How to teach children about respect

Posted by: Beatrice J. V. Balfour, Gan Shalom Director

This blog post is about the nuts and bolts of teaching children about respect and consent. Gan Shalom teachers recently attended a special workshop hosted by Zephira Derblich-Milea — who is a representative of Shalom Bayit and one of the moms at our school.

In this workshop, we discussed the importance of respecting oneself as a necessary condition for respecting others, and for teaching children about respect. We also talked about consent as it relates to gender. Shalom Bayit is an organisation that works on preventing domestic violence and supporting women who have undergone domestic violence. An important take-away from our workshop is that consent is not something that has just to do with sex. Consent is about giving permission, agreement and respecting others.

We learned that studies have shown that our emotional brain map is not innate, and it develops when we are very young between the ages of 0 to 6 year-old. 80% of our brain develops during our first six years. Preschools are, in this sense, a key place for the socio-emotional development of children. This age range is when children learn what it means to teach others about respect, or to be respectful of others. Children for whom this is modeled early on are more likely to set boundaries, to make others respect them, and to respect others.

During the workshop, we talked about some strategies that can be used with children to talk about respect: telling and tattling. Zephira connected this with the Torah. Telling can be thought of as getting someone out of trouble, and tattling as getting someone in trouble. Telling on someone to help them is a value mandated by the Torah. When children come to us and tell us that ‘X did Y’, it is helpful to consider: are they trying to help someone out of trouble, or rather to get them in trouble? Putting things in context or asking children more details about what happened can help us answer that question.

We discussed the importance for caregivers, teachers, and parents to set their own boundaries in order to model what boundaries and respect can be. We talked about the safety videos you watch on an airplane. In particular, we talked about the part that teaches passengers how to use the oxygen mask and that the videos say that an adult should put their mask on first before helping others such as children. Similarly, before we can teach respect and consent to others, we need to respect ourselves, our time, and our space – all key parts of self-respect.

We learned three questions to ask ourselves when considering if an action is respectful: are there risks involved? Is it prolonged? Is safety compromised?

Other strategies we explored are: giving children real choices; talking with the children about respecting other children’s bodies; modeling respect for the children; learning that it is okay and sometimes uncomfortable to say “no”; explaining why we say “no” when we say “no” to them; and teaching the children about boundaries, to trust their own instincts, and to love and care for themselves and for one another.

Thank you Zephira for the wonderful workshop!