Respect for ourselves and respect for others are the foundations of trust.

Speaking respectfully is learned, and being spoken to respectfully by our children is of great importance to most parents. How our children speak to us — including their tone of voice, words and body language — can be an instant trigger, resulting in an angry response of, “You can’t talk to me like that.”

Unfortunately, that response does not give children the tools to learn to speak respectfully. Here are five keys for encouraging greater respect:

Process your trigger. “Respect” is a trigger if you react from a charge of anger, hurt or sadness to something your child has said. It is a trigger if there is no space between your child’s statement and your reaction.

In requesting that you process your trigger, I am not condoning your child’s disrespectful action. You will not, however, be able to guide them from that reactive spot.

This is a prime opportunity to discover what respect means to you, for you and about you so that you have the flexibility and creativity to be that guide for your child. You may want to seek guidance for yourself in processing what lies below the trigger.

Allow a respectful “no” from your child. Children who have the option of saying no at home will be prepared to say no to things that are not in their best interest out in the world.

If your child gives you a curt comeback to your request to set the table for dinner, consider saying, “It is OK to say no and here is what it sounds like — ‘No, Mom’ [with a neutral tone]. Setting the table or washing the dishes are up for grabs. Which do you choose?”

Monitor how you speak. Notice your tone of voice, the words that you use and your body language. What are you modeling for your children? Make the shift in your conversation, requests and responses first so you are guiding by example.

Be aware of the feelings behind the words. Notice your child’s tone of voice and body language. What are they feeling — angry, sad, afraid or embarrassed? Are they tired, cold, hungry or ill? Assist them in identifying the feeling or their state of being. Guide them to ask for what they want rather than reacting or complaining.

Give them the words to use. This is the most important of the five keys. Simply requesting that children “use their words” or that they talk to you “with respect” does not give them the information they need. Model the words and tone for them. For instance, “It is OK to request to be alone. It is not OK to tell me to shut up. Please say, ‘Mom, I would like to be alone now.’ ”

From as early as the age of 2, children may respond in snippy, sassy or abrupt ways. They have only been on the planet a few years and need guidance. It is not personal.

Processing your triggers will allow you to be present and mindful. Monitoring yourself will set you up as a wonderful example. Being aware of your child’s feelings and state of being will tune you into them. Giving them the words to use provides them with incredibly useful information. This all leads to greater respect.

Maggie Macaulay is the owner of Whole Hearted Parenting, offering coaching, courses and workshops. Contact her at 954-483-8021 or Visit her website at

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