Birth to 2

All babies and toddlers are egocentric--the world, including parents, isan extension of themselves, existing to meet their needs. Although youngchildren can feel a strong attachment to other people and objects,respectfulness requires a sense of their own separateness. It's hard fora toddler to grasp, for example, that the toy he wants belongs toanother child or that parents have needs separate from his own.

What Can Parents Do?

  • Show your child that you care about his feelings--by sympathizing with his needs, comforting his fears, and explaining what you're doing rather than swooping down to change or feed him.
  • When your toddler is around a dog or cat, teach her to respect the animal by petting it gently and asking the owner if you can touch the animal before you do.
  • What's the Goal? To foster basic respect for himself and other living things.

    3 to 4

    By age 3, language skills and cognitive abilities have grown enough thatpreschoolers understand that hitting and grabbing toys are wrong becausethey hurt others or make them feel bad. But they're still too young toconsistently curb their impulses and often need reminders. Children inday care and preschool learn rules that encourage respect, such aswaiting their turn or sitting down during story time so that the kidsbehind them can see the pictures. They often comply because they want toplease their teachers and are beginning to care about their friends.

    What Can Parents Do?

  • Give him advance warning before he has to stop an activity to teach him consideration.
  • Insist on basic manners--"please," "thank you," and "sorry"--as a tangible way for kids to express thoughtfulness and win adult approval.
  • What's the Goal? To develop respect for rules and manners.

    5 to 7

    The early elementary-school years are characterized by a profound respect for authority. Children this age believe their parents and teachers are the arbiters of right or wrong, and they aim to please these important adults. A kindergartner, for example, may have trouble consistently following the rule to avoid calling out--but she will not question the teacher's authority to set that rule. At the park, they may pick up their ice cream wrapper because their parent tells them to, not because they want to keep the park clean for others.

    What Can Parents Do?

  • Take a nature walk with your child and talk about which plants are OK to pick and which are endangered to teach respect for our environment.
  • Compliment your child when he follows a rule that you've set.
  • What's the Goal? To develop an internalized sense of respect for people and surroundings.

    8 to 10

    As children get older, they receive mixed messages about respect. Themedia have a lot to do with this. While parents may urge kids torespect others' feelings, movies show portray putdowns and body noises as funny; while teachers convey lessons about tolerance, TV showsabound with off-color jokes and demeaning sexual stereotypes. Adults canalso be negative role models-if they speak rudely to a waiter, curse atslow drivers, or treat their own parents disrespectfully. It's not easy for children to sort out these messages.

    What Can Parents Do?

  • Model respect by speaking to service people and older members of your family politely and with respect.
  • Watch TV with your child and comment on rude or intolerant characters, saying, "That man doesn't respect his wife-that wouldn't be unacceptable behavior in our house."
  • What's the Goal? Be a role model for your child and develop a standard of respect that transcends mixed messages they may be getting from pop culture.

    11 to 13

    Preteens begin to reject the authority of parents and teachers as a wayof establishing their independence. They may question their parent'sright to set rules regarding how many friends can come over their houseor when they have to be picked up at a party. They don't see these rulesas a way of ensuring the safety and comfort of family members; they seethem merely as attacks on their autonomy.

    At school, preteens are eager to win the approval of their friends. Theymay show great kindness toward the kids they like, but be rude andinsulting to kids outside their clique. They may even steal or damageothers' property because they think that's how to appear cool to theirfriends. It may be a few years before they regard respect as anoverriding moral standard.

    What Can Parents Do?

  • Encourage empathy if you discover your child is making fun of less popular peers--how would she feel if someone played tricks on her?
  • Explain the reasoning behind household rules, saying, for example, "Grandma usually calls tonight, and I want her to be able to get through, so you can't call your friends until she's called.