Respect vs. Kindness

November 6, 2012

In the past few months the difference between respect and kindness has been a growing topic of conversation in our home. As a mother, I have to admit that while I know the difference between these two words, I never really stopped to think that my children might not.

Teaching respect is important to many of us. It takes many forms, from asking our children to say Please and Thank You, to holding the door for those walking in or out, to addressing adults in a certain way. Respect can be taught as accepting and not judging another’s opinion, even if you disagree. It can be taught as the ability to have an argument without ever feeling the need to get angry or use cross language with the one you are speaking to, and it can be as simple as choosing to respect our planet by not littering or harming other creatures. Respect is taught is many ways, and for many different reasons, and it is certainly a huge part of our parenting in today’s world.

For me, the bigger question comes when we see respect being taught, and not kindness in turn. Respect with out kindness seems more to be about obeying than it does about the intention behind why we are asking children to be respectful. When we demand obedience, and we are not asking a child to think of the intentions behind their actions, we are simply creating situations that make the adult feel loved, and the child feel anger. We are also teaching that kindness does not need to be present in order for children to behave “correctly”.

I am coming to realize that this lesson is going to present itself time and again, as my children get older and begin interacting in the world with others, such as coaches, friends and their parents, etc. It is a hard lesson to teach my kiddos that sometimes a situation will present itself where someone demands respect, but certainly chooses not to give it in return. How it breaks my heart to convey that it is understandable that situation creates conflict and a sense of self-loss, and at the same time somehow convince them to rise above the situation and continue to do their best.

As I sat with my oldest son over the weekend and tried to explain these differences between kindness and respect, I was struck that while the words might be used too often interchangeably, children certainly understand what we mean when we define the difference between being kind, and simply being respectful. Convincing a child that they deserve both as much as any adult can be a challenge, but also a necessary lesson. Self-worth, and practicing kindness to one’s self is paramount to making sure that our children know healthy boundaries, and understand that they are valued.

If kindness is where we lead from, and we teach that intention is just as important as action when it comes to our children’s behavior, respect is then sure to follow. Respect and kindness are in no way the same things, but when kindness is the priority, respect certainly shows itself time and again.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

brooke g November 6, 2012 at 11:14 am

beautifully put, my friend.


Polly November 8, 2012 at 3:17 pm

Beautiful. Amazing.

Have you read Deepak Chopra’s “The Seven Spiritual Laws for Parents”? You already embody so many of those teachings, but I found it to be a wonderful and gratifying read.




Melinda Taylor-Kelly November 10, 2012 at 8:56 pm

This is so true. We as adult do not think about how kindness and respect are viewed from a child’s point of view. Parents tell their children to be respectful….but you NEVER hear the “Be Kind” I agree that kindness is far more important than respect, because if you show kindness respect will follow, but for some reason not the other way around.
Growing up my parents taught us that respect was earned, and kindness was to always be used. I feel that is a good way to teach our children.


renee @ FIMBY November 11, 2012 at 6:23 am

Kindness has been the one overarching “rule” in our home. We didn’t/don’t have a long list of “this is what we do and don’t do”. We also have a strong culture of respect and obedience. But kindness is always the foundation. I think healthy respect relationships (parent-child, adult-adult, and self) come out of kindness. Of course you articulated this so much better than I did Heather, but I really like your thoughts on this and it helps put words to our parenting ethic that I don’t articulate very much.


AG Ambroult November 14, 2012 at 5:26 am

This is a great reminder. Like your family, kindness is the foundation, and we build on that. Respect, compassion, empathy -everything else comes after kindness. This is particularly relative in our household right now, as we help the Tall Girl navigate through some fifth grade mean girl baloney. Ugh-it’s been really tricky guiding her to put kindness in the forefront, when it seems like so many put that last.


Hannah November 14, 2012 at 11:03 am

So very well written, Heather!


Julia B November 23, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Yes! Lack of kindness is a killer of many things…and a confusing way to garner respect. As ever I find myself here in your space when there is a message or affirmation my heart needs. Above all things, we should be kind.


Lacey December 13, 2012 at 10:04 am

Wow! Kindness and respect are our secret words. My oldest has struggled with tone and many times, though I know she doesn’t mean to, she comes across disrespectfully. As parents we struggle with teaching her pragmatics, but our secret words that I sneak up and whisper in her ear, or simply hold up 2 fingers now to remind her–kindness and respect. I never considered the order too much, but now that you have I think kindness should come first. At least we can hope. I do want to teach more than obedience to my kids, I want to nurture them so that their character is built and that is the difference–though these things do go hand in hand, they represent different sides of the same coin.


Katie January 25, 2013 at 7:41 pm

So beautifully written. This goes hand-in-hand with a conversation my son and I had yesterday. It all came to be because his “sorry” was simply empty. In the moment I felt like such a failure (mostly because I reacted like one), wondering if I’m not doing a good enough job as a parent, guide. In the end, we had a fantastic conversation about what’s most important, which is why we are sorry. And once I got my five year old talking, I was blown away by his understanding of true kindness – a wonderful reminder to keep on modeling these behaviors. They do get it. By the way, I’m new to your blog and so glad to have found my way here.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: