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Cultivating respect

  • Showing respect towards elders is a much valued virtue in our society.

Showing respect towards elders is a much valued virtue in our society. As soon as a child learns to speak, we begin to teach them to address older people as Uncles and Aunties or their equivalent in the child's mother tongue. Some families may observe these rules more strictly than others. Non-compliance would be considered poor upbringing and an embarrassment to the parents.

The training ground for such an attitude is the home. A child has to learn to respect his parents and other members of the family prior to cultivating respect beyond the home. But parents are finding the task of teaching such values to their children increasingly difficult.

Permissive parenting, resulting in eroding of parental authority, can be confusing to both parents and children. Parents do not exercise their authority nor draw boundaries for their children; thus letting children, instead of parents rule the home.

On the other hand, some parents who grow up with overly strict parenting and were not allowed any expression of negative feelings may over-compensate by being too liberal with their children.

Parents need to be aware that both extremes do not make for effective parenting. Giving free rein to their emotions will not help children grow up to be emotionally mature adults. Neither will the repressing of their emotions. Children should be encouraged to express their frustration, even resentment and anger in a "respectful manner".

Question: You have described the nature of willfully defiant behavior and how parents should handle it. But does all unpleasant behavior result from rebellion and disobedience?

No. Defiance can be very different in origin from the "challenging" response I've been describing. A child's negativism may be caused by frustration, disappointment, fatigue, illness, or rejection and therefore must be interpreted as a warning signal to be heeded. Perhaps the toughest task in parenthood is to recognize the difference between these behavioral messages. A child's resistant behavior always contains a message to his parents, which they must decode before responding.

For example, a disobedient youngster may be saying, "I feel unloved now that I'm stuck with that screaming baby brother. Mom used to care for me; now nobody wants me. I hate everybody." When this kind of message underlies the defiance, the parents should move quickly to pacify its cause. The art of good parenthood, then, revolves around the interpretation of behavior.

Question: My six-year-old has suddenly become disrespectful in her manner at home. She told me to "buzz off" when I asked her to do her homework, and she calls me names when she gets angry. I feel it is important to permit this emotional outlet, so I haven't tried to suppress it. Do you agree?

I'm afraid I don't. Your daughter is aware of her sudden defiance, and she's waiting to see how far you will let her go. If you don't discourage disrespectful behavior now, you can expect some wild experiences during the adolescent years to come.

With regard to your concern about emotional ventilation, you are right in saying your daughter needs to express her anger. She should be free to say anything to you provided it is said in a respectful manner. It is acceptable to say, "I think you love my brother more than me," or "You weren't fair with me, Mommy."

There is a thin line between what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior at this point. The child's expression of strong frustration, even resentment and anger, should be encouraged if it exists. You certainly don't want her to bottle it inside. On the other hand, you should not permit your daughter to resort to name-calling and open rebellion. "Mom, you hurt my feelings in front of my friends" is an acceptable statement. "You stupid idiot, why didn't you shut up when my friends were here?!" is obviously unacceptable.

If approached rationally, as described in the first statement, it would be wise for the mother to sit down and try to understand the child's viewpoint. She should be big enough to apologize to the child if she was wrong. If she feels she was right, however, she should calmly explain why she reacted as she did and tell the child how he or she can avoid a collision next time. It is possible to ventilate feelings without sacrificing parental respect, and the child should be taught how to do it. This communicative tool will be very useful later in life, especially in a possible future marriage.

Question: I could use some advice about a minor problem we're having. Alex, my six-year-old son, loves to use silly names whenever he speaks to my husband and me. This past week it's been "You big hot dog." Nearly every time he sees me now he says, "Hi, Hot Dog." Before that it was "Dummy," then "Monkey" (after he studied M for Monkey in school). I know it's silly and it's not a huge problem, but it gets so annoying after such a long time. He's been doing this for a year now. How can we get him to talk to us with more respect, calling us Mom or Dad instead of Hot Dog and Monkey?

Ordinarily, it would not be a big deal for a child to use a playful name for his parent. But that isn't what appears to be happening with Alex. It sounds more like a classic power game to me. And contrary to what you said, it is not so insignificant. Your son is continuing to do something that he knows is irritating to you and your husband, yet you are unable to stop him. That is the issue. He has been using humor as a tactic of defiance for a full year.

It is time for you to sit down and have a quiet little talk with young Alex. Tell him that he is being disrespectful and that the next time he calls either you or his father a name of any kind, he will be punished. You must then be prepared to deliver on the promise, because he will continue to challenge you until it ceases to be fun. That's the way he is made. If that response never comes, his insults will probably become more pronounced. Appeasement for a strong-willed child is an invitation to warfare. This is the time to deal with it.

This article was written by Focus on the Family Malaysia and the Questions and Answers are extracted from "Complete Family and Marriage Home Reference Guide" with permission. For more information, please contact:

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