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  • Writer's pictureRaelene Ostberg, M.Ed.

Teaching Kids to be Respectful: Caregiving that Gets the Respect You Deserve.

Updated: Jan 30

Welcome back for part 2 of 3

Naptime Nugget #54:

Teaching Kids to be Respectful: Caregiving that Gets the Respect You Deserve. In our last video we talked all about disrespectful children and where they come from!? In it, we have identified some common reasons kids may be disrespectful.

Now the question is, how can we teach kids to behave with respect?

First, it helps to think about what respect really means! A few words for respect...

Esteem - Regard - Honor - To care for - To heed

To regard as worthy of special consideration.

A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities or achievements.

So, the question is, can you force a child to respect you? Absolutely not!

Respect is something that is given freely. Respect given through force is not respect, it is obedience. Obedience comes through pressure and takes the sacrifice of one's will. I lose; you win. And, what human wants to lose?

In order to take the drama out of discipline and gain gleeful cooperation, it will be important for caregivers to teach kids how to be respectful and why being respectful is important. The goal is to have the young children in your life want to be respectful. In order to do this, a child must learn what respectful means in each unique setting they encounter. It will take time and oodles of patience from the adults in their lives. It will also take great role models... adults who not only expect respect, but show respect to their fellow humans - including the young humans we care for. The good news? Once taught, the child will start to show more respectful behavior now only toward the adult, but other children as well as to themselves.

Read on to find out information about the caregiving styles identified, after 40 years of studies, to get the results that foster respect in young children. Or, watch the video below! One thing is very clear, what you do makes a difference!

When looking at the research of caregiving styles, we can see that there are many different approaches one could use... and all are not equal. Parents and other caregivers will not just use one approach, but will tend toward one in predictive patterns. This will be based on individual experiences, education, values, and caregiving goals.

The center vertical line in the image above is the amount of limits/rules you set; high is a lot of strict rules and low is that there are very few rules. While the center horizontal line shows the amount of love and support given to a child.

When broken down the four caregiving styles include:

Uninvolved - Low love/support and few rules. In the care provider's decision-making process on how to set limits and what kind of limits they will set for a child, there will be few rules and no love involved. This style has the worst outcomes for children and is not beneficial to any child. In order to learn, children need adult involvement.

Authoritarian - Low love/support and many strict rules. This group is the "my way or the highway" style of parenting. If you have received this type of caregiving, you may fit one of two molds - obedient or rebellious. A child with this type caregiving may seem respectful when being monitored heavily by the adult. However, negative behaviors and disrespect are present when a back is turned. This child may even do opposite of what is asked.

Permissive - High love/support paired with few rules. This style is when a parent or caregiver gives the child whatever they want without any limits. Barbara Coloroso referred to this type of caregiving as "jellyfish". The adults may even try to draw a limit, but gives in when the child becomes upset or tantrums. This style results in children who become more demanding and less relaxed. They will be the kids who are more likely to show disrespect as they have not learned any boundaries (either how to set them for themselves or others).

Authoritative - High love combined with stable rules. Imagine there are some clear boundaries but yet, you feel loved anyway! The adult does not give in to you when you are upset, but still cares enough to explain why the rule is there and problem-solve solutions with you. The adults sticks with the rule but in the most loving way possible. This is what Barbara Coloroso calls "backbone parenting", which means that you are standing firm (with backbone) but are flexible and consider the child's needs. Balance. The results are clear, this type of caregiving results in much more respectful behavior and children who choose to behave respectfully.

Did you read about a caregiving style you received? What were the results you experienced from that approach? Did you have one adult in your life who was very restrictive and/or one lacking limits-setting skills (or - one of each?!) How has this influenced the way you now see your role as a caregiver? Do you parent/practice the same way you were raised? Or, like many of us, the opposite?

In general, adults caregiver based on their goals - which is greatly impacted by their experience growing up. My own mother tended to fall into "Do it because I said so" group of adults. My teenage rebellion was fueled with anger from the lack of consideration compiled over many years. I tended to do what my friends encouraged me to do and/or the exact opposite my mother would want. However, I rarely searched for my own answers and followed my instincts. What did I feel was right for me? So, when I parented myself, I wanted to avoid "do it or get punished" parenting. I wanted to build a strong sense of self. However, my parenting responses were so ingrained from those early experiences! It took years of practice to work toward a balance of love and support within my strong structure. My education at the University of Minnesota and work as a Parent Educator at Early Childhood Family Education would make all the difference! Learning the many caregiving options and deciding which fit my goals would help keep me caregiving based on what I felt was most important, rather than my "gut reaction" which was often a bit off center.

If the balanced "Authoritative style" was not an advantage of your early childhood experiences, it is also likely much more difficult to balance your loving care with your strong limit-setting ability. Research holds that, if you were raised under an authoritarian perspective, you will most likely parent with that style, maybe without even realizing it. However, there is a chance that you may parent in the exact opposite way. For example, if you were raised with many strict rules, you may be a caregiver who does not want to be so strict and demanding... so you may fall into the permissive caregiving as you are trying to avoid the negative aspects of being a bossy adult.

No matter your experience, it is still possible to find a balanced approach. With education, support, and regular intentional steps to find the middle ground, it becomes easier over time. There are so many ways to do caregiving effectively. If a major goal is promoting respectful behavior in the children you care for, taking time to find balance with support, kindness, consideration and rules and boundaries will pay off in the long run.

So, what types of actions will help foster respect and teach children what they need to learn? As you can imagine, the best way to nurture respect is to give respect. How do you show respect to a child? Here are some ways to show support and promote the respectful environment that will foster respect from young children, even when your back is turned.

  1. "Prep" the child for what is coming up. Imagine you are in the middle of finishing a project and another adult walks up and says, "Hurry up. We need to go!" What would your reaction be? How would you want to behave? Who consideration and respect for the child's "work: by giving a simple warning or setting a timer before it is time to move on. You can set the limit firmly of when it will be time to move on. Or, even better? Ask the child if they need 4 or 5 more minutes to finish. The perception you are giving them a choice will bolster respectful feelings which in turn results in positive regard for the adult caregivers. Your respectful behavior will be likely gain cooperation when you need to move on more quickly the next time.

  2. Say please and thank you... to children. In many families and early childhood settings, the verbal prompt "What do you say?" can be heard around snack time. But, how many adults are consistently using this type of considerate statements with children? In the end, children do what they experience. Your behavior will inevitably be mimicked by the children in your care. So, incorporate respectful phrases and observe long it takes until those young ones start to imitate!

  3. Give time to practice, without pressure. Children are not born with all of the skills they need and some skills will take years to build! They will need extra time to practice. When cutting with a scissors, putting on shoes, writing their name, and completing other tasks, they will need time to just work without pressure, judgement, or "fixing". Step back and honor the learning process, when possible. And, two words to avoid when trying to teach respect are 'hurry up.' This type of comment can actually increase stress which decreases respectful behavior.

  4. Be consistent. If you can choose a few very important rules and stick to them, you will actually be showing great respect for the child. Yes, you can have rules and be respectful! Choose which limits are really most important. It shows the child you believe in them, think they are capable of following rules, and who you care enough to build self-regulation. We had the rule no candy in the grocery store checkout. This never changed. Imagine if I was in a good mood, she could. If I was in a bad mood - no go. The child would never get to feel empowered with clear expectations. Children need a sense of control and a consistent rule can give that.

Embrace empathy. In the end, it is difficult to be a child in an adult's world. When sticking to a limit, put your self in the child's perspective. What does it feel like to have to move on when you are having fun playing... many times a day! What does it feel like to have to do things you just do not feel are important... over and over! Incorporating a bunch of understanding when sticking to limits will help the child move on, while maintaining your critical connection with the child.

Over time, with empathy, clear rules, much love, and respectful caregiving, a child will learn to behave respectfully. In addition to respectful caregiving, it will take time and specific teaching around this topic. Children will naturally push the boundaries and have bad days where disrespectful shows back up. In the next blog, we will cover specific strategies you can use when kids are disrespectful. There are positive discipline tools to turn around disrespectful behavior and train, promote, and support respectful behavior!

For more information on upcoming webinars and on-demand courses, check out


This excellent resource outlines each style and the results - look about half-way down for the chart!

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