What to expect at this age
Grade-schoolers aren’t exactly paragons of respectful behavior. In fact, it often seems as though their whole purpose in life is to get your goat.
That’s perfectly normal, according to Jane Nelsen, an education specialist and the coauthor of Positive Discipline A—Z. “They’re testing the limits of their power,” she says. “Frankly, I worry about kids who don’t do this!” Despite the ongoing need to test limits, kids also need to learn the importance of respect for others — and respect begins at home.
What you can do
Demonstrate respectful behavior. “We don’t generally give our children the kind of respect that we demand from them,” says Jerry Wyckoff, a psychologist and the coauthor of Twenty Teachable Virtues. “We get confused because often, our upbringing makes us equate respect with fear: ‘I really respected my father because I knew he’d hit me if … ‘ That’s not respect — that’s fear.”
Instead, begin by listening. In daily conversation, look your child in the eye and make it clear that you’re interested in what she’s saying. To listen more formally, hold regular family meetings where everyone — including your grade-schooler — can air their ideas and opinions about issues facing the whole family.
Teach polite responses. Your youngster can show caring and respect for others through good manners. By this age, she ought to be saying “please” and “thank you” regularly and need just the occasional reminder.
Explain that you’d rather help her when she’s polite to you, and that you don’t like it when she orders you around. Again, being respectful yourself works better than lecturing. Say “please” and “thank you” to your child (and others), and she’ll learn that the phrases are part of normal communication, both within your family and in public.
Avoid overreacting. If your grade-schooler calls you a “butthead,” try not to get upset (hey, at least you don’t have cooties!). A child who wants to provoke a reaction will endure almost any unpleasantness just to get a rise out of you.
Instead, get face to face and say quietly but firmly, “We don’t call each other names in this family.” Then show her how to get what she wants respectfully: “When you want me to help you, just ask me nicely. Say, ‘Mom, I need some help with my art project please.'”
Expect disagreements. Life would be much easier if our children always happily complied with our requests, but that’s not realistic. Try to remember that when your grade-schooler won’t do your bidding, she isn’t trying to be disrespectful — she just has a different opinion.
Teach her that she’ll fare better if she can learn to stop expressing herself disrespectfully (“You never take me for bike rides, and I hate you!”) and instead learns to put a positive spin on her requests (“Can we please go bike riding after the grocery store?”).
Set limits. “One of the best ways to model respect is to be both kind and firm in all of your discipline,” says Nelsen. “Being kind shows respect for your child, and being firm shows respect for what needs to be done.”
So if your grade-schooler throws a fit in the clothing store and none of your coping tactics work, what do you do? If the shopping can be postponed, tell her matter-of-factly, “We’re going to leave now and come back to the store another time when you’re feeling calmer.”
If the errand has to get done, walk a few feet away from your child after telling her “I’ll be right over here where you can see me. Let me know when you’re feeling calmer, and then we can finish up our shopping.” If the meltdown continues you can always lead your child out to the car, where she can collect herself in private.
Talk it over later. Sometimes the best way to handle disrespect is to discuss it with your grade-schooler later, when you’ve both had a chance to cool off. You can validate her feelings and make your point by saying, “Honey, I could tell you were very upset. What do you think caused that? What ideas do you have to solve the problem? What would be a more respectful way to tell me how you’re feeling?”
“One mistake parents make is that they try to impose consequences instead of helping children explore consequences,” says Nelsen. “If your child believes you’re really curious about her thinking, it’s amazing — she’ll often come to the same conclusion you would.”
Praise respectful behavior. . Reinforce your grade-schooler’s impromptu displays of politeness as much as possible. But be specific. “The praise should describe the behavior in detail,” Wyckoff emphasizes. “We tend to say, ‘I’m proud of you,’ ‘good job.'”
Instead, say, “Thank you for saying please when you asked for a snack,” or “Thank you for asking my permission before you borrowed the scissors from my desk.” Be explicit, and your youngster will quickly learn that her efforts are worthwhile and appreciated.