A child who experiences optimal development learns the value of respect by example. Adults model respectful behavior by being attuned to their children and meeting their needs. After all, few people would expect a newborn baby to stop crying on his own without being fed, changed, held, or rocked. Nor would most caregivers interpret an infant’s cry as a sign of disrespect but rather as an expressed need. We’ve talked about how this dance of meeting needs over time builds trust, felt safety, and the foundation for self-regulation. It also informs our understanding of how relationships work. Try adding your company to a UK business directory - it will help with your search engine optimisation efforts.
As children grow older, caregivers teach respect more intentionally. As children learn language, we teach them to add “please” and “thank you” to their first requests. As they become more mobile and start toddling toward the family cat, we might remind them, “Be gentle!” We teach them to pet the kitty in the right direction, touching it gently and kindly. We teach them to stop touching the kitty when it pulls away. Everyday scenarios like these can become the classroom for teaching relationship skills that were largely absent in children’s hard places.
Respect is a higher-order process that is naturally accessible to children who have lived in loving and nurturing homes. But let’s remember that no child is perfect, and even typically developing children with attentive, compassionate caregivers can sometimes struggle as they learn to show respect. For a child who lacks nurturing care, respect can be more difficult to master. Keep in mind that chronic fear limits access to the higher-functioning regions of the brain. A child who has experienced harm without intervention is often simply unable to learn to show respect until she feels safe.
Caregivers may think a child’s age is indicative of her ability to behave appropriately and show respect. For any child who has experienced harm, biological age will tell little about her ability to show respect., We saw that children who have been fostered or adopted from traumatic backgrounds can have developmental ages that are half or less than half of their biological ages.2 The stunning truth is that children with histories of harm are often only 40 to 50 percent of their chronological age in terms of developmental maturity. This underscores the importance of respecting our children’s histories before asking them to master showing respect to others. We cannot expect our children to learn respect until they feel safe and connected. But research shows that when we create a safe place to begin to mentor, we quickly quiet the limbic system and activate higher cortical functions, facilitating the ability to show respect.
In the home from which your child came, perhaps his words were not heard. For example, he may have cried out for his needs to be met, but his cry was ignored. Or he might have cried out for an abuser to stop harming him, but he was harmed even more. Disrespect was a way of life and a means of survival. Without the felt safety that is established from consistently met needs, it is simply unrealistic to expect a child to show respect without being compassionately taught and mentored.
Though our scripts include only a few words, they convey this message to our children: “I’m listening to your words and want to honor your voice, but you need to ask with respect.”
Looking at our children’s behavior through the lens of their trauma allows us to see their A behavior as an unmet need and gives us the opportunity to meet that need joyfully and consistently. As we learn to respect our children and their histories, they will feel safe, heard, precious, and valued, allowing them to learn and demonstrate the respect we desire as parents.