Teach Your Children to Be Respectful
A GERMAN proverb states: “With hat in hand, one goes through all the land.” In many cultures, a man’s removing his hat upon entering someone’s home or when exchanging greetings was considered a gesture of courtesy that won him respect. Hence, the meaning of the aforementioned proverb is that people are inclined to be kinder and are better disposed toward those who have good manners.
How refreshing it is when young people are well-mannered! A circuit overseer in Honduras who accompanies publishers of various ages in the door-to-door evangelizing work notes, “I have often found that a well-trained and respectful child has more of an impact on a householder than my words do.”
In these times of growing disrespect, knowing how to treat others is practical and beneficial. More than that, the Scriptures admonish us to “behave in a manner worthy of the good news about the Christ.” (Phil. 1:27; 2 Tim. 3:1-5) It is vital that we teach our children to respect others. How can they be taught not just to be outwardly polite but to be genuinely respectful?*
Good Manners Taught by Example
Children learn by imitating the examples they observe. So a fundamental way in which parents can instill good manners in their children is by being well-mannered themselves. (Deut. 6:6, 7) Reasoning with your child about politeness is important, but that alone is not enough. Along with the reminders, a good example is absolutely essential.
Consider the case of Paula,* who was raised in a Christian household by a single parent. Showing respect to all became a part of her personality. Why? She answers, “Mom set the example, so being respectful came naturally to us children.” A Christian named Walter taught his sons to respect their unbelieving mother. He says, “I sought to teach my sons to respect their mother by my own example, never speaking disparagingly of my wife.” Walter continued to instruct his boys in God’s Word, and he prayed for Jehovah’s help. One of them now serves at a branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the other is a pioneer. His sons love and respect both of their parents.
The Bible states: “God is a God, not of disorder, but of peace.” (1 Cor. 14:33) Everything Jehovah does is orderly. Christians should strive to imitate this godly quality and keep things tidy in the home. Some parents have trained their children to make their beds every day before going to school, to put their clothes in the proper place, and to help with household chores. If children observe a well-ordered and clean environment in the rest of the home, they are more likely to keep their rooms and possessions neat.
How do your children view what they are learning at school? Do they express appreciation for what their teachers are doing for them? As a parent, do you express such appreciation? Your children will tend to reflect the same attitude toward their schoolwork and teachers that you display. Why not encourage them to make a practice of thanking their teachers? Expressing gratitude for services rendered is an excellent way to show respect, whether to a teacher, a doctor, a shopkeeper, or anyone else. (Luke 17:15, 16) Young Christians who stand out among their schoolmates because of politeness and good conduct are to be commended.
Members of the Christian congregation should set a fine example when it comes to manners. How good it is to see youths who are associated with the congregation display graciousness by saying “please” and “thank you”! When adults show respect for Jehovah by being attentive to the instruction provided during the meetings, young ones are encouraged to imitate them. Children can learn to respect their neighbors by observing fine examples of good manners at the Kingdom Hall. For instance, four-year-old Andrew has already learned to say, “Excuse me,” when he has to pass by adults.
What else can parents do to help their children learn what is expected of them in the way of proper conduct? Parents can and should take time to share with their children the lessons learned from the many examples found in God’s Word.—Rom. 15:4.
Teach With Bible Examples
Samuel’s mother most likely prepared her son to bow before High Priest Eli. When she took Samuel to the tabernacle, he was probably only three or four years old. (1 Sam. 1:28) Could you rehearse with your little child such greetings as “good morning,” “good afternoon,” “good evening,” or whatever is customary where you live? Like young Samuel, your children too can be “likable both from Jehovah’s standpoint and from that of men.”—1 Sam. 2:26.
Why not use Bible accounts to highlight the contrast between respect and disrespect? For example, when Israel’s unfaithful King Ahaziah wanted to see the prophet Elijah, he dispatched ‘a chief of fifty and his fifty men’ to summon him. The officer demanded that the prophet accompany him. That was no way to speak to a man who was God’s representative. How did Elijah answer? “Well, if I am a man of God,” he said, “let fire come down from the heavens and eat up you and your fifty.” And that is exactly what happened. “Fire came descending from the heavens and went eating up him and his fifty.”—2 Ki. 1:9, 10.
A second chief of 50 was sent to get Elijah. He too tried to order Elijah to go with him. Once again, fire came down from the heavens. But then, a third chief of 50 came to Elijah. This man showed respect. Instead of giving Elijah an order, he bent down upon his knees and pleaded: “Man of the true God, please let my soul and the soul of these fifty servants of yours be precious in your eyes. Here fire came down from the heavens and went eating up the two former chiefs of fifty and their fifties, but now let my soul be precious in your eyes.” Would God’s prophet call down fire on someone who may have been fearful but spoke with such respect? That would be unthinkable! Instead, Jehovah’s angel told Elijah to go with this officer. (2 Ki. 1:11-15) Does that not emphasize the value of showing respect?
When the apostle Paul was taken into custody at the temple by Roman soldiers, he did not assume that he had the right to speak. He respectfully asked the officer in charge: “Am I allowed to say something to you?” As a result, Paul was given the opportunity to speak in his own defense.—Acts 21:37-40.
While on trial, Jesus was slapped in the face. However, he knew how to protest: “If I spoke wrongly, bear witness concerning the wrong; but if rightly, why do you hit me?” No one could find any fault with the way Jesus spoke.—John 18:22, 23.
God’s Word also provides examples of how we may respond to severe correction and how to acknowledge respectfully some past wrongdoing or negligence. (Gen. 41:9-13; Acts 8:20-24) For example, Abigail apologized for the insolent way in which her husband, Nabal, treated David. To her apology she added a gift of generous provisions. David was so impressed with what Abigail did that after Nabal’s death he chose her to be his wife.—1 Sam. 25:23-41.
Teach your children to be respectful, whether it is a matter of showing respect under trying circumstances or simply of displaying good manners. ‘Letting our light shine before men’ in this way ‘brings glory to our Father, who is in the heavens.’—Matt. 5:16.
Of course, parents need to help their children see the difference between being respectful to adults and submitting to someone whose motive might be harmful. See Awake! of October 2007, pages 3-11.
Some names have been changed.