getting to the heart of the matter
It was a sunny April afternoon in Dayton, Ohio, with winter clearly behind us and the freshness of spring bursting all around. My twoyear- old son, Jacob, had been enjoying his chance to once again roll down the grass hill behind our small apartment. After our little human bowling ball had managed to secure grass stains over every square inch of his body, my wife, Lora, who was every bit of eight months pregnant with our second son, decided to take Jacob to his favorite restaurant, McDonald’s. What a mom!
When they arrived at the Golden Arches, Lora ordered a Chicken McNuggets Happy Meal for Jacob (and a Quarter Pounder with cheese and large fries for herself). As they sat down to eat, Jacob’s two-year-old brain became laser-beam focused on inhaling his meal as quickly as possible so he could get to the best part of McDonald’s: Playland.
The typical McDonald’s Playland comprises two main features: the ball pit and the tubes. While Jacob enjoyed diving into the ball pit as much as the next kid, his true love was the tubes. He loved crawling through the colorful kid-sized tunnels and cruising down the slide at the end. He especially enjoyed climbing up to the very highest spot in the tubes and looking through the clear plastic window. This was his refuge, his happy place. And this is where our story really begins.
On this particular outing, Jacob had been sitting comfortably at the highest spot in the tubes for some time when Lora determined that it was time to head home.
“Jacob, let’s go,” she called, as she had done on many other occasions. This time, however, Jacob just sat there smiling at her.
Thinking he hadn’t heard her, she hoisted her pregnant body up off the hard plastic chair that had been torturing her for the past twenty minutes and moved closer to the tubes. “Jacob, let’s go,” she called again.
Jacob just smiled and sat there.
Lora looked straight at her son with an expression that clearly said, Don’t you dare mess with a pregnant woman. “Jacob,” she called once more, firmly emphasizing each syllable, “come down here right now!”
Jacob’s face showed a growing determination. After he gradually slid back into his happy place, entirely out of view, the ugly reality dawned on Lora: Jacob had no intention of coming down. This had never happened before.
Lora mentally sifted through her limited options: Her husband was at work, none of her friends was nearby, and here she was, pregnant as could be.
Anyone who knows Lora knows exactly what she’d do in a situation like this. Without skipping a beat, she slid her shoes off, said, “Excuse me,” to a couple of wide-eyed kids, and began to squeeze herself, pregnant body and all, through the colorful winding plastic tubes that housed her son. I wish I could have seen the look of shock on his little face when Lora reached the top of the tubes. I don’t think he saw that one coming. Lora promptly escorted him to the exit slide and positioned him between her legs, and they slid down together. The parents who had been watching this escapade greeted them with a round of applause when they reached the bottom. Jacob’s reign as Tube King had come to an end.
The next time we went to McDonald’s, rather than letting Jacob enjoy some free time, we had him practice coming down from the tubes the first time he was called. Once he showed he would listen to his parents in Playland, his privilege of playing there returned.
Why Does Respect Matter?
Like most two-year-olds, Jacob had no idea what the word respect meant. However, even at his young age, he was taking his first steps toward learning to be respectful, which in this case meant listening to his mom at McDonald’s Playland.
Such lessons are a crucial part of the maturing process for every child because respect is the core of all successful relationships. Whether you’re dealing with issues of obedience, sibling arguments, behavior at school, friendship challenges, or any other parenting issue, helping your child make respectful choices lies at the heart of the matter.
However, instead of focusing on respect, we often focus our parenting efforts on teaching our children to be obedient. While obedience is important, respectful behavior goes far beyond obedience, positively shaping our children’s responses in a wide variety of situations, such as:
• Responding quickly and politely when Mom or Dad gives
instructions or makes a request
• Making comments and asking questions in a thoughtful and self-controlled way
• Expressing feelings without attacking other people or putting them down
• Being flexible when a situation doesn’t go as planned
Respect is an important part of family life because each person in a family is important. The Bible tells us that we are handmade by God, who knew all of our days before one of them came to be (see Psalm 139). You, your spouse, and each of your children are of utmost value to God. Each of you is also of utmost value to your family. Just as our bodies have different parts and each part is uniquely important, each person in your family plays a uniquely important role in making your family the close and special family God created it to be.
How do you treat a valuable piece of original artwork? Do you throw it around carelessly, not caring if it gets scuffed or damaged? Not at all. You hold it carefully and place it gently where you know it will be safe from harm. You take measures to protect that item because of its value to you. In other words, you treat it with a great deal of respect.
This is how God wants us to treat one another: as the priceless creations we are. In fact, Jesus said that the greatest two commandments are to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and to “love your neighbor as yourself ” (Matthew 22:37-39). The apostle Peter urges us to “show proper respect to everyone” (1 Peter 2:17). These verses tell us that because we are all God’s valuable handiwork, we need to treat our neighbors, and certainly our family members, with value and respect.
But, of course, we can’t simply set our loved ones and neighbors on the shelf as we would a piece of artwork. We want to treat them with value and respect during our daily interactions, and we want our children to learn to do the same.
So what does respect actually look like in the course of everyday life? Well, when it comes to your children, respect looks like Megan starting her homework the first time you ask (minus the huffing and puffing). It looks like Trevor sharing and taking turns when he invites friends over to play. It also looks like Emily being flexible when she misses out on a sleepover because of a previous family commitment.
Bottom line: You want your child to learn that being respectful to others in every situation is an important part of obeying God. The problem is that being respectful does not come naturally to most kids. They have to learn how to do it.
In my work as a child psychologist, I have the privilege of meeting all kinds of children, many of whom are wrestling with issues related to respect. One such child was Jimmy, a blond-haired, blue-eyed, freckle-faced tenyear- old whose parents knew they needed to make some changes.
During our first session, when I usually meet with just parents, John and Renee (Jimmy’s parents) sat on the overstuffed blue couch in my office and filled me in on the situation.
“What are your main concerns about Jimmy?” I asked, ready to start scribbling on my legal pad.
“Where do I begin?” Renee replied with a note of humor as she rolled her eyes.
“Just tell him what Jimmy does,” encouraged John.
“Well, it’s more what he doesn’t do,” Renee said. “He just doesn’t listen. When I ask him to do something, he either ignores me or just tells me he’s not going to do it. Not all the time, but often enough. And if I call him on it, watch out — it can be World War III. He yells and stomps up the stairs. He even hits his sister if she gets in his way.”
“He doesn’t always throw fits, but when he does, they’re big ones,” John added. “Sometimes it’s hard to even get him to go to his room for a time-out. It can be a huge battle.”
“What do you usually do then?” I asked.
Renee sighed. “We’ve tried everything. We’ve shouted, sent him to his room, taken privileges away, and grounded him. I can’t think of anything else to take away. Nothing seems to make any difference.”
Problem: Their old style of discipline wasn’t working.
Solution: They needed a new approach for teaching respectful behavior.
Can you relate to John and Renee’s frustration? If so, I have great news for you: It is possible to teach our kids to be respectful without resorting to desperate parenting tactics. But first we need to take a fresh look at our parenting approach. What is the best way to raise respectful kids?
Let’s answer that question by considering God’s divine guidance through the wisest man of his time, perhaps of all time: Solomon. He wrote one of the most significant parenting verses in all of Scripture: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
You may notice that Solomon did not tell us to discipline our kids in the way they should go. He said to train them in the way they should go. This is a very important distinction. The idea of training and teaching our children is woven throughout Scripture. In the first chapter of Proverbs, Solomon commanded, “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching” (Proverbs 1:8, emphasis added). Paul picked up the same theme when he advised, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4, emphasis added).
Our main role as a parent is that of a trainer, not a disciplinarian. Now, discipline is an important part of training, to be sure, but discipline is only one part of training; it’s not the whole enchilada. And, like John and Renee, many of us mistakenly focus too much on discipline, relying on negative consequences as our primary parenting tactic rather than teaching and motivating our children to be respectful. This is the biggest strategic mistake we can make. Not only does it take our time and energy away from other valuable training approaches, it also reduces our effectiveness in the long run.
My goal in this book is to help you bring out the best in your child by refocusing your parenting efforts on training your child to be respectful. You’re already familiar with sports coaches, business coaches, success coaches, and life coaches. Well, we’re adding a new one to the list: You’re going to become your child’s respect coach. Respectful Kids will serve as your coach’s handbook, complete with everything you need in order to help your child win at the game of respect. In the chapters to follow, you’ll learn how to put into action a step-by-step plan for teaching your child to handle any family situation respectfully. This plan incorporates three simple yet extremely effective training strategies to increase your child’s respectful behavior while simultaneously decreasing your child’s disrespectful behavior. And as you’ll see, two-thirds of our efforts will rely on training that takes place before the next problem rather than simply reacting to the problem when it happens.
Strategy One: Teach Respectful Behavior
Just as a coach teaches basketball skills to a child, you can teach your child the key skills of respectful behavior. This means you can teach your daughter to put her clothes away the first time you ask. That’s worth the price of this book right there. You can show your son how to ask his brother (without ripping his head off) to change the TV channel back. You can even teach your child how to cope with disappointment when someone else gets the last brownie. The key skills covered in the first part of Respectful Kids include teaching your kids how to:
• Listen and respond appropriately the first time
• Be flexible and respectful even in the face of disappointment
• Find a solution instead of just arguing about the problem
Like anything worthwhile, respectful behavior isn’t learned by osmosis. It requires deliberate, strategic effort. For example, my youngest son, Luke, just finished his first season of competitive fifth-grade basketball. He loved every minute of it, and he and his team had a great season, but they didn’t stumble onto success by accident. They experienced a winning season for two main reasons: They had good coaches, and they practiced.
We’ll take the same approach with your child. Chances are, one or more of your kids is involved in a sport or activity in which specific skills are developed over time. And no matter how talented your child may be at soccer, T-ball, baseball, basketball, gymnastics, football, hockey, dance, martial arts, music lessons, or whatever his favorite activity, the “P-word” inevitably crops up in his conversations with you and his coach or teacher.
“Practice makes perfect.”
“Everyone has to practice.”
“The only way to get better is through hard work and practice.”
No one doubts the truth of this when it comes to skills such as shooting a basketball or playing the piano, but what does that have to do with being respectful? Well, respect is also a skill, which means it’s developed the same way: through practice. Many of us have never thought of respectful behavior that way before.
Here comes the fun part: The more you practice respectful behavior with your child, the more skilled he will become at being respectful. The more skilled he becomes at being respectful in practice, the more easily and naturally he’ll draw on those skills in real life. And the more often he uses his new respectful skills in real life, the sooner those skills become a habit.
Do you see how it works? Just as you’ve seen your child’s skills improve at basketball, soccer, or gymnastics, his respectful behavior skills can improve the same way — only without the sweaty shorts.
Strategy Two: Turn On Respectful Behavior
As any good coach knows, a crucial aspect of training is to help your student experience the fun and excitement that comes from mastering a certain skill. A basketball coach wants each of her players to experience the thrill of making a great pass or sinking a game-winning shot. A classroom teacher wants each student to experience the imaginative joy that comes from reading a great book. When a child experiences the natural rewards of an activity, she becomes motivated to continue that activity on her own.
In the same way, you can turn on your child’s respectful behavior by helping her experience the positive results that naturally come from it. In the second part of this book, I’ll show you how to teach your child that respectful behavior turns on the positives, such as fun privileges and activities, enjoyable interactions with family and friends, and the inner satisfaction of knowing that she is obeying God in the way she treats others. Without bribing or doing anything illegal, you can help your child learn that treating others the way God tells us to is the fastest way to feel great and enjoy many fun privileges.
In short, you want your child to learn that being respectful is fun. No, that was not a misprint. Fun. And with a little practice, respectful behavior is really not that difficult. (I’ve had hundreds of kids actually tell me that.) When your child comes to the conclusion that being respectful is usually pretty easy and is often quite fun or, at the very least, leads to fun — you may want to sit down for this — she will actually want to choose respectful behavior. Who wouldn’t?
Strategy Three: Turn Off Disrespectful Behavior
Shocking as it may sound, when your child acts disrespectfully, it’s probably not an accident. Caught up in the moment, your child believes he has a chance to eke out an extra sixty seconds of TV time if he can stall and argue long enough when you ask him to turn it off. If he didn’t think that, he wouldn’t do it over and over again. In the privacy of my office, many certified world-class arguers have told me that this is exactly what they think. And as long as your child thinks disrespectful behavior will pay off, you can bet your bottom dollar he’ll give it his best shot.
We want to change all this. We want your child to truly believe that disrespectful behavior will never work out in his favor. We want to instill the certainty in his brain that disrespectful behavior will always have three consequences. First, it will work out bad, which means it will cancel out privileges and the fun that goes along with them. Second, it will work out bad, fast. Third, it will work out bad, fast, every time. Those are the three cardinal principles of negative consequences.
The Bible tells us, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). Only when your child truly believes that disrespectful behavior will work out bad, fast, every time will he be sufficiently motivated to make the extra effort to be respectful. While being respectful is usually not very difficult, occasionally it can require a little extra work or result in some level of inconvenience. However, this is the nitty-gritty fabric of real life, and God wants your child to learn to handle every situation, not just the easy ones, in a way that shows respect and consideration toward others.
In the third part of this book, I’ll show you how to turn disrespectful behavior into on-the-spot training opportunities and how to use negative consequences more effectively than ever before to decrease your child’s disrespectful behavior. We’ll also spend some time learning how to respond to disrespectful behavior the right way — building your child up rather than tearing him down — so that you’re building healthy family relationships along the way.
As you’ll remember, when we first met Jimmy’s family, John and Renee were worn out and eager for help. As Renee explained, even a simple request for her son’s help around the house could turn ugly in a nanosecond.
Renee: Jimmy, would you please help me empty the dishwasher?
Jimmy: No, I did it last time. I’m watching TV.
Renee: But Jimmy, your show is over now.
Jimmy: There’s another one coming on. It’s a new episode.
Renee: Jimmy, it will take only a minute. Please.
Jimmy: No. Make Shannon do it. She never does anything.
There’s no doubt about it: Jimmy was trying to get more TV time by arguing his way out of emptying the dishwasher. His disrespectful behavior had paid off enough times — perhaps because Renee was just too tired of arguing — that he had learned it was worth a shot.
But soon after their initial visit to my office, big changes started to unfold in Jimmy’s family. Instead of just focusing on discipline, John and Renee centered their efforts on teaching Jimmy to handle everyday situations in a flexible and respectful way. They found fun ways to practice the key skills of respectful behavior together, usually at bedtime, until the new behavior began to feel more natural to Jimmy. I also spent some time practicing with Jimmy and could see these new skills begin to take root.
Using the techniques that you’ll learn in this book, John and Renee helped Jimmy see the upside of respectful behavior by turning on the positives that would encourage him to make good choices. Jimmy clearly felt the impact of their efforts. John and Renee also learned how to respond effectively to Jimmy’s disrespectful behavior without resorting to shouts and threats. As a result, Jimmy ended up losing several valuable privileges, such as playing his video games and riding his skateboard. There were no fireworks from Mom and Dad — just disrespectful behavior working out bad, fast, every time. As you can imagine, Jimmy wasn’t happy about this at all, but it reinforced the reality that only respectful behavior could turn on the positives.
After a few difficult months of up-and-down behavior, Jimmy realized his disrespectful behavior wasn’t going to pay off like it had in the past. As John and Renee consistently applied the three key strategies for raising respectful kids, their family relationships and interactions were gradually transformed. Renee told me how delighted she was by one particular conversation:
Renee: Jimmy, would you help me empty the dishwasher?
Jimmy: Do I have to do it right now?
Renee: Yes, that would help me a lot.
Jimmy: (slight pause) Okay, I’m coming.
These results required a lot of work from both Jimmy and his parents, and the transformation didn’t happen overnight. It took close to six months for Jimmy’s behavior to become consistently more respectful, but as you can imagine, the big payoff was worth it.
The last time I saw Jimmy, he was sitting in my office with a big smile on his face.
Me: Well, Jimmy, how’s it going?
Jimmy: Real good.
Me: On a one-to-ten scale, with ten being best, how are you doing with being respectful at home?
Jimmy: About an eight.
Me: An eight? That’s awesome! You’ve been a seven or an eight for a while now. Good for you, pal. Let’s see what Mom thinks. Mom, how would you rate Jimmy’s respectful behavior?
Renee: (with a big smile) I’d have to agree. He’s been a seven or an eight overall. We have the occasional six, but some days are a ten. He’s doing great.
As we walked out of my office, Renee pulled me off to the side and told me she felt as if she had her son back. Things were not always perfect in their household, and Jimmy still had a bad day now and then (who doesn’t?), but John and Renee felt much more confident in their ability to respond to negative behavior when it popped up.
I’m sure both John and Renee would tell you that if Jimmy could learn to be respectful, your child can too. Yes, some kids are more strong-willed than others, and for them the learning process may take a little longer.1 But whatever your child’s temperament, the strategies in Respectful Kids will propel you and your child down the path toward having a more respectful family.
Are you ready to teach your child how to respond to life’s challenges in a respectful way? Are you ready to trade your child’s bad habits in for good ones? Are you ready for a more respectful family? Then let me show you how to turn on the respectful behavior and bring out the best in your child.
• Respectful behavior lies at the heart of successful relationships.
• Respect is a crucial part of your family life because every person in your family is important.
• Being respectful does not come naturally to most kids. They have to learn how to do it.
• You can teach your child the key skills of respectful behavior.
• Transformation won’t happen overnight, but the big payoff is worth the investment.
1. Read Proverbs 1:8-9, Proverbs 22:6, and Ephesians 6:4. Write out your “Top 5” list of lessons you want to teach your child.
2. Read Matthew 22:37-39 and Luke 6:31. How do you define respect in your family?
3. Name an area of life — such as academics, sports, or music — in which your child has benefited from practice. What do you think might change if you regularly help him practice respectful behavior?
4. What do you think about the idea of teaching your kids that respectful behavior leads to fun? List a few natural benefits of respectful behavior.
5. How do you feel when someone makes a positive remark about your respectful behavior? What impact does that encouragement have on you?
6. List the three main discipline approaches you usually rely on. Rate their effectiveness on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most effective. Explain why you think each approach is effective or ineffective.
7. Describe a recent scenario in which your child responded disrespectfully. Now describe how you’d like to see that same scenario play out in the future.
8. Honesty time: If your discipline efforts were videotaped for an entire week, what percentage of them would you not want to be aired on the next Oprah show? Explain your answer.