RESPECT You Can See, Hear, Feel...even Taste!
An upsetting situation is coming to the fore in my son’s class. Bullying. Among girls. They’re not breaking bones with sticks and stones; they’re hurting with words.
How did it start? I’m not sure (and is anyone?)
When did it begin? Some time back...but it’s irrelevant now. Today, bullying is here.
Who does it? In this bullying instance, I know all of the concerned people: parents and kids. Our children have been in the same class for six years. We know these families. They're all delightful people. Every one of them.
Without a doubt the parents of the kids involved hope to pass on the value of mutual respect to their children. And yet, a connection between beliefs and actions is not being made.
Passing on our values to the next generation is one of parents’ deep desires and formidable feats. So much easier said than done! I don’t have a foolproof method for passing on our principles to our children.
I do have some hard-learned lessons on communication with people from a different culture (I’m an American living in France) who speak another mother tongue. After all, our children do live in a confusing generational culture and talk differently, “u no wat i mean?”
Many parents tell me we communicate our values through who we are—we walk our talk—and that should suffice.
Contrast this to my brother’s erudite philosophy: to assume makes an A.S.S. out of U and ME.
I follow my bro. I’m intentional in sharing life principles. OF COURSE, I hope the way I live reflects my beliefs. Additionally, I talk my walk. I explain why I act the way I do, why beliefs are so important because they determine our actions. And then I ask what they believe. Why? So what? Where does that lead them? Why? (Again. Try five “why”’s. It’s AMAZING what you learn...and the person you asked discovers about himself.)
“Talking” About Honor
Practically speaking, in every day scenery, here’s how we broach the subject of respect:
(You might first want to read "Communicate to be Understood" which explains the communication benefits supporting these hard-earned lessons.)
Lesson 1: What I Say is NOT What They Hear
I no longer assume they hear what I say. I purposefully use a word they don’t fully understand—honor—so that it requires defining. The kids love it...
“Mom, how come you have to use weird words like ‘honor?’ Can’t you talk about respect like everyone else?”
“’Honor’ is defined as ascribing a good name or high regard. A showing of merited respect. In our family, we believe that all people are created by God and equally valued by Him. Therefore all people merit respect.”
Lesson 2: Repeat the Message Differently
I try to make “honor” so understandable that the children can see, hear, touch, smell, and even taste it.
What might “I honor you” look like? In our home it looks like a clean front hallway! Not having to climb over stray shoes, backpacks (which means that schoolwork has yet to be done), and the mail is a sign that we are thinking of others. Honor chez nous also looks like the face of forgiveness: the expression of regret when we ask to be pardoned and the glow of love when we give it and move on.
What might “I honor you” sound like? Not a lecture from mom! (Click here to discover the Gift of Respect signs.) When the boys were young and I was often at the end of my rope, I would go outside and roar. I did not want to scream at them but had to let out my steam. Then I could return and speak with an “inside voice.” Honor also rings out “Hello” to the street cleaner who makes life more pleasant, to the security agent who cares for our well-being, and to many others we take for granted.
What might “I honor you” feel like? A handshake or shaking the kids? (Of course you and I have never expressed our frustration physically....) How often do you and I touch our loved ones in moments of peace and harmony? With little tykes it’s easy to hug. What happens when they’re pre-teens and older? I love family movies for this. The only way we can all fit onto the couch is by cuddling.
What might “I honor you” smell like? “Who FARTED? Open the windows!!!!” and following up later to whisper, “Honey, to show us respect when you have gas, go to another room. If we’re in the car, warn us. And please excuse yourself too.”
What might “I honor you” taste like? In our home, it’s Word of God cake. I bake an all time favorite pound cake and
swirl in blue, red, and yellow food coloring.
Even to me (and I have high tolerance for color and creativity), it
borders on unappetizing. Yet it’s delicious.
And nourishing. Just like God’s
Word. There are some DIFFICULT
passages. Consider, “Love your enemy”
(Can’t I harbor revenge?). “Be joyful
always” (There are moments when I want
to bask in self-pity). And we haven’t
even touched the controversial topics yet!
But oh how divine to KNOW that we have a second, third, forth....nth chance. How life-giving to know that you and I have infinite value, that we are precious. That the God of the universe seeks a personal relationship with you and me. Who? You and me and Jack and Jill and Abdel and Samira and Suresh and Hung Li... Delicious and nourishing truths.
You can use this cake idea no matter your spiritual orientation. Call it Different-AND-Delicious Cake. That's what I did when I brought this cake into a professional brainstorming session. "We're here today to welcome differences. If we had wanted the same, regular, thinking, we would not have invited you. So, get ready to be open minded. First we accept ideas. It's only waaaaayy later in the process that we'll reject some."
Some people will love it. Some will like it. Others won't. We choose how to respond to them. I laughed.
Lesson 3: Check What They Heard
Over coffee with another class parent, she lamented how her daughter had misinterpreted her advice. Mom encouraged Mademoiselle to ignore the girl who was bothering her in class.
In Mom’s mind, it may have meant sitting at a different table for lunch or not responding to a snide remark. The exchange is clearly distant, yet remains respectful.
Her daughter did not catch the nuance. She understood the counsel to mean make-sure-the-girl-does-not-
In French, we say, “Y a qu’à!” (pronounced yaka) which means “Just do it... Yeah, right.” How do we get our kids to open up so that we can glimpse how they understood our counsel?
Help! Get me Un-Stuck!
In retrospect, when I have felt the most stuck in my parenting, it’s when I limited my options. It’s as if I had predetermined what a “solution’ would look like...and I could not find the path from my current predicament to that pre-defined “solution.”
I just completed a certification in Appreciative Inquiry, a business approach which enables transformative change in organizations characterized by complexity and uncertainty. That describes family!
In a nutshell, Appreciative = looking at what goes well. Inquiry = being curious and seeking to understand. Studies show that when we ask people for feedback, their first response is to provide the answers they believe the questioners want to hear. We all like to be liked. A.I. begins by gathering stories about positive experiences. This indirect approach reveals both facts and the emotions accompanying them.
This tool is most effective when used in stages: first gather insights and create connectedness, then utilize the insights for growth and learning.
Gather a Success Story
To harvest a success story, request one. “Tell me about a time today when relations were positive between you and ___________.” This request generates a story. Have your child bring it to life for you, as if you could imagine yourself there. “What time of day was it? How was the light? Describe the sounds around you.” Show interest and help your child be in that positive moment.
Restrain judgment. In other words, wipe off a frown from your face. Refrain from exclaiming, “How could you?!!” Do take notes to demonstrate that you are listening. Do rephrase. “So you were talking with Suzette and Zoe and...?”
Probe kindly. “Do you know why you did that? What might have made her act in that way? I wonder...”
Encourage and allow yourself to be supported, especially if these conversations are new for your family. I have found that our kids love to know that we are human with needs too. “Honey, I’m learning how to have these discussions. My guess is that you don’t like my scolding lectures. I don’t either. Besides I want to be more respectful of you. So let’s try this out. Please, help me here.”
Have them rate their feelings. “On a scale of 1 to 10, how did you feel after that incident? What made you feel that way? What were you feeling?”
...and those of the other party: “On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you think the other person felt? Why do you think that?”
We all feel. Learning how to express our emotions is another matter. If your child does not yet have that vocabulary developed, consider using an emotions wheel. Click here to download ours and learn more.
Chances are this conversation revealed how your child interprets respect of another person.
Growth and Learning
Stories reveal TONS.
(The Appreciative Inquiry process even enables initially disjointed parties to creatively dream up their ideal future...and build it! It begins with the power of the stories and the emotions they solicit. Click here to discover an A.I. workshop to boost family love.)
You’ll have discovered how your child understands and lives out respect in daily life. From there, choose your strategy. Will you build on her strengths so that she fully sees, hears, feels, smells, and tastes respect? Will you fill in the gaps of her understanding with new insights? (Consider teaching through questions. Remember, big discourses of self-righteous language don’t come across as honoring. I’ve tried it. It doesn’t work.) Will you help her grow in compassion as she ponders how her actions may have made the other person feel?
Inquiry that’s appreciative opens un tons of options! Bon courage.