Raising Children of Peace

Edited by Farley and Betsy Jones

Children of Peace

Instilling Respect in Children
Marilyn Cohen

We are all disheartened by children who speak or act disrespectfully to parents, teachers, and peers. Some adults are satisfied to receive external respect only. Children address them politely and appear respectful, but their internal thoughts may be completely different. Establishing true internal respect between parents and children is another matter. Such children deeply respect and admire the parents' words and actions and wish to follow in their footsteps. This internal respect is based not on fear but on an unshakable bond of love.

How do children come to speak abusively to others? Observe how parents speak to their children every day. In supermarkets and stores I hear parents speak rudely, harshly, and critically to their children. They say things like, "What's wrong with you?" "If you touch that, you're getting the belt:" "Shut up" And so forth. Treating children this way plants the seeds for disrespect.

Children will not respect parents and teachers unless parents have first laid the foundation of respecting the child. Deep internal respect for God, adults, and peers begins with self-respect. One who does not value and respect himself lacks the capacity to respect others.

How Does a Child Learn to Respect Himself?

A child who is unconditionally wanted, loved, and cared for over the years will feel valuable. That child will respect himself and others. Parents must first show respect for their child before they can expect him to show respect back. In his book, The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck, M.D., states:

Time spent and the quality of that time conveys to a child that he is valuable. Just telling him you love him all the time without spending quality time with him won't give him the security of knowing he is valued and loved. Words alone are hollow. Unconsciously, they know their parents' words do not match up with their deeds. TIME is really important.

When children have learned through the love of their parents to feel valuable, then come what may, it's almost impossible to destroy their spirit.

This feeling of being valuable is a cornerstone of self-discipline because when one considers oneself valuable, one will take care of oneself in all ways that are necessary. [Self-discipline is self-caring.]

Natural and Logical Consequences of Behavior

Parents who yell at, hit, threaten, harshly criticize, and arbitrarily punish their children are not respecting their children, making it nearly impossible for them to respect others. This is undisciplined discipline, and it is teaching children to fly off the handle and treat others similarly. Seeing the raw power his parents have, he can't wait to try it on others. He wishes to abuse others the way he has been abused.

Parents who continually lose their temper prevent God from working through them to reach their children. Heavenly Father needs a calm channel. How can we receive God's inspiration for our children through our anger? The key to calmness is to disengage from negative give and take as soon as we begin to feel irritated. We usually wait too long! Recognize that this is the beginning of an escalating power struggle and withdraw for a few minutes until you can deal with the situation calmly.

Parents who carefully listen to their children's ideas without criticism and without interruption, who take their suggestions, who speak in calm tones, who discipline calmly, logically, and consistently are respecting their children. Such parents have established the foundation to require similar behavior from their children.

Actions are far more important than words. Children need not lectures but role models. A few years ago one of my children told me to "shut up." I asked him if I had ever said that to him, and he said no. I explained in a very serious and firm tone that since I never say that to him, he is never to say it to me. That was the first and last time. It would have been much more difficult to regain his respect had I been telling him to shut up on a regular basis.

Model the behavior you expect your children to exhibit. If you wish your children to listen to what you say the first time, practice that behavior toward them. If you are usually preoccupied and you ignore them, they will likely ignore you, too. Say something once, clearly, and get their attention, such as, "Johnny, I have something to say to you. If you pick up your toys in five minutes, you get to keep them all week. But if you choose to leave them there, I will pick them up and put them away for one week and you will not be able to play with them:" Then, if he chooses not to put them away, calmly put them away and keep them away for the time you said. Chances are it will happen only once. In this way, you are respecting his choice and letting him choose the consequences. He will learn to make good choices and to hear you the very first time.

Logical consequences, calmly and consistently applied, permit a child to learn from the reality of the social order. They acknowledge mutual respect. For consequences to be effective, the children must see them as logically related to their misbehavior. 2

With prayer and careful thought we can break the cycle of threats, control, and nagging to death. Nagging is really disrespectful because it assumes your child is not smart enough to understand you the first time.

Fifteen years ago I read an article that said you don't have to instruct your children to say thank you. I took the suggestion and modeled the behavior for them. From the time they were infants, I would thank them whenever they gave me a toy, or a handful of mashed bananas. When people gave them things, I would express the thanks. Sure enough, when they were about three or four, they spontaneously started to say thank you to people and have done so ever since. No nagging.

Your children love you so much and want to be like you. They are watching your every move. So relate to them the way you want them to relate to you. Do you want them to knock on your door before barging into your bedroom? You certainly can expect that IF you also knock on their door!


A large percentage of our communication with our children is centered on nagging, reminding, chastising, and accusing. The number one complaint of teenagers is "Nobody understands me." The STEP program gives excellent suggestions on how to listen to and speak to your child. 3

"Mutual respect" means that children and parents allow each other to express their beliefs and feelings honestly, without fear of rejection. It means accepting what the other person says. You may not agree with your children, but you can demonstrate that you accept their feelings. You show acceptance through your tone and the words you use.

Reflective listening is critical if you want children to feel understood. Here are examples of closed and open responses:

Child: "That teacher is unfair! I hate her and I'll never do well."
Closed Response: "If you'd spend less time complaining and more time studying, you'd do fine."
Open Response (Reflective Listening): "You're feeling angry and disappointed, and you've given up"

Which response do you think would more likely allow a child to share his true feelings with you? A closed response leads to further defensiveness, while an open response demonstrates that you are really trying to understand. Try to reach the child's unspoken feelings.

Richard Cohen suggests an important strategy called KYMS, an acronym for Keep Your Mouth Shut. We are so anxious to give advice, solve our children's' problems, and jump in with our own personal examples. Most of the time, our children just need us to listen!

Another critical aspect of communication is expressing our anger, dissatisfaction, or frustration with our children in an unaccusing way. STEP teaches the difference between "I" messages and "You" messages. A "You" message is an accusation, for example: "You're always such a slob." These accusations use words like "always" and "never;" and excavate past incidents over and over.

To influence your child, you must be able to communicate in a manner which makes it likely that your feelings, meanings, and intentions are being understood. In many families, parents do not expect children to listen; they expect to have to repeat every request at least once. Their children have trained them to repeat every message. 4

An "I" message deals with the here and now, the specific incident, and expresses how you feel, focusing on you, not the child. For example: "When you leave your Legos on the floor, I worry that I will step on them and break them:' Another example: "When you throw the ball in the living room, I'm afraid it will break something, so you may either take the ball outside or play quietly in here-it's your choice'." The more we learn to speak to our children this way, the better they will listen to us.

Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say!

It is also critical to give only consequences which you are fully prepared to carry out! Parents threaten to stop the car and let their child out, to cancel the family vacation, or to leave their child in the store overnight. Soon enough the child will know very well that these are empty threats and your words have no meaning. You will be planting the seeds of disrespect. If young children cannot trust your words, they will certainly not confide in you as teenagers.

When Our Children Face a Problem

If a child has a problem, it is best not to give advice. If the child takes your advice and it doesn't work out, guess whose fault it is? Respect him for being able to make his own decision. He does need your support, however. Brainstorm together and write down the possible solutions, not judging them initially. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each option. Then let the child commit to one of the solutions. Later you can evaluate the outcome together.

Many parents are afraid to allow the child to experience the negative consequences of his own decision. Of course, you cannot let a child do something dangerous, but he should be allowed to experience most consequences. Some well-meaning parents have tried to get a child's grade raised. But how will the child be motivated to study harder if he doesn't receive the D he deserves? We must not protect or rescue our children from the results of their actions. We must respect their ability to grow and change from their wrong decisions. Do not fear failure. It can be the stimulus which causes us to grow.

Respect Child's Play -- Children's Play is their Work

Tony is building a block tower. He is carefully choosing blocks of different sizes and shapes to balance perfectly. He is selecting a unique color scheme. His pride is growing as he sees his creation being born. He can't wait to show the finished product to his parents. Just as he is about two-thirds done, his mother calls, "Tony, hurry now. Stop what you're doing, and put those blocks away. We have to go shopping:"

Parents' work is important. Children's play is just for fun. It is fine to interrupt them at our whim. Not so! We think that children's serious work will begin in first grade. Some parents don't want their children to play too much in kindergarten. However, the meaning of children's play is very deep. Take a one-year-old, dropping peas from his high chair on the floor and exasperating his mother. It is actually a hands-on science lesson. He is learning about the law of gravity.

Take the two-year-old cutting up everything she can get her hands on. She is learning visual motor control and working very hard at it. Does that mean she should be allowed to cut anything? Certainly not. But there can be a drawer full of various materials for her to cut, while other things are off limits. There was a three-year-old poking holes in the back of a couch with a sharp pencil point. Before his mother flipped out, she noticed he had discovered how to make a symmetrical pattern. He was actually learning geometry. She then gave him corrugated cardboard, which he could poke to his heart's content, and made the couch off limits.

The next time your child does something objectionable, ask the crucial question: "Why is my child doing this?" Is he trying to destroy something, or is he learning and experimenting? We too often unknowingly stifle children's learning and creativity. True, their actions will have to be channeled, so that the house doesn't get destroyed. and give consequences if the child doesn't respect the limits.

In building the block tower, Tony is learning balance, persistence, geometry, creativity, self-esteem. This may be the foundation of a great future architect. But suppose you really do have to shop? Advance warning and preparation time show respect for the child. You might set a timer and say that when the timer rings in fifteen minutes, he will have to stop, but he can finish later-all the while appreciating his effort.

How about playing house? Here children are working out relationships and expressing their emotions, including unresolved frustrations or anger. It helps them move on and forget their problems. When my children were younger, they had very intense battles with their action figures including killer noises. They were working out much of the tension from the day and would feel much more peaceful afterward, even acting more kindly toward other children.

Children should not be lightly interrupted from their play any more than you would like to be interrupted from your work. Since we admonish children not to interrupt us all the time, we must also respect their work. From their work (play), they will learn dominion over the physical world, cooperation with others, and understanding of human relationships.

In conclusion, a harmonious family is built upon deep internal respect for one another centered on God. Children can understand what is meant by respect for others only if they have personally experienced it. What we teach our children will be passed on for generations! As the Talmud says: "When you teach your son, you teach your son's son."


1. M. Scott Peck, 1978, The Road Less Traveled, Simon and Schuster, New York, p. 24.

2. Don Dinkemeyer and Gary D. McKay, STEP (Systematic Training for Effective Parenting)-The Parent's Handbook, American Guidance Service, Circle Pines, Minnesota, p. 75.

3. Ibid. p. 48.

4. Ibid. p. 63.

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