Teaching children to respect their parents is a primary Jewish value (after all, it’s one of the Ten Commandments). It is for their benefit, not ours. Children need authority figures; it helps them feel safe and secure. Furthermore, if children learn respect in their home, they will extend this to their teachers, their friends, their spouses and just about everyone they meet.

In addition to the key tools I’ve discussed in this article, one of the most important ways to teach children to be respectful is for parents to speak respectfully to their children. This does not mean you are giving up your authority. In essence, the best way to establish and maintain your status as the parent is through your actions and speech, respectful speech. We need to take the lead and model how to speak respectfully.

Here are five crucial ways parents can do that:

1. Respect your children’s interests:

Young children love to learn and their interests can be unique. I have learned so much from my children. I’ve learned about the habits of hibernating squirrels, the names of most nocturnal animals, obscure geographical regions, simple magic tricks, and more than I care to know about sports. Expressing our appreciation for your kids’ acquired wisdom shows respect. Kids love to be our teachers.

2. Respect their feelings:

This is kind of tough, especially when your children are upset about something seemingly silly. Kids will get upset over their lost turn on the swings, not getting the flower from their sibling’s birthday cake, or because they lost a baseball game. Accepting their feelings, “You really wanted the blue flower from the cake, you are so disappointed!” instead of judging them is a form of respect. They will learn to respect other people’s feelings in turn. They will learn the true meaning of compassion.

3. Respect their difference of opinion:

Children, especially teens, have their own opinions. This should be cultivated instead of discouraged. We want to say things like, “That is an interesting idea, I never thought about it that way.” “I don’t think I can agree with you on that, but I am glad you shared your thoughts.” “We think that that show is inappropriate, but you think that the show teaches teens important values and lessons.”

The more you respect your child’s opinion, the more they will be able to hear what you and others have to say. They will also learn to disagree with others politely and obviously, respectfully.

4. Respect children’s time:

We often think that children have so much time on their hands. The fact is that children truly need to play and they need to spend a lot of time doing that. Teens need a lot of down time. They are going through so many changes, physically and emotionally. They are expending so much energy by just being. It is helpful if we are respectful of the time that they need to play or just do nothing.

So when you’re asking for their help, you can say:

“Are you available to help me tonight?”
“What is your schedule this evening? I would appreciate some of your time.”
“I have a meeting here at 8 tonight. I need help schlepping chairs at 7pm. Will that work for you?”

Showing respect for their time teaches children to respect your time as well.

5. Rebuke respectfully:

According to Jewish wisdom, we have to be extra careful when we correct and discipline our children. It has to be done calmly, privately and with the clear intent that it is for their benefit. Our motivation should be pure and humiliation should be avoided at all costs. In short, we need to be respectful.

It is helpful then to use the following phrases:

"I am sure you didn't mean to...forget to wash the dishes."
"You probably didn't realize speaking to your teacher in that way was chutzpadik..."
"You usually don't do this...you are usually responsible about your bicycle."

These phrases help your child save face and also still believe that they are intrinsically good. It also teaches children how to give others the benefit of the doubt which is one of the best ways to respect another person.

Teaching children respectful behavior starts with us being respectful to them.