Talking to your Children about Respect

May 07, 2019

Family violence can start with disrespect. Without realising it, adults can sometimes make excuses for disrespectful behaviours in children and young people. To break the cycle of family violence we need to understand how these excuses can lead to disrespect and gender inequality.

Examples of disrespectful behaviour include:

  • Putting someone under pressure to do something they do not want to do
  • Using power to control, abuse or harm someone
  • Treating someone as though they are not as important as you
  • Treating someone differently because of their gender, religion, culture, sexuality or skin colour
  • Dismissing someone’s beliefs, or how they feel about something

Adults sometimes say or do things that can unintentionally make young people believe there are circumstances where disrespectful behaviours are okay. It’s important to be aware of what we say to our children, as parents often have the greatest potential to shape positive attitudes.

Before talking with our children about disrespect, it’s important to take a moment of honest self-reflection. We may be surprised to recognise the ways that we downplay disrespectful or aggressive behaviour. This can include dismissing aggression as just ‘part of being a boy’ or blaming girls for being treated with disrespect. Downplaying disrespectful behaviour normalises and excuses it.

When discussing these issues with children:

Be ready to talk early and often

Try to take advantage of opportunities in everyday situations to talk about respectful behaviour. If you can link the conversations to real-life examples or issues in your child’s life, it will become normal. This way ‘difficult’ conversations become easier and your children know where you stand and that they can talk to you.

Think of examples

When discussing disrespectful behaviours use examples from real life events, such as news stories to illustrate your point.

Be Honest

Acknowledge that you may not have all the answers, and that the topics of respect and disrespect aren’t simple issues. Highlight the importance of treating yourself and others with respect. Reinforce that excusing disrespectful behaviour can be very damaging.

Ask questions

Ask your children how they feel and what they think during these conversations. You can then discuss their responses, alleviate any concerns and educate them on your point of view.

See it their way

Children are often surrounded by many different and conflicting messages, from their family, their peer group, and from the media. This can make it difficult for them to know how to react in different situations. You can help them by supporting them and talking regularly about the issues they face.

Listen to them

Remember that conversations are two-way interactions. Make sure that you are listening to them as what they tell you will give you insight into the way they think and feel. As a rule, try to listen more than you talk.

Teach by example

Children often model their behaviour on the behaviour and attitudes of their parents. It’s important to think about how your children may interpret your actions and attitudes. While nobody is perfect, it’s important to be an honest and consistent role model for them. This includes being respectful in all your relationships.

When to get involved

Talk to your children about how to handle situations themselves. If you feel that you need to intervene, speak to your child about this first and do what you feel is necessary. While children may not always want you to get involved, it is important to intervene is your child is at risk of harm.