Modeling Respectful Speech

Illustration of family at the dinner table. wife is glaring at husband who looks to be in shock over something his teen daughter has said.
Colin Jack

Parenting has a funny way of throwing your mistakes in your face. Just take, for example, the incident of the Chinese accent and my family.

It happened in the kitchen, of course — the place where all the most memorable events in our family seem to take place. As my wife prepared dinner, she gave my daughter instructions to set the table. My daughter decided this was the perfect time to hone her budding teenage sass.

"You go do it," she said, mimicking what her mom had just told her. She smirked as she copied the choppy cadence and strained vowels of her mom's Chinese accent. It sounded every bit like mockery.

I felt righteous indignation rise up in me just a split second before I felt something else. . . guilt. In that instant, I knew exactly where my daughter's disrespect had come from — me.

OK, before I continue, I should explain that I have the deepest respect for my wife's Chinese heritage, and I absolutely adore the way she expresses herself. On occasion, I have jokingly impersonated her accent — because, as Charles Caleb Colton said, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." Right? But as I heard my daughter mimic my mimicry, I realized how disrespectful it sounded. Ouch. How painful to see your mistakes reflected through your children's behavior.

Modeling behavior

Much of our kids' attitudes toward their mother come from watching their dad. As fathers, do we want our kids to respect their mother? Then we need to model that respect for them. Even unintentional signs of disrespect can make an impression on our kids. It's not uncommon for couples to delight in playful banter, but kids often cannot tell the difference between bantering and bickering. So when the kids are within earshot, it's best to take it down a notch.

Let's get real

Let's also take an honest look at ourselves. Do our words exude love and respect? Or are we sometimes impatient, sarcastic or condescending? It can be hard to see (or admit) our shortcomings, but we can strive for greater awareness. A good rule of thumb is to ask ourselves this: Would I want my kids to say this to their mom? If the answer is no, then we probably shouldn't say it either.

Our kids often take their relational cues from us. Let's show them what it looks like to honor the most important woman in our lives.

Michael Ridgeway is the editorial director for Thriving Family magazine.
This article first appeared in the April/May 2016 issue of Thriving Family magazine and was originally titled "No Disrespect Intended." If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Thriving Family, a marriage and parenting magazine published by Focus on the Family. Get Thriving Family delivered to your home by subscribing to it for a gift of any amount.
Copyright © 2016 Focus on the Family.

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