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.