Sometimes respect may feel like a concept absent from your kid's brain, at least in so far as that respect might be directed toward you. You try to strike a balance between disciplinarian and nurturing parent, but it's hard to tell if it has any impact, especially since your child is unlikely to suddenly run up and verbalize just how much they listen and look up to you. Whether they're toddlers or teens, most children don't tend to volunteer that message. So how can you tell if your child respects you?
It's not as black and white as whether or not your child has all As on a report card, a clean room, or a lack of tantrums. (After all, who's to say that a child who manifests those things is doing so out of respect for you? She could just like school.) Children are as complex as adults. Even deciphering the intention behind my 2-year-old son's behavior isn't as simple as you might think. And as children get older and begin to approach young adulthood, what your child thinks of you and whether he or she looks up to you doesn't necessarily become clearer. Before you fall down the rabbit hole of parenting comment boards and endless Google searches, here are some research-based signs that your child respects you.
1. Communication Is Consistent
Even if your child isn't talking to you about serious issues, just the fact that they feel comfortable enough to come to you with any concern at all is a good indication that respect is there. Keeping clear and open channels of dialogue between you and your child is not only a sign they respect you, but it's a wonderful trait for them to have as they grow.
At the North Carolina Parenting Education Network (NCPE)'s spring 2015 conference, Meg Akabas, certified parenting educator and author of 52 Weeks of Parenting Wisdom: Effective Strategies for Raising Happy, Responsible Kids, noted that attentive listening and thoughtful communication go hand in hand with the behavior of a respectful child. Akabas told the NCPE, "Strive to model respectful behavior at all times. This means giving attention and listening carefully."
2. Self-Respect Is Present
In looking for signs that your child respects you, you may miss one of the biggest indicators of all. If your child actually demonstrates self-respect, that implies they understand the concept of valuing the worth in both others and themselves.
Dr. Jim Taylor, adjunct psychology professor at the University of San Francisco, wrote in Psychology Today that children who treat themselves well are much more likely to show that same kind of respect to both their peers and their parents. "Children who have self-respect treat themselves well," Taylor wrote. "They're less likely to do harmful things, make good choices, ... and respect you and other influential adults."
3. They Mind Their Ps & Qs
This may seem a bit old-fashioned or even somewhat obvious, but if your child exhibits typical good manners, like saying "please" and "thank you," that means they respect you on multiple levels. Not only does that mean they've been listening to your instructions, but they have fully incorporated those directions in to their daily social interactions.
Psychotherapist Ingrid Schweiger, Ph.D told Parents that something as simple as saying "please" or "thank you" demonstrates that your child understands mutual exchange, it diminishes entitlement, and shows they know the benefits respectful behavior can bring. Shweiger said, "When kids say 'thanks' after something is given to them, they acknowledge that there's a give-and-take ... they eventually learn not to expect the world on a silver platter."
4. They Seek Praise
Again, you might think that this is a no-brainer or that a child seeking out praise could even be a negative thing. Neither is the case. If your child looks to you for praise whenever they behave well, then that implies they know that a respectful attitude is better than a rude one. And, the fact that they want to receive the praise from you specifically means they care deeply about what you think of them.
Dr. Kenneth Barish wrote in Psychology Today that praise-seeking isn't necessarily a nagging or negative trait in children, like some believe. Rather,
Reward-based behavioral programs are highly effective in helping arrest vicious cycles of defiance in parent-child relationships. Increased cooperation from children relieves parents, allowing them to engage more positively in other ways with their children.
If your child is seeking reward or praise, it's arguably because they have learned that their respectful behavior is the best way to get attention from their parents.
5. Copycatting Is On The Rise
It's typical for toddlers and young children to imitate people, especially their parents with whom they spend the most time. Copycat behavior can seem silly at best or annoying at its worst, but it's actually a very healthy and productive exercise for your child when it comes to respect.
According to The Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center, when a child models their behavior after that of their parent, they are attempting to exhibit the kind of appropriate and respectful actions that they see are valued among adults.
6. They Don't Act In Terms Of Ultimatums
Setting black and white boundaries of discipline for your children can backfire because it is virtually impossible for parents to consistently follow through on absolute-style punishments. So if your child interacts and communicates without using ultimatum-type behavior, that's one of the ways you can tell that they can comprehend healthy, balanced discipline and appreciate and respect you for that.
Iben Sandahl, a licensed narrative psychotherapist, MPF, and author of the acclaimed parenting book, The Danish Way, told Mother magazine that children who are raised by parents who do not employ an ultimatum-based system of discipline are much more inclined to both value and exhibit respect as opposed to fear or apathy. Sandahl said, "Teach respect, be respectful, and you will be respected ... values should ultimately be to maintain an atmosphere of respect, not fear." So if your child is refraining from threats or ultimatums, that's a strong indicator that they truly understand the value and importance of being respectful.
7. They Exhibit Empathy
Compassion can be one of the hardest things for a parent to teach their child, since it's not something that can be easily put into age-appropriate words. In fact, many experts agree that empathy is most successfully learned by children when they see their parents exhibit that kind of behavior themselves. So if your child shows concern, empathy, and a sense of civility towards others, then that's a trademark of a respectful child.
Marilyn Price-Mitchell, Ph.D., a Fellow at the Institute for Social Innovation at Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, wrote on Psychology Today that civility is a necessary component for raising a respectful, empathetic, and socially-aware child. Price-Mitchell explained, "The psychological elements of civility include awareness, self-control, empathy, and respect. Ways children learn civility from adults: Think about the impact of our words and actions on others first ... Treat children and adults with the respect that we expect them to treat others."