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I’ve been putting this post off.

It’s pretty much because creating a sense of respect in my kids still makes me want to tear my hair out.  Admittedly, my oldest is now 13, so we’re breaking new ground in this area.

Um, honestly? American culture demands very little of kids in this area. Our country was actually founded on some degree of…rebellion. Ugandans, for one, are mildly horrified by the manners of many American children toward their parents. But then again, African cultures are largely shame-based. I think you can solidly establish respect without shaming children–but it is harder without wielding shame. Yet they are not mutually exclusive in my book.

Our kids are going to be under authority their entire lives. With the exception of a few horrid dictators of suffering countries, everyone on this planet is under authority of some kind. (Jesus is, too.) Offering our kids the gift of submission is one of those keys that opens doors for the rest of their lives.

Following the leader

In practice for the worship band last week, next to all my parts on the sheet music, I wrote 2″. This was my cryptic reminder to hold the mic 2″ from my mouth whenever I was singing harmony–to keep the harmony second tier. I hold the mic closer when I sing melody, but it’s usually disordered, and discordant, to have harmony at the same volume as melody. Just as in a dance, one leads, the other follows. One’s not more important than the other–but following the lead matters. We’re training kids to learn the freedom of God’s proper order. 

THE KEY: to teach our kids to respect God’s order–and therefore, how to respond to God.

As parents, we must courageously, consistently choose to enforce high standards for how our kids will respond to us. We’re not dominating them. But we are empowering them with the gift that is respectful obedience. 

Author and pastor Danny Silk writes about on “powerful people”,

they are able to consciously and deliberately create the environment in which they want to live…They deliberately set the standard for how they expect to be treated by the way they treat others. As they consistently act in responsible, respectful, and loving ways, it becomes clear that the only people who can get close to them are those who know how to show respect, be responsible, and love well.*

Pastor and author Gary Thomas writes that kids are learning how to obey God from how they obey us. So expecting respect from my kids is based on my job to teach them how they must obey God.

Paul David Tripp speaks of how my anger can so often be about my kingdom and what I want, rather than God’s Kingdom. So in requiring kids’ obedience, I’ve got to seek to be motivated not for my own “glory”, so to speak, my own exalting and demands. Instead, I’m seeking God’s honor and commands in my house.

I picture obedience like a railroad track. A train may think it has freedom by being able to go wherever it wants to–but in reality, it was made for the tracks. It’s only safe when it’s on them. We have to train our kids to enjoy the freedom of the tracks. As they age, kids’ hearts that haven’t internalized this only get bolder and craftier. So building their trust in obedience to authority when they’re young is critical.

So–the ideas.

  1. Ask kids to acknowledge any request. Even when my kids disagree, I ask them to begin with “Yes, Mom,” and then present their argument respectfully. One of my repeated famous lines: My name is not “But Mom”.
  2. I’m a bit of an interruption Nazi. But not interrupting anyone helps with respect, partially because it reinforces listening rather than our kids’ own agenda.
  3. Have a view of respect that is beyond our current times. Dial it back a few decades in your expectations. When I’m evaluating whether a child is being disrespectful, I think of cultures around the world and times before ours. Would my grandpa find it disrespectful? Then I do, as well. I can still have respect without the emotional detachment we sometimes associate with older generations’ parenting.I’d like my boys to remove their hats when they walk in a building; offer a seat to a woman or someone older; open doors and carry heavy stuff for women or elders. (I’m still of the old-school mindset that thinks chivalry in a man like my husband is kinda hot.)I want to set the bar high considering our times, and realizing that nearly every other establishment, especially the media (some kids’ media drives me bananas in this!) is expecting less of my kids with regards to respect.

4. Probably my most immediate go-to discipline measure: a do-over. They’re required to rephrase, as many times as it takes. Ginger Plowman also suggests asking the child to wait for two minutes first, so there’s an additional pinch.

5. I differentiate between the request and the tone. I want them to know it’s okay to come to me for xyz, but if it’s presented in a tacky way, I seek to respond evenly, as if from a script: “You’re not allowed to speak to me that way.” (I say this at least twice a day. Sigh.) We’ve even done the old-school mouth washed out with soap thing (should I admit this online?) and if the condition persists over the course of a day, the consequences of course worsen. (Key parenting technique from my FIL: If the behavior worsens, the “fire” of the consequences gets turned up to lay on a little more heat.)

6.  Sometimes if we’re seeing an increase in the attitudes, we take away media. It may not always be media causing it; my kids can do bad all by themselves. But I want my kids to see the connection between their input and their output. Banning certain media tends to be a consequence that’s particularly (in a good way) painful for my kids.

7. We don’t want Stepford children who obey mindlessly. Sometimes I need my kids’ input, too. I can teach them the “respectful plea”: a “script” to respectfully disagree. It might sound something like,

Mom, I understand that you ___. May I offer a different perspective? Because of ___, I think ___. 

But they’ve got to be okay with a “no” even after I reconsider.

8. I frequently quote Ginger Plowman’s mantra to my kids: Obey all the way, right away, with a joyful heart. This encompasses the standard to which I want to hold them. Learning to obey right away without arguing keeps them safe: Think of a ball rolling into the street and a Mack truck barreling down on them. My kids also know a little ditty for the verse, Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure children of God (Philippians 2:14-15). (…Guess that means I also have to rein in the whining.)

9. Drawing respect for yourself from your kids is a lot easier when your spouse requires it for you–especially when it’s their dad. Stick up for each other’s sense of respect in the home. (Someone might ask, “What if my spouse isn’t acting respectably?” For every person in authority, I believe God still asks us to respect their position. This Bible passage on respecting ruling authorities was written when Nero was burning Christians as torches in his gardens.)

10. Repetition matters. Someone asked me once to estimate how many times I told my toddlers they needed to say please or thank you. When I thought about it, I realized I was saying it at least, what, 7 times a day? 10? And at 365 days a year—because there ain’t no days off —they still didn’t have it ingrained until they were probably 4 or 5. So after 3650 times a year for 5 years, I get 18,250 times. (You’re thinking, is she meaning this to be encouraging?) I guess I’m saying—it takes so much time, so much repetition to change even the smallest tendencies of the human heart. So don’t give up yet.

And I’ll try not to, either.


Got ideas on this? Join the conversation! I’d love to hear them in the comments section.


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