“Derech Eretz Kadma L’Torah.”
We often hear parents lamenting that “kids are so disrespectful these days!” It might be true, but it doesn’t help to complain. And telling the kids that they are disrespectful actually reinforces the negative behavior.
We just read the Aseret Hadibros, the 10 commandments, and we see that Kibud Av Ve’em (honoring one’s father and mother) is one of the most important mitzvot (commandments). Children need to show respect for their parents–not for the parents’ honor, but because it helps kids feel secure and creates a sense of stability for them. They need us to be larger than life for their own emotional health.
We live in a time where we do not see so much respectful behavior around us. So our jobs as parents, our responsibility to teach kids to be respectful to us is that much harder. It’s not only about the challenge of getting them to comply; it’s also living in a culture that makes us reluctant to seek that respect. But we need to persevere, remembering that we’re doing it for our children’s benefit. We need to spend time teaching our kids respect. We need to teach them to show us derech eretz and Kibud Av Ve’em.
How can we do that? One simple way is to use the phrases, Kibud Av Ve’em, derech eretz and just the word “respect” liberally and often. And the best time to use these words is when are children are actually exhibiting that behavior.
That is, instead of focusing on the times our children are disrespectful, we need to be on the lookout for any little act of respect on their part. Then we can point it out to them and praise them. When we only focus on their positive behavior we reinforce it. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true.
Here are some examples of positive reinforcement:
“You got into bed right when I told you to; that showed derech eretz” (even if she was exhausted!).
“I asked you to move to the chair so that I could sit on the couch and you did. That was Kibud Av Ve’em.“
“You didn’t complain when I asked you to get off the computer–that was respectful behavior” (even if he got up slowly and is visibly annoyed).
Focusing on and emphasizing our children’s positive and respectful behavior changes our perspective and generates a tremendous feeling of peace in our home. It truly teaches kids what respect is all about. Aside from the over message, it sends a strong silent message: You are really modeling to your children (without lecturing) how to focus on people’s positive behavior, which is respect and derech eretz at its best. This is a powerful skill, one that they can use successfully in all of life’s situations.
Adina Soclof, MS. CCC-SLP, works as a Parent Educator for Bellefaire Jewish Children’s Bureau facilitating How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk workshops as well as workshops based on Siblings Without Rivalry. Adina also runs parentingsimply.com.