Respect is not just the title of a Motown song. Aretha Franklin may have settled for “just a little bit,” but even more is possible when taking the right approach. Respect is not given away freely, however — respect must be earned. If your actions or your words or your life’s witness is not worthy of respect, you can demand respect from now until Doomsday, but you will never get respect. The only way to get respect is to be worthy of it — then it comes automatically.
If you show respect to those around you, specifically to your students, you will likely get respect in return. If you despise those around you by constantly demanding, whining, and complaining to or about them, no amount of demanding, whining, or complaining will earn that respect for you. Show respect to those actions worthy of respect — praising what can be praised and looking for virtue and goodness in the unexpected areas of life. Remember the old adage of attracting more flies with honey than with vinegar.
I treated my children the way I wanted to be treated — I said “please” and “thank you” to them just as I would have said to another adult. Hearing it over and over impressed the routine into their brains, and they were soon saying “the magic words” as well, needing only a few gentle reminders and earning encouraging praise. One day I was babysitting a neighbor’s sons after school, and the older boy had gone across the street (with permission) to play with the other neighborhood children. As I called to him out my front door and asked him to “please come home now,” another Mom heard me from her front yard. “Boy, I can sure tell he’s not really your kid!” was her response. “Nobody would say ‘please’ to their own kids!” I was shocked. I had always asked my own children to “please do” things. Another day I babysat that woman’s daughter for a few hours and learned first-hand that there was a severe lack of both manners and respect in their home.
One rule I set up in our home was that “a closed door is considered to be a locked door,” meaning that anyone desiring privacy could close his bedroom door and know that he had a sanctuary to himself. I admit that the reason behind it was that our house is old and has settled oddly, making bedroom doors almost impossible to latch. However, the lesson in respect was taught as I knocked on my children’s doors and waited for permission to enter their space. They eventually reciprocated by knocking on each other’s doors before entering. (Be patient on this one — the youngest child seems to experience the least personal privacy and takes the longest to learn how to respect it.)
We belonged to several homeschool support groups over the years, and participated in many activities: field trips, co-op classes and sports, family potlucks, business meetings — a wide variety of situations in which to observe interpersonal relationships. From those encounters, it became easy to distinguish which families exercised respect toward each other. The parents who shouted and demanded attention were also the ones who showed no respect to anyone else, adult or child, family or friend. The students in the group had no respect for those adults — not surprisingly. The adults who were well respected by the students were those who modeled respect to everyone, asking with a “please,” sharing smiles and encouraging words, and not barking orders like a drill sergeant.
If you have recently removed your children from an institutional school setting (or would like to), you probably are experiencing problems with respect. Even if you have been homeschooling for several years, if you currently find yourself surrounded by family members who show no respect to each other, including yourself, you do have a long, slow climb ahead of you — but this mountain can be mastered. You must lead by example, since yours is the behavior you have the most direct influence on. Once you have begun to change your own responses, then you will have the grounds on which to enforce the change in others as well.
Begin with a complete change in your own attitude: recognize that the only direction to take is up and out of this hole that you have dug yourselves into. Follow that with a sincere apology to the rest of your family — spouse and children. Apologize to them for having been a poor example, explain to them why you feel a change in everyone’s behavior is necessary, and give them a few examples of what you will be doing to start changing your own outlook — then follow through on your own list. Either this radical, 180-degree shift will leave your loved ones open-mouthed with shock and an instant dose of newfound respect, or they will be rolling on the floor in convulsive laughter, wiping the tears from their cheeks, and gasping for breath. If the latter scenario happens, calmly walk away, steeling yourself with new resolve, and work all the harder to prove how seriously you are taking this — your family will be won over only through solid, physical evidence. Slip-ups and setbacks will inevitably occur, but asking your family for their forgiveness when you fail, and graciously extending your forgiveness to them for their failures will keep everyone headed in the desired direction.
From time to time, I have found myself in head-to-head disagreements with I-demand-your-respect administrative-types, whether in homeschooling associations or fill-in-the-blank-other groups. When I have been confronted with my adversaries in heated debates, my level of respect for them sinks in proportion to their stubbornness and refusal to listen to any opposing views. Once, however, several months after I had withdrawn my membership from a certain group over a particularly nasty debacle, a member of the opposing side showed up at my front door, genuinely humbled, asking for my forgiveness. Let me tell you — my respect for that person was instantly renewed — and to sky-high proportions! Our friendship was restored immediately, without reserve or second thoughts.
A similar transformation will take place between family members — when sincerity is present. Consider what it would take to earn your respect in a situation between adults, and then apply that to your relationships with your students. Children can sense genuineness and will never be fooled by fakery. For this endeavor to succeed, you must be steadfast and diligent in your attempts to earn their respect. When I obviously blew it as a teacher, I apologized for my ignorance and for my shortcomings and was always rewarded with another chance from my students. When my lessons became tedious or boring, I asked my students for their input and always received wonderful suggestions. When I felt I was not getting proper respect, I made it clear that I knew I was not the final authority on how-to-homeschool, and we all benefited from the sharing of thoughts and ideas and taking second looks (and thirds and fourths…) at what we wanted to accomplish and discussing how we would like to get there.
Whether you are deeply embedded in a pattern of being disrespectful to those you love or you just want to establish good habits before the bad ones take hold, be assured that one person’s attitude is contagious. Be aware of what comes out of your own mouth, monitor what you allow to be said (and done) by others in your household, and set your course for mutual respect. I say again, the only way to get respect is to be worthy of it. Respect is not given away; respect must be earned.
One more, very important way of showing respect is done by not insisting that your activity is the only important activity. Suppose my son is enjoying a video game during his free time, but the kitchen trashcan is overflowing. Tomorrow is trash collection day, and emptying the trash is my son’s responsibility. I go to the room where my son is playing his game and watch the screen for a few seconds to see how intense the action is. When it appears to be at an appropriate lull, I ask him if he can pause the game for a moment. Once the game has been paused, I will kindly remind him of his trash duty, add that it is overflowing now, and finish with my thanks in advance for completing the job. I also add any conditions of whether the job must be done immediately, or if it can wait until he has finished playing the game — with the caveat that the chore must be accomplished before supper or before bedtime, etc.
Allowing my child to finish the activity he is currently involved with sends the message that I see his time as important, too, not just my time. I reap the rewards of this when my children come to me for a favor: they will specify whether they need the assistance immediately or if it can wait a few minutes or a few days. If I were consistently interrupting my children’s activities, demanding that they drop everything to do my bidding, they would soon develop great resentment towards me, knowing that I view them as mere slaves. When I respect their efforts, they respect those efforts as well, and it shows in the results.