Respect and trust are interesting concepts. We’re often told that certain people deserve both simply because of the position they hold. That’s a dangerous way to think, especially for our children. Let’s talk a bit about why it’s vital to teach kids (and remember for ourselves) that both must be earned, not just given freely on demand.
Respect and Trust Must be Earned, Not Demanded
There’s a common misconception that certain people deserve respect just because they’re in a position of “power.” We’re told from an early age that we must respect our elders, our teachers, our law enforcers, all the way up to our president. Along with that, we’re told that we need to trust that they know what’s best for us. As I said above that’s a very dangerous way to think. Before we get into why, let’s quickly talk about what respect and trust actually mean.
Respect is “a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.” It is closely linked with an attitude of recognition towards what a person represents. Now, you can demand that someone show you respect, but that is all you will get: a show. True respect comes from a place that simply doesn’t respond to demands- our emotions and feelings.
Trust, on the other hand, is, “a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.” It is the feeling of safety that you have when you think of a certain person You give your trust to someone only when you think they deserves it. When you are absolutely sure this person is not going to let you down, and also help you when you need it. Trust is something you earn little by little through your actions. It takes time for someone to trust you, but once they do, it is really a wonderful feeling. Knowing that someone has complete trust in you is a true privilege.
Why can’t we demand respect and trust?
Can you see the problem with demanding either one? They’re both based on feelings and emotions, two things beyond our control. So, while we can ask for and even demand both, we’ll get neither without putting in the work to truly earn it. That’s exactly the way it should be, too. In fact, blind trust and respect can be dangerous, especially to our children.
The dangers of demanding respect and trust
When we teach our kids that people deserve respect and trust automatically because of who they are or what they do, we’re basically training them to blindly obey without question. I’m sure that sounds good in theory to some. Of course, we want our kids to listen to us, their teachers, and other important authority figures. None of us wants to see our kids get in trouble for talking back or acting “disrespectful” in class, right?
Here’s the problem, though- not all adults are worthy of respect and trust. Sadly, some will take advantage of their position to prey on children. Did you know that in 90% of sexual abuse cases, the victim knew the abuser? in 60% of cases, that abuser was someone the family trusted…and in turn encouraged their children to trust.
We’ve all seen stories about teachers bullying kids, corrupt officers abusing their authority, and parents committing unthinkable acts of cruelty. While they’re (thankfully) not incredibly common (although even one story is too many), they do show that blind trust can be an incredibly dangerous thing to encourage.
Teaching your kids to follow the rules and show respect is one thing. Telling them that they have to trust that their elders always know what’s best for them is another. Make sure your kids understand what is expected of them…and what isn’t. Encourage questions, even if that means they’re questioning you. Let them know that they have a right to speak up if they feel someone is violating their trust and respect. Most importantly of all, be the type of person that your kids can trust, so they feel comfortable coming to you.
How Can I Get My Children to Trust Me?
Remember, how you treat others says everything there is to know about you. That goes for how you treat your kids, too. First of all, your children need to feel safe. They need to feel loved and accepted just the way they are. Be always honest with your kids. Let them know you are a real person, not only an authority figure.
Share your time with them whenever you can. Get to know them a little bit better each day. Talk about their problems, their dreams, their fears. Do not react with anger when they tell you something you don’t like. Calmly explain the reason why you do not agree with them and offer alternatives. Let them know they can count on you no matter what.
Once you’ve truly earned their trust (and, through that, their respect), you become a role model to them. They can use their feelings for you (and the safe feeling you give them) to measure the trustworthiness of others. Think of yourself as a measuring tape. They can hold others up against you and ask themselves, “Does this person make me feel secure like my mom does? Does that person fill me with admiration like dad does?” Does that make sense?
Respect and trust are wonderful values you should cultivate, and two vital ingredients for any relationship, including our relationships with our kids. To feel admiration for someone and, at the same time, know that they feel confident that they can trust us, that’s part of every healthy relationship.
Remember that you can demand that someone show you respect when you’re in a position of authority, but genuine respect and trust will only be achieved if you earn it.
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