Once during a child-training seminar I was conducting, a woman expressed surprise when I suggested she should teach her child to thank her after each meal and tell her how good it was. She was surprised, and seemed to think it would be prideful to require this of a child. Is it right to tell your children how they’re supposed to respond in this kind of situation? Of course! Hopefully, there are other adults in your child’s life who will demonstrate the appropriate way to treat you, but examples are not always enough, and should be underscored by overt, direct, intentional instruction.
Instruction in respectful actions and attitudes towards all adults (yes, ALL adults!) is something that should be a constant and ongoing part of bringing up children. Not to insist on this puts your child in the position of evaluating and selecting whom she will pay attention to, whom she will obey, and even if she will obey. Some may argue that a child should be taught not to obey anyone but her parents; I suppose this is for fear of the child feeling obligated to obey an adult who might wish to harm her. While dangerous adults, those who would pose a serious danger to a child, are out there, by far the greater majority are those who are decent human beings, unwilling to harm our little ones. If we are consistent in instructing our children in what is true and good, we are teaching them discernment and wisdom, arming them with the tools they will need to sense when obedience would be a mistake.
This training in respect finds many opportunities—after meals as mentioned above, when an adult enters the room (turn off the T.V. and pay attention), in the hallways at church (don’t run and weave between people), at receptions with seating for only a few (children should offer their seats to adults), and so on. You can practice at home a day or so before the opportunity in question, then coach the child just before, reminding them of how they are to behave. They will be so much happier in each setting, because they know what is expected of them! Their confidence will grow as they recognize that what they are doing is actually a very grown-up way of acting, and elicits a great deal of appreciation from adults.
Children who are respectful and considerate are a pleasure to be around, and a wonderful reflection on their parents. The way before them is made smoother because they aren’t constantly butting heads with those in authority. With Father’s Day just around the corner, this would be a perfect time to begin coaching little ones on truly honoring and respecting adults, beginning with Dad.