Be Respectful and Break It Down


There is an attribute that lubricates relationships and mechanics of home and classroom. It allows learning to flourish and exhausting power battles to diminish. The word itself sounds austere, yet it shows up in small ways, multiple times in a single day. The attribute?


We value respect. Each child needs it to serve God and people well, yet how do we teach and train respect?

It is helpful to break these large areas of training into smaller bits. Here are three areas in training respect that have significant payoffs.

1. Always ask an adult—never command.

“Please, sharpen my pencil.”

“Check this for me, please.”

While these are polite commands, there are three assumptions happening here.

First, there is an assumption of expected service. The child assumes the adult to have the time to help. Teaching children to ask services from adults forms in them an understanding that services are a gift. They should never assume that someone has the time or interest but instead ask if they do.

Second, the child assumes who is responsible for the task. A command puts the responsibility of a task on a specific person. A child who says, “Get me some paint,” has placed the responsibility of that job on the adult. By asking, rather than commanding, the child is not presuming it is the adult’s responsibility but allows room for it to be someone else’s, maybe their own.

Third, the child is assuming the power to command. Requesting help or items reminds the child they live in a hierarchy of power. We as adults also have people in our lives to whom it would be out of place to give a command: God, elderly, peers, parents, school board, administration, and policemen. It is amusing when a three-year-old gives instruction to an adult, but we blush for the teenager or adult who has not learned the skill.

How can we train this? When they give a command, simply ask them to rephrase as a request. All it takes is sharp ears and a three seconds.

2. A respectful person responds verbally.

A head nod, staring at the desk, breezing past the teacher’s goodbye – why does this behavior not suffice?

Responding verbally is an act of the will. Can you remember when you were a teen struggling to respond to your parent’s conversation or question because you were standing up inside? I do. There is something in the act of uttering words to another person that bends your will to them in a way that a head nod or a grunt can’t do.

Responding verbally is polite. A child may have a heart of respect, but if they do not have the social skill to respond when spoken to, they will appear disrespectful. I noticed a group of students in the library restocking their book stash and I asked if they had found any good ones. They were a bit nervous and quiet natured, so they chose to ignore my question and kept talking among themselves. I don’t doubt their heart, but this type of response is a breach in respectful social decorum. A simple “Yes, ma’am,” and a shy smile would have been perfect.

How can we build this skill?

Prep them for the experience. Before I take my crew on a field trip we talk about what the interactions will look like on this outing. I give them tips on how to respond in the setting.

Show them how. At the beginning of a school year I have a student help me demonstrate how to enter the classroom in the morning. Watching me ignore their classmate’s greeting at the door opens their eyes. Every town run with your child is a chance for them to observe and learn from you skills of responding and carrying conversations.

Field trips, church events, guests over for dinner, town runs—so many chances to hone the skill of respect!

3. A respectful person corrects carefully.

We make mistakes, lots of them. We welcome children’s input, yet children too free to correct adults can lead to nitpicking, a false sense of their own perfection, and an unhealthy view of making mistakes.

First, show them what areas validate correction.

In the classroom if my mistakes lead to confusion, I want them to let me know. If everyone knows what I meant to say, no correction is needed. If I write a math fact incorrectly or misspell a word, I welcome correction. This begins to show the difference between nitpicking and giving valuable input.

Second, shape the attitude in which they correct.

In the classroom, I found thanking them for catching errors normalizes mistakes and makes the students less aggressive.

I listen for prime examples of students correcting me and publically note it. “Thank you for catching that, and I also appreciate how you pointed it out.” Do a few rounds of this and most students get it.

To those who remain aggressive, giving them phrases to use may help. When correcting someone say, “I think you meant….” “I thought that…..” After using phrases like this for a while, they usually can transfer to saying “It its spelled with ee not ea,” in a tone that has no arrogance or disrespect.

Respect. It’s a heart issue. We cannot implant it into their life as easily as we can a math fact. We are just one of the tools of the Holy Spirit. May the gift of respect allow joy and learning to thrive in our home and classrooms!

Pass it on:

Related Items

Leave a Reply


Leave Feedback