We’ve all heard the saying ‘respect your elders” or “treat your elders with respect.” However, could the reverse also be true? Have you heard that you should “treat your children with respect?”
Many people believe that children are beneath adults. You often find people referencing the Quran and hadith to demonstrate why respecting elders is essential. And it is. The Quran, hadith, and actions of the beloved family of the Prophet (PBUH) all tell us the importance of respecting our elders.
However, a misconception occurs in this mentality, where one assumes that respecting elders means reciprocation does not exist. As if it’s only a one-way street. But is that the truth?
Let’s look at what Islam says about respecting children and what western science tells us about this very concept.
This post answers the question: should you treat your child with respect?
What Is Respect?
First, let’s take a quick look at the definition of respect. While this may seem obvious, we often find ourselves using words without fully understanding what they mean. According to the Cambridge dictionary, one definition of respect is “politeness, honor, and care shown toward someone or something that is considered important.”
Now, with this definition in mind, let’s continue.
What Does Islam Say About Respecting Children?
We know that Allah (SWT) is the creator of all that is. A child cannot enter this world without Allah’s (SWT) will. Therefore, we must always respect what the Creator has created on a fundamental level.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, “As your father has a right over you, so does your progeny have a similar right” (Majma al Zawaid, v.8, p.146).
In addition, the Prophet (PBUH) has also said: “As are the children disinherited for their disobedience so also it is possible that the parents may be disowned by the children for not fulfilling their bonding duties” (Bihar al-anwar, v.19, p.93).
Muhammad ibn Hussain (a.s.) said: “Your behavior towards your children must be of a person who believes that a good deed shall get a suitable reward and ill-treatment shall call for retribution” (Makarim al-akhlaq, p.484).
Ali ibn Abu Talib (a.s.) said: “Respectability is the zenith of humanity” (Ghurar al hikam, p. 34). In another hadith, Ali ibn Abu Talib (a.s) says: “the best inheritance a father can give to his son is to train him to be polite” (Ghurar al hikam, p. 190).
Again, Ali ibn Abu Talib (a.s) tells us “start instruction with oneself and then teach others. First make your character perfect and then sermon and advise others” (Ghurar al hikam, p. 195).
Against some cultural beliefs, here we see that Islam promotes mutual respect regardless of age.
What Is The Western Thought About Treating Your Children With Respect?
Before we get into the science, let’s discuss what we traditionally hear about respect and young children.
Often, we hear adults saying, “My children must obey what I say,” or “He can’t just do whatever he wants,” or the classic “She can’t get away with that.”
It is true that in most cases, the parents who say these things mean well and only want the best for their children. However, these are clear signs of disrespect.
It is also important to mention at this point that this is also not always the adult’s fault. In most cases, this approach has been handed down through generations and in many cases is an inner voice we didn’t even know we had.
So, let’s ask the question – does respect for children matter in the west?
The Western Perspective on Respecting Children
What do psychologists say about treating your children with respect?
Many modern psychologists agree that respect for young children is important. In fact, many scholars believe that this is central to their rights and participation.
According to psychologist Shanti George, no one is too young to respect, and we need to work towards a world where respect for young children is routine. Psychologist Larry Nelson of the Brigham Young University also believes that the best parenting style is one that blends love and respect for the child.
Additionally, the Montessori philosophy has its basis on a deep respect for children and the expectation that adults should respect their autonomy and freedom. The popular Montessori method is designed to encourage kids to express their freedom to choose, move, and learn from their mistakes by allowing them to work at their own pace and express themselves independently. This approach is not exclusive to the Montessori philosophy alone, rather, many learning philosophies promote respect for children.
Why is it important to treat your children with respect?
Treating your child with respect is the foundation of mutual respect. Most Western scholars believe that as a parent, you have to give your children your respect in order to receive it back from them. Not surprisingly, this is no different than the hadith mentioned above from Ali ibn Abu Talib.
Here are some of the reasons why this is important:
- A family with mutual respect is a close family. Closeness is a product of respect for your child’s autonomy blended with love and high expectations. According to Psych Central, this results in children with a higher sense of self-worth.
- Mutual respect encourages equality at home. Children deserve to be treated with kindness and respect without feeling like their parents control their every move. According to a study by Lane Community College, this is the key to improving relationships between parents and children. With it, families get healthier communication habits that allow parents to enforce rules and children to respond to fair and consistent expectations.
- Mutual respect leads to effective conflict resolution. Because of it, both parents and children can express their feelings knowing that the other party is willing to listen to their point of view.
- Mutual respect leads to healthy communication. According to the Empowering Parents website, healthy communication allows children to see their parents as human beings who also make mistakes when parents ask for forgiveness and express their honest emotions. This further reinforces mutual respect.
What benefits do you reap when you respect children?
Here are some of the benefits of treating your children with respect:
- Children get to trust and respect themselves more when they are treated with respect at home.
- When you treat your child with respect, you become their role model, allowing you to impart morals, principles, and guidance.
- Children who feel respected feel secure and gain a clear uncompromised view of themselves and their world, allowing them to make better decisions as they grow.
- The family bond becomes stronger, and every member within the family unit feels less isolated.
- Members of a family with a foundation of respect are more likely to develop a true sense of self and a deeper understanding of who they are. Their shared values will be stronger and they are more likely to understand their purpose in life.
- Children respond positively when given boundaries and when disciplined with love.
- Other people will respect your child when your child already feels respected.
How to Maintain a Mutually Respectful Culture at Home
According to the book “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, implementing the following strategies will help parents demonstrate respect for kids while also fostering autonomy and reducing power struggles at home:
1. Ask fewer questions
Do not ambush your child with a barrage of questions. Younger kids may be eager to share details, but as they grow older, they become less inclined to answer your questions. When kids are quiet, it is a sign that they want to control when they tell you what you want to know. Avoid questioning them too much as a sign of respect for their good sense and judgment. If you don’t, it may appear that your questions are coming from a place of lack of confidence and judgment. Unless it is a matter of safety, give your child the space to share when they are ready and comfortable. Treat them as you would appreciate being treated by others.
2. When your child is asking too many questions, wait to respond
Give them the opportunity to figure out certain answers for themselves to show them that you are confident in their abilities. This will make them less helpless and overdependent on you. Instead of giving your child a straight answer, respond with a question. For example, when your child asks, “Why is the sky blue?” You can respond by saying, “That’s a very interesting question. What do you think?” Keep the lines of communication open by being encouraging, showing empathy, and expressing confidence even when you feel exhausted by the number of questions your child (especially younger ones) is asking. It is a sign of respect to answer in ways that encourage your child’s sense of autonomy and problem-solving skills.
3. Respect your child’s body by letting them own it
Allow your child to bathe independently, choose what clothes to wear, and pick a hairstyle. Once your child shows some signs of personal responsibility, stop wiping their nose or scrubbing food off their face or pulling down their shirts for them. When you do these quick fixes regularly, you disempower your child by denying them the opportunity to take care of their personal needs. By letting them be in charge of their own personal appearance, you model respect.
4. Let your child answer for themselves
When someone else asks your child a question, instead of interjecting and answering on their behalf, let them answer for themselves. This way, your child will get to learn that their opinion is valued. And if they are shy or not socially confident, they also get the opportunity to develop their social skills with every conversation. Showing them respect in this way gives your child the opportunity to become confident and capable as they grow.
5. Show respect for your child’s “readiness”
Try not to coerce your child into doing something they don’t want to do or feel comfortable doing. For example, getting in the pool or using the toilet for the first time. Instead, respect your child’s “readiness” and let them do those things when they decide to do it, whether it’s that day or some other day. This way, you raise a child that is self-motivated, capable, respectful, and resilient and one who is not easily coerced by the pressure of others.
Both the Islamic perspective and the Western perspective value the child and their place in the family. This is why the importance of respecting children has been established on both sides. When you respect your child, you make them feel valued and capable. They will become less likely to engage in power struggles with you. Modeling mutual respect in this way will allow you to be well on your way to raising respectful children.
AL-Amidi, Abu I-Fath, Ghurar al-Hikam
“About Montessori Education.” American Montessori Society, amshq.org/About-Montessori. Accessed 5 June 2022.
Bihar al-Anwar. Vol. 19.
“CG 213 – Improving Parent Child Relations – Acalog ACMSTM.” Lane Community College, catalog.lanecc.edu/preview_course_nopop.php?catoid=11&coid=18209. Accessed 16 June 2022.
Faber, A., & Mazlish, E. (2012). How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk (The How To Talk Series) (Updated ed.). Scribner.
George, Shanti. “ERIC – ED522534 – Too Young for Respect? Realising Respect for Young Children in Their Everyday Environments: A Cross-Cultural Analysis. Working Papers in Early Childhood Development, No. 54, Bernard van Leer Foundation (NJ1), 2009-Jul.” ERIC, 30 June 2009, eric.ed.gov/?q=source%3A%22Bernard+van+Leer+Foundation%22&id=ED522534.
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“Respect Meaning: 1. Admiration Felt or Shown for Someone or Something That You Believe Has Good Ideas or Qualities…. Learn More.” Cambridge Dictionary, 1 June 2022, dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/respect.
Tucker, Kristine. “The Importance of Mutual Respect Between Parents and Children.” How To Adult, 14 Jan. 2020, howtoadult.com/importance-mutual-respect-between-parents-children-4031.html.
This post answered the question: “should you treat your children with respect?”