Raising children with dignity and respect

Young boys soccer team high fiving coach

Unaltered image. Woodleywonderworks, Flickr. CC license.

What are the most important aspects of raising healthy children?

As a parent, teacher, daughter, sister and friend, two words stand out to me: dignity and respect. This message was brought to the forefront as I walked the path of terminal illness with my husband. After his diagnosis with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) in January 2004, I learned that these two simple words are the foundation of everything we teach in life.

If our children are to grow into strong and compassionate adults, they must witness the role that these words play in our lives, as acted out by their parents.

How do you teach a child dignity?

Dignity is defined as “a state of being valued, worthy and honored.” (Oxford Dictionary, 2000) We are raising the most valuable resource on this earth: new human beings. We bring them into this world with our own dreams, wants and needs. In reality, our children must feel valued to discover their own dreams, wants and needs. As a parent, this is a fine balance. The influence of our life is infinitely connected to the lives of our children.

Within two years, three of the most influential men in my life died: my father, my husband and my brother.

My father was extremely faithful and raised each of his six children to never doubt our value. He challenged our thinking, but quietly supported our choices. He taught us the basic value of feeling special. I learned how to give to others through his devotion to volunteering. He demonstrated that treating all people with dignity, no matter what the circumstance, was the only way to live life.

“I met the nicest person today …” are words stay dear to my heart when I think of my husband. He always saw the best in others. He understood that the value of each person is precious. Nothing pleased him more than a Sunday dinner table surrounded by family and friends. He was a quiet man and an endless dreamer. I felt valued throughout our life together.

Finally, my brother suffered from severe mental illness his whole life. From him, I learned that no matter how busy and difficult life can get, we need to be there for each other. As a young child, I understood that although we may look and act different, the value of who we are remains unchanged.

How do we teach children respect?

Respect is closely connected to dignity. As a verb, “respect” moves dignity into action. Teaching mutual respect to our children is filled with conflict. Think about the conversations they overhear where you nag, reject, criticize or share prejudices. Think about the influences of the television they watch. As parents we fall into the trap of thinking that the more we say, the more our children will learn. However I’ve learned that it’s most often the less we say and the more we act on that are the best methods for teaching our children.

Disciplining

When disciplining, how closely are your words connected to your actions? Do you follow through with consequences or just threaten with words? When this happens, what level of respect are you demonstrating to your child? Do you feel respected by your child? It’s the spiraling effect of these conversations that turn ugly.

A wonderful book, Crucial Conversations states, “… when stakes are high, opinions vary and emotions are strong, conversation becomes crucial.” If mutual respect is the foundation of our problem solving, we will handle these situations by first understanding who we are. We can then listen to the other person’s perception. If we mutually respect each other, there is a safe environment to resolve the problem.

As a parent, if you take respect out of discipline, the child’s self-esteem is destroyed. Name calling, teasing and sarcasm are all indicators of the lack of mutual respect. Our children can become bullies.

How can we get back to a path of mutual respect?

We all have bad days or moments of bad behavior. First, apologize and admit you made a mistake. Your children learn we all have weaknesses.

When your intention is misinterpreted, it’s helpful to use contrasting a don’t/do statement. Describe what you don’t want and then what you do want. For example, you might say, “I don’t want you to spoil your dinner by eating a cookie now, but I do want you to have a cookie. So you can have one for dessert after a healthy dinner.”

My mission is to share the idea that if we live our daily lives with dignity and respect, we will create a world of acceptance. We will all be more understanding and considerate. We will teach our children that the value of every living thing is connected to the life we lead. Place these two words — “dignity” and “respect” — on your refrigerator and see how they will change your relationships and purpose in life.

– Beth Frydlewicz, MPA, System Director, Volunteer Services, Beaumont Health

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