measures to aid a child's memory so teaching is not as easily forgotten.

In conclusion, I would like to share four thoughts. First, parents need to remember that humility and love are the keys to respectful actions. Without these two qualities, respect becomes a self-serving shell; but taken together, they each compliment the other. Second, we need to help our children to understand that respect is a testimony of our own character and not necessarily of the character of the person to whom respect is being shown. This truth becomes very important as we relate to individuals whose character is not worthy of honor yet they hold positions of authority. Third, respect is a powerful tool in witnessing because it affirms the dignity and value of even the lowest of people. and fourth, respect is a part of our life that should bear witness to the fact that we have been with Jesus. Respect—may it be what drips continually from our lives into the hearts and lives of those around us.

-Fredericksburg, PA

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