The Zone of Respect - stacked stones in sand garden

The idea for an article on respect came out of a recent conversation I had with a parent who was convinced she had to “show” her son how to respect her. Read below to see how less can be more, and then let us know if you’ve experienced this problem.

Parent: “No, it’s a school night, and you cannot go to Jason’s party on a school night, you know the rules we have about school nights.”

Kid: “But mom! EVERYBODY is going! I’ll be the only kid in the whole school who won’t be there, and all because of your stupid rules! I hate you!!” This is followed by throwing his book bag, stomping up the stairs, and slamming the bedroom door.

The mom’s first instinct, and one I understand, was to follow her son into his room. Next would probably come, “You get back downstairs this minute, young man, and you pick up your book bag and behave respectfully to me!” Imagine this being said with a very intense tone; i.e. anger. Maybe even add: “And wait until your father hears about this! There won’t be any Celtics game this weekend!”

At this point, she has forgotten about “going to the calm” and the duct tape that we advocate to help us from losing it is sitting on the edge of the kitchen counter. She has allowed herself to be reduced to the same level of anger and frustration as her son; there is no modeling of respect on her part, either.

How does this happen? Easily! We often take things our kids say to us personally. The “I hate you” theme is one that most of us will take or have taken very personally, because it’s not a part of the image we hang onto of how family should treat each other.

This mom has lost her zone of respect – that circle around her in which she must stay and which says, “you will not cross this line; you will get my attention only when this episode has been settled respectfully.” We don’t often let any other human being treat us the way this son has just treated his mother.

This situation is an obstacle, which can become an opportunity. It’s also a time to take hold and let go. Or it could be a time to set a high expectation and let go of the outcome.

The expectation is that the son will apologize; there will be no discussion of any other subject, no meal eaten, no snack gotten from the kitchen, unless and until the boy apologizes for his outburst. If he comes into the kitchen and asks “what’s for dinner?,” mom might say, “there is no dinner until you and I discuss what happened when you came in from school.”

Kids do have strong feelings when they experience disappointment, but it’s our job to help them express those feeling with respect. Disappointment will be a part of their lives forever, and they cannot go around popping off when they don’t get what they want when they want it. So take your job as a parent seriously, but don’t take it personally when words of disrespect are flying at you. Hold on to your self respect, and settle the matter with your kids in a way that they know the way they treated you was unacceptable – that they crossed that line of respect with you.