Children playing

The way we treat our children can have lifelong effects on them. Children’s brains are still developing, and as adults, they are learning from us how the world works. It is our job as adults to teach and show them how they deserve to be treated and give them tools to prepare them for the future.

Across America, it is estimated that almost 3.2 million children witness domestic violence each year. 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men will experience intimate partner violence sometime in their lifetimes. As parents, this is not something we ever want for the children in our lives. Luckily, there are things we can do to help teach our children they deserve more than this, and help them become more comfortable with setting boundaries and demanding the level of respect they deserve. Modeling respect to children is extremely important, but can often be overlooked in the daily rush of life. With some simple changes, we can improve the way we interact with children more positively while showing respect for them and their bodies.

One of the main suggested ways to model respect to children is to give them choices.

Children often don’t have much control over their lives, so it’s good to try and give them control when possible. This can help the child feel more comfortable in situations, and give them a better sense of self confidence and body autonomy. Sometimes there are things that are necessary, and in that case, giving the child options on how to do it can be helpful. For brushing teeth, you could ask if they want to either brush their teeth now or in five minutes. You could also give them the choice of brushing their teeth either in the bathroom sink, or the kitchen sink. Sometimes, it can be something as simple as asking them if they want to walk like a dinosaur to the bathroom, or walk like a crab. By offering these choices, a child might feel less forced to do the activity, and feel more of a willing participant.

Another way to model respect towards the children in your life is to explain what you are doing and why.

This gives the child a better idea of why the things are happening. Some examples of this include saying “I’m going to move your chair so we can make room for more friends at the table” or can be something such as explaining to a child that the reason they need to return home from playing at a certain time is so that you can make sure they are safe. Children don’t always understand why certain things are happening, but taking just a few seconds to explain to them why it is that way, they are oftentimes more likely to listen and go along.

Every time we model respect to children, they are learning to expect respect from other people in their lives. As they grow older, they will be less likely to accept disrespect from future friends or partners. This will help prevent them from falling victim to intimate partner violence in the future if they know how much respect they themselves deserve and also how to respect other people.

Some fun books to help start the conversation of respect and consent with your children:

  • Dont Touch My Hair! By Sharee Miller
  • The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade by Justin Roberts
  • The Shiny Bee who Felt Out of Place by Natalie Meraki
  • Will Ladybug Hug? By Hilary Leung

Written by Mallory Skinner, childcare coordinator at Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support.