Teaching respect to preschoolers can help build character

Young children can learn how and why ‘respect’ is important by observing behaviors of the adults who care for them.

All parents want their children to grow into adults who have good character.  The six pillars of character education include: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.

The second pillar of character education is respect.  The brain is still developing in preschoolers and they are not always able to control their feelings.  They often act on impulse: grabbing, hitting, screaming. etc.  Additionally, language skills are still emerging in young children, and they need adult assistance to identify their feelings. 

Teaching respect to preschoolers can be accomplished through everyday interactions with adults who model respectful behavior.  Display good manners in your home by using “thank you” and “please” appropriately.  Treat all family members with respect, including the preschool children in your life. Mutual respect should be a two-way street.  Help your child learn respect by giving him the words you’d like to hear. If your child grabs a toy you can tell him; “When you want something that your brother has, I expect you to ask him if he is finished playing with it.” If your child demands a snack, you can instruct her; “When you are hungry, I’d like to hear, ‘Please mom, when you have time, could you fix a snack for me?”

Teach the meaning of “respect.” Read stories where the characters show respect.  Your local library will have many books where respect is demonstrated throughout the story.  Choose these books to share with your child and discuss the word and meaning of respect as the story progresses. How did the characters show respect or disrespect? What could the character have done instead?  How could he have been more respectful?  Some book titles that you may want to explore include: “Arthur’s Eyes”by M. Brown, “Oliver Button is a Sissy” by Tomie dePaola, “Miss Spider’s Tea Party” by David Kirk or “Quiet Wyatt” by Bill Maynard. 

Teach your children about differences.  You can discuss how your family members are different and unique from each other by pointing out eye color, hair color, height, and skin tone.  Talk about how each of you is “special” in your own way.

Encourage preschoolers’ communication.  Talking about ‘differences’ can teach your child about “respect” for others, prepares your child for times when he notices that he is not the same as those outside of his immediate family, and helps him to understand that these differences are okay.

Teaching respect is just one way that you can help to build your child’s good character.  A little extra time spent teaching and modeling “how” and “why” to be respectful can help in providing a firm foundation that includes the character pillar of “respect.”

Please visit the Michigan State University Extension website to find additional articles on child development, parenting and life skill development.

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