Have you ever been disrespected by someone? Of course, we all have. Did it make you want to open up your heart, be vulnerable, and share your problems and concerns with that person? The obvious answer is, No. More than likely, you never wanted to tell that person anything important again. If you don’t want to open up to a person who treats you with disrespect, then neither will your kids. So if you decide to disrespect your children, you have to give up the notion that you’ll be close to them.

Respecting your kids starts when they’re very young. Even though smaller children are still developing cognitively, that doesn’t mean they don’t experience emotional distress or abuse. Their “feeling” brains are fully intact though they may not have the words to express themselves. Deep down inside, kids know that it doesn’t feel good when you snarl at them, ridicule them, or put them down–they remember the feeling. If disrespectful tendencies persist, those emotions will pile up inside, leaving only feelings of distrust for the future.

In relationships, respect is a useless concept unless it is mutual. I would have no reason to think my kids should continue to revere me as their mother if I didn’t esteem and honor them as my daughters. So be thoughtful before you spew out words that could hurt their spirits or damage their self-esteem. Bite your tongue, count to ten, or place your hand over your mouth—whatever it takes to prevent yourself from jumping impulsively into saying the wrong thing. Young children feel the sting of judgment, criticism and scorn as quickly as older kids.

The younger years are your opportunity to gain trust from your children; they are the times your kids are learning whether you’re safe to talk to, or not. If you treat them with respect and create an environment where you let them know how much you love to hear their thoughts and ideas, they’ll continue to share with you when they’re older. But if you begin a pattern of ignoring them or negating them when they’re little, you’re setting yourself up to have a closed down, unreceptive—even rebellious teenager.

In order to build a foundation for connection and continued closeness as your children grow older, lay the groundwork early. Set the patterns for mutual respect, create a positive environment, and practice open communication.

Here are some tips:

  • Put down what you’re doing and look at them when they talk to you
  • Talk with them, not at them
  • Listen to their feelings, not just the words they say
  • Treat their problems like they are serious—because to them, they are
  • Check in with them again to see how they’re handling a problem you’ve already talked about—to let them know you really care
  • Set aside time to be with each child individually
  • Tell them how valuable and important they are to you
  • Talk with them with politeness, sensitivity, courtesy and consideration

You are one of the most influential people in your children’s lives. When you show them respect, it builds their self-esteem and grows their confidence that they can achieve. When you afford them dignity, it lets them know they’re valuable and empowers them to make healthy decisions for themselves. These are the principles that develop good relationships between you and your kids and make them want to ask for your help, listen to your advice, and accept your guidance. These are the principles that bring joy, peace, and fun into your family.

By: Joanne Stern, PhD.  Author of: “Parenting Is a Contact Sport: 8 Ways to Stay Connected to Your kids for Life.”