As I passed by a Sunday morning kindergarten classroom a few
weeks ago, I overheard a frustrated volunteer negotiating with a
5-year-old boy to join the rest of the class for the Bible story.
As the boy ran in circles around the other children, the volunteer
kindly asked him again to please join the group. I stopped to watch
his response as he walked over to his classroom leader, stared her
directly in the face, and shouted, “You can’t make me! You’re not
the boss of me!”
“R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” the song made famous by Aretha Franklin, has
become a favorite tune for many — and a battle cry for many adults
who work with today’s children. From the school classroom to the
local athletic field to the weekend children’s ministry program —
today’s kids have gained the unpleasant reputation of being
disrespectful. And adults aren’t the only targets of disrespect —
kids lack respect for property, each other, even themselves. Why is
a lack of respect one of the biggest problems among kids today?
What They See Is What You Get
Flip the channels of your television and you’ll get a glimpse of
how respect is modeled via the media. Whether it’s prime-time
sitcoms, cartoons, or a movie on the big screen — kids are viewing
programming that encourages them to be less respectful of others.
Music and video games can also lay a foundation of disrespect and
hostile behavior, especially when there’s a lack of guidance and
discussion about appropriate behaviors at home.
Good Intentions Out of Control
In an eagerness to raise independent children — those who think
for themselves rather than bow to the demands of others — many
adults have stopped disciplining children for being
Resistance to exercise authority for fear of stifling a child’s
independent nature has bred children who display a lack of honor to
individuals in a position of authority. Today’s kids often believe
they’re on the same level as adults and have a right to know the
reason behind adult decisions; they argue against every decision
made that doesn’t meet their expectations. In a desperate attempt
to be liked by their children, many parents compromise their
parental role to be their child’s “buddy.”
Children Learn What They Live
This poem displayed in many schools and physician’s offices is
all too true when it comes to the virtue of respect. Attend a youth
soccer game and watch parents who yell at the referees or chew out
the coach when their child doesn’t get enough time on the field. Or
listen to the mom who intimidates a teacher in front of others
regarding her son’s reading progress or the dad who explodes at his
daughter in front of her friends for being late. Despite the
outside influences, the bottom line is that many kids today lack a
positive model for respect at home. The “Do as I say, not as I do”
method may sound good in theory, but the reality is that kids are
watching their parents carefully as they model the behavior of the
people who have the most influence in their lives.
Cultivating Respect in a Field of Rudeness
Can the church plant seeds of respect in children and expect
those seeds to grow when they aren’t being properly tended at home?
The question is one of faith. Will God honor the values we teach?
Will God instill those values on the hearts of the kids — that one
day they may be a positive model of respect for others? Learning
respect is an integral part of healthy child development, and it’s
never too late to start instilling this virtue in the children who
walk through your doors each week. Here’s how.
- Be a role model. Many kids in your ministry may not have a
healthy model of respect at home. But if you treat children with
respect, you’re teaching them to respect others. Facilitate respect
by having kids make cards for others who are sick, saying “thank
you” when someone offers help in class, or acknowledging people
when they show kindness to another. Talk to kids in a kind tone —
even when disciplining a child, your tone can be confident without
yelling. Kids will learn more from our behavior than from our
- Set the ground rules. Kids need boundaries to feel safe and
secure in their environments. Boundaries and simple rules lay the
foundation for what will and won’t be tolerated. Kids respect
adults with rules that are fair, and it often helps to let kids
have a say in what rules they’re expected to follow. Kids who have
no limits at home will have trouble with limits at church. But
limits will inevitably bring comfort to children, especially when
the rules are consistent and are followed through with love.
- Create immediate consequences. Kids need to know the
consequence for disrespect and that you’ll follow through. If
possible, make the consequence logical to the offense. For example,
if a child makes a rude comment about another child, have him write
an apology and include at least two positive comments about the
child he offended. Sometimes a reminder of the Golden Rule followed
by discussion is consequence enough — “Sally, would you appreciate
it if I made that rude comment to you?” Or have a child who’s been
disrespectful to you explain his actions to his parents when they
arrive to pick him up. This will not only acknowledge to them that
there was a problem, but it can also be a teachable moment in
assisting families with communication. When a child displays
disrespect for property, such as deliberately smashing crackers
into the floor, have the child clean and vacuum the room at the end
- Name rude behavior. With the vast array of messages children
receive, they may genuinely be unaware that their words or behavior
are inappropriate. Respond to inappropriate behavior with comments
such as, “Jacob, the tone you just used was disrespectful and is
not acceptable in this room.” In the same manner, give praise when
kids display respect to others: “Ashley, thank you for waiting to
talk until I was finished. That was respectful of you!”
- Help kids look in God’s mirror. It’s amazing how many young
children display behaviors that are disrespectful to themselves.
Even preteens are experimenting with behaviors such as cutting
themselves, binge eating or anorexia, and inappropriate Internet
chatting. If children can’t show respect to themselves, they’ll
definitely have difficulty showing respect to others. Tell kids
that they’re created in God’s image and that God loves them
unconditionally. Helping kids respect themselves is the first step
toward respecting others.
- Help respect bloom at home. Children’s ministers have an hour,
sometimes two, to influence a child’s behavior each week. Parents
have a greater amount of time to model respect for their children
during the week. Remind parents of the important role they play in
developing positive behavior traits in children. Help parents learn
how to instill values in their children that’ll last a lifetime.
Provide materials with activities and devotions that families can
do together. Offer parenting classes that teach parents the
importance of being a respectful role model for their children.
Lead a worship service designed for families that teaches kids and
parents together the importance of respect, as well as other
positive values that are important to a child’s development.
Respect is a character trait that should be foundational for
children as they grow and mature. Letting kids get away with
inappropriate behavior will only breed more of the same, but kids
will typically demonstrate as much respect as we ask of them. In a
world where respect is rarely modeled for kids today, it’s
essential that we do all we can to instill this value in the lives
of the children we minister to each week.
Carmen Kamrath is associate editor for Children’s Ministry
Magazine. Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and
prices are subject to change.