In the previous post, we discussed the importance of parenting with an attitude of humility. As the last post focused on 3 practical applications of humility, this post will focus on the attitude of respect, and 4 practical ways we can demonstrate this in our parenting.
When we talk about demonstrating respect for our kids, one important thought comes to mind: taking them seriously. While we as parents have more years of life experience, more wisdom, and more knowledge, this does not mean we have a license to diminish the thoughts, opinions, and feelings of our kids. In fact, we should be mindful to do the very opposite! By keeping these four tips in mind, we can demonstrate respect for our children and build a home environment of emotional safety.
- Respecting their thoughts and opinions. It’s easy to forget that our view of the world and all of the problems of life are vastly different than that of a child/teenager. Just as we can’t help but think with a fully developed adult brain, our kids can’t help thinking with their still-developing brain! Couple that with an ample difference in life experience, and we’re bound to have some disagreements! But here’s the catch: we need to listen to understand our kids rather than merely convince them that our way of thinking is right. This, by the way, is very difficult and requires a great deal of patience and humility!
While of course, we teach our children the truth and lovingly explain why we believe what we believe about any particular issue, we cannot neglect the importance of understanding as a major goal of communication. Even when we disagree with our children’s perspectives, we can still show them respect by listening to understand, using the same skills previously discussed in this series: reflection and a curious stance. (For more on these, see the following post: https://nicolebyrum.com/2022/03/27/welcome-home-the-language-of-marriage-part-ii/ )
As I shared above, it is critical that our kids know we take them seriously. When we take the time to hear them- when we listen to understand- we demonstrate that we value and care about what they think. Furthermore, we show them that they can trust us to respect them even if we disagree with them. As an added bonus, having these types of conversations increases our children’s critical thinking skills and trains them to have productive discourse.
- Respecting their emotions. As a counselor, I can’t emphasize enough how important this one is! Can teenagers be dramatic? Absolutely. Are elementary kids unreasonable? Sure. But when we as parents minimize our children’s emotions it creates a disconnect in the relationship and enforces the idea that their emotions aren’t credible or valued.
One of the best ways we can respond to our children’s feelings is to name the emotion they’re experiencing. This lets them know that we get how they’re feeling- and that is so powerful! Statements like, “I can see by your facial expression and tone how angry you are,” or “It sounds like you’re feeling really disappointed right now,” communicate empathy and understanding. Affirming their emotions is also critical. For example: “I can understand why you feel that way,” or, “I’d feel that way too if that happened to me,” express validation. The more we use these kinds of statements, the safer our kids will feel with us, and the more likely they will be to come to us in any given situation.
A word of caution: In our attempts to help our children feel better (or perhaps at times in our sinful, uncompassionate natures) we can minimize what our kids feel. Statements like, “Oh, it’s not that bad,” or, “You’re just grouchy right now,” are not helpful and do not communicate respect for their feelings. Likewise, we should avoid comparing our life experiences to theirs. For instance, “Well, when I went through my first break-up I just got on with it, I didn’t sit around and cry all day.” Our kids are their own people and will respond differently than we did when they experience a similar situation. Finally, we need to abstain from telling our kids they shouldn’t feel a certain emotion. Nobody likes to be told how they should or shouldn’t feel, especially when they’re hurting or upset.
3) Show enthusiasm for their interests. When we are enthusiastic about the things our kids enjoy this is a way of demonstrating respect. Alternatively, if we’re dismissive of something that’s important to them, this will only create distance- and possibly tension- in the relationship. Even if we don’t get the appeal of their preferred activity or interest, we should still make a great effort to learn about not only what they enjoy, but why they enjoy it. Engaging with our kids in their interests communicates support and encouragement and is a great way to build up the relationship. This is also a wonderful opportunity for our kids to teach us something (see point #1 from the previous post). When my son started golfing a few years ago, I knew pretty much nothing about the sport! It’s been fun for both of us that he has been able to teach me about the game he loves.
4) Show an interest in their friends. When I was a teenager, one of the qualities I appreciated most in my mom was her sincere and genuine interest in my friends. As we’re well aware, friendships, especially during the teenage years, are a top priority! By showing love and respect toward our kids’ friends, our kids will feel as though we are respecting them. Getting to know- and enjoy- our kids’ friends is truly a gift we give to our kids.
One way we can show our interest in their friends is by having conversations with their friends. While we might be tempted at times to grill them with questions, this is not the way to go! Instead, we should take time to ask sincere questions in order to generate conversation. Another easy way to express interest is to ask our kids about their friends. Simple questions like, “What’s Suzy been up to lately?” communicate that their friends matter to us. Similarly, remembering details of what our kids have shared about their friends (or what their friends have shared with us) and then asking follow-up questions demonstrates our care for them. Finally, being an enthusiastic supporter of their friends communicates we value them. We should cheer their friends on at sporting events, musicals, or whatever else they’re into! Not only does this build our relationship with our own kids, but it’s a wonderful way to be a light in their friends’ lives as well.
One final note: As parents, it is our job to come alongside our kids to help them evaluate their friendships. For sure, there will be some tough conversations concerning their friends. Yet, these should always be done with an attitude of respect. During these conversations, we must be careful not to demean our kids’ decision-making abilities or bad-mouth the people they care about. “Suzy has a really great sense of humor, I can see why you enjoy being her friend! But I would like to talk to you about another quality of Suzy’s that concerns me,” will generate a very different response than if we say, “Suzy is no good and making terrible decisions for her life. I don’t understand why in the world you would want to be friends with her.”
Demonstrating an attitude of humility and respect towards our children reflects a desire to love our kids as Christ loves us. This desire is a result of having a firm foundation and lives changed by the gospel. It is also a reminder of why we need to continue to abide in Christ through his word and prayer. We simply cannot do all of this in our own strength and wisdom! Let’s continue to pursue Christ and give glory to him as he equips us in the good work of parenting.