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Dr. Borba on Teaching Respect
October 3, 2012

1. Model respectful statements. Never forget—you may very well be their only model of respect! You may wish to say respectful statements so that everyone may hear you: “Thank you, Mrs. Smith, for sharing your slides with us. We really appreciated them.” Or, “Excuse me, Sally, I didn’t mean to interrupt you.” For many students this may be the only time they hear what respect sounds like.

2. Accentuate respect. In any environment, establish a firm commandment, “You may not talk hurtfully about yourself or others.” Put it in your own words if you like, but post it in a highly visible location.

3. Build awareness of respectful language. Like is or not, we have become a negative, disrespectful society that too often emphasizes sarcasm, put-downs and disrespect. Listen to the popular sit-coms on television and count the frequency of statements based on negativity, ridicule and sarcasm. Studies show the average student is watching a minimum of three hours of television a night. Why not brainstorm lists of statements that show respect and post them as a reminder that there are other choices to replace disrespect. “Thank you for sharing.” “What would your opinion be?” “Are you okay?” “Thank you.”

4. Label appropriate respectful language. Many students need help in distinguishing between appropriate language and destructive language. They man have said disrespectful put-down statements so often they’ve conditioned themselves to say the negative. It is helpful to label appropriate and inappropriate language for students. “That’s a put-up.” or “That’s a put-down.” Remember, your attempts at teaching the skills of positive, respectful language will be greatly enhanced if they hear the same key phrase, encouragement, vocabulary and tone.

5. Reinforce respectful statements. Reinforce what you want to be repeated. Try to key in on the students’ respectful statements. It’s easier to change behavior by focusing on the positive aspects instead of the negative. 

6. Practice respectful behavior skills. Students must be given opportunities to practice respectful behavior. We can no longer assume today’s students have acquired any of the essential character building skills and habits.

Children should be allowed to choose the kinds of statements that they feel safe saying. “Hello,” “Hi,” “How are you?” or a smile and eye contact are appropriate first steps. Keep things in perspective: what kinds of behavior were they using yesterday? Think in baby steps.


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I am an educational psychologist, parenting expert, TODAY show contributor and author of 22 books including The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries.

You can also refer to my daily blog, Dr. Borba’s Reality Check for ongoing parenting solutions and late-breaking news and research about child development.

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