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Respectfully Yours

Respect means taking the sidewalk instead of cutting across the lawn, asking to borrow your sister’s new sweater (not just wearing it and hoping she won’t notice), listening carefully to one more of Grandma’s stories from “way back when,” catching the door for a complete stranger. Respect is the reason you still can’t call your fifth grade teacher by his or her first name. This attitude of courteous consideration, esteem, and honor—once a basic cultural standard—seems to have dissipated over the years, and it’s not just Rodney and Aretha bewailing its demise. “I began calling everyone ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’ just because general manners in society are missing,” says my friend Kristin.

But it’s even more than that. “Because we live in the last days,” says Parents Crosslink editor, Ray Schumacher, “we see the fulfillment of Jesus’ words in the increase of wickedness and in the fact that the love of most is growing cold. In these times, characterized by self-centeredness and lack of concern for others, it is an increasing challenge for parents to raise children who have respect for teachers, for their parents, and for other people in general.”

How can we help? A quick tour of the Web uncovers stick-person videos, silly songs, even online character lessons. For example, try this true or false quiz from goodcharacter.com with your children:

  1. I treat people the way I want to be treated.
  2. I am considerate of other people.
  3. I treat people with civility, courtesy, and dignity.
  4. I accept personal differences.
  5. I work to solve problems without violence.
  6. I never intentionally ridicule, embarrass, or hurt others.

A dinner table discussion of these statements may provide a starting point as parents seek to “train a child in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6), but Christian parents are blessed with more than a desire for high moral standards to back up their instruction. Ultimately, respect begins with our amazing God, whom we revere because of who he is and what he has done for us, and then continues with the people he’s given us to love and serve.

Older children may benefit from a concordance study of respect. Passages like Malachi 1:6, “‘A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?’ says the LORD Almighty,” underscore the veneration we owe to our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, as well as to the parents and authorities God has placed over us. Also, the First, Third, Fourth, Sixth, and Eighth Commandments— really all of the commandments— have something to say about respect. However, as our family doctor wisely told us at our two-year-old’s well child visit, it’s best to start even before kids can read. “Now’s the time to lay down the law,” he said. “Get him as a toddler, and you’ll have less trouble with him as a teen.”

The terrible twos is the time when your very dependent baby begins to assert his or her independence. This is part of a child’s natural growth, but it’s also the time parents need “to move from the role of servant to that of leader” (“Turning the Tables on Your Toddler,” Kaye Wilson, from ParentCoachokc.com). And with gentle firmness, it’s the time for the first lessons in respect. “If you want a healthy adult child, and a healthy adult relationship, based on mutual respect and affection, start today. . . . Do the right thing, not the easiest or most convenient. Teach your child to adjust to a schedule, to respectfully obey you, to delay gratification, and to pay attention to you and other adults” (Wilson).

As children grow older, it’s important to keep discussing and modeling the idea of respect. Remembering the words of Ephesians chapter 5, my friend Amy says, “Establishing a loving hierarchy in your home gives [them] a healthy view of the world and makes for happier kids in the long run. Teaching them to follow you sets a pattern for them to follow their heavenly Father and respect his ultimate authority.”

“When parents talk and respect each other—no fighting—kids learn from this,” adds my friend Kelly.

Friends also had practical suggestions. This is Bonnie’s advice: “Watch TV shows together, and discuss how adults and children are interacting. Before a new situation, discuss how to be respectful and practice how to address an employer or someone older. Talk about what ‘doctor,’ ‘your honor,’ ‘sir,’ and ‘ma’am’ mean. Back up teachers and coaches, and show how to communicate with them. Use respectful language about political people or anyone, especially when you disagree.”

An experienced teacher and parent, Andy wrote, “Too many parents want to be friends with their kids. I want to be friendly with my kids, but there are no blurred lines as to who is DAD. Set the expectation that they show respect for parents, teachers, seniors, and others. Model the actions you want to see them display. Show actions that don’t meet those expectations. And, finally, discipline them consistently when they don’t!”

In the respect discussion, leading by example comes up again and again. “Perhaps examine where we as parents tend to disrespect others in our speech. A good rule is that we can disagree about ideas, but we don’t attack people. Also, ‘take the words and actions of others in the kindest possible way,’” reminds Ruth (and Martin Luther).

Respecting adults may mean a more formal “Mr. Smith” instead of just “Jim” or adding “sir” or “ma’am” to polite responses. “Respect toward elders, or simply anyone, begins at home in an environment that prioritizes ‘love one another’ and ‘go into all nations,’” says Kelli, “leaving judgment in the hands of God.”

“Working on problem-solving strategies, like keeping calm under pressure, shows children that they can respect themselves and others while talking through a situation. Often adults are considered the enemy. When approached appropriately and with respect, no one needs to be an enemy,” she continues.

Another parent and teacher, Lynette, reminds us that there are several things not to do: “Yell at [children] to respect you. Tell them not to do something (like use bad language) and then do it yourself. Make a certain consequence for disrespect or breaking some rule and then let them talk you out of it. [Or] talk to them in a disrespectful way.” God would agree: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

Again, Kelli says, “Children and teens these days want to complain about difficult teachers, the other parents’ decisions, or the not-so-popular kid in their classes, but if we remind them in the moment—and by example in every other moment—that Christ came into the world to save sinners and that God loves and wants all to be saved, then we begin to teach the value of life in the proper light. It’s the way you treat someone, and it doesn’t matter who they are, what place they have in life, or what they can do for me—I show love and respect no matter what.”

Respect. It’s a way to show Christian love to God and others. It’s an attitude of humble service, and it’s outreach: “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). May God bless us as we respectfully seek to teach our children to respect God, our world, and everyone around us.

Special thanks to Andy Asmus, Kelly Barnhart, Ruth Gurgel, Amy Hering, Kristin Kleifgen, Kelli Liesener, Ray Schumacher, and Bonnie Walther for their invaluable assistance on this article.


By Ann M. Ponath, from Parents Crosslink © 2014 Northwestern Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Ann Ponath and her husband, David, are raising their four children, in Stillwater, Minnesota. Ann also serves as a teacher, music coordinator, and organist at Christ Lutheran Church and School, North St. Paul. In her free time, she teaches piano lessons, writes, and does the laundry.

Image by George Hodan is licensed under CC0 1.0.

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