Teaching respect is at the root of bullying prevention. When kids are taught to treat others with respect, they are less likely to engage in bullying behavior. But when kids are not taught that everyone has value and that everyone deserves respect, they are more likely to engage in mean girl behavior, physical bullying, relational aggression and cyberbullying.
What’s more, parents and teachers must realize that there is a difference between obedience and respect. Obedient kids are not always respectful kids. In fact, it is much easier to get kids to obey rules and follow guidelines than it is to get them to be respectful while doing it.
But teaching respect is not a one-day lesson. Teaching respect takes time and effort on the part of the parent or the teacher. It is not something you can teach overnight. Instilling respect requires some sort of action on your part every day. Here are five ways to teach children how to be respectful and refrain from bullying.
Model respect. Remember, kids take their cues from the adults in their lives. Simply put, if you are respectful, your kids are more likely to be respectful. Yelling, cursing, shouting and sarcasm are transferable traits. Instead, your child needs to see you being honest and respectful with other people. Telling them to be respectful and then not acting accordingly will not be effective. By contrast, when you speak with respect to your children and to others, your children learn to be respectful by watching you.
Discuss respect. When you see someone being disrespectful, use that as a teaching moment for your children. Talk about what the person is doing and how that constitutes disrespectful or bullying behavior. Be sure you also empower your children to be effective bystanders by giving them ideas on what to do when they witness bullying or disrespectful behavior. Also, use situations in their own lives to discuss respect. If a friend is not treating your child appropriately, discuss how the friend could respond with respect instead. Be sure your child knows that friends that are disrespectful are not really friends. And make certain your child can determine when a friend is a bully.
Teach respect. There will be times in your children’s lives when they engage in disrespectful behavior or language. Your child may even participate in bullying. Take these opportunities to show your child what is wrong with her behavior and indicate what she could have done differently. Be sure your child knows that it is the behavior you are not happy with, but that you still accept and love her as a person. Also, if the disrespectful behavior continues or escalates, be sure there are consequences for this behavior. Simply telling a child to be respectful will not accomplish your goal.
Expect respect. Be sure that you do not tolerate disrespectful or bullying behavior from your child. If your child is being disrespectful to another child or engaging in sibling bullying, be sure you step in and correct the behavior. When you set high expectations for your child, she is more likely to meet those expectations. Be sure to communicate what is expected and never waiver on your standards of treating others with respect and empathy. At the same time, you need to understand that your children are still growing and learning. They will not always get it right. Be sure you understand that and try to help them find healthy ways of communicating what is at the root of their disrespectful behavior. Sometimes kids will be disrespectful because they are angry, frustrated, hungry or tired. Be kind when correcting their behavior and give them ideas on how to communicate these feelings in a more respectful manner.
Acknowledge respect. When you witness your kids being respectful, especially in difficult situations, be sure to praise them for how they handled the situation. Indicate what they did well and reinforce that respect is a positive life skill. What’s more, this helps kids remember how it felt to be respectful. Kids who see the how good it can feel to do the right thing are more likely to repeat the behavior.