There are not many things more unpleasant than listening to a kid mouth off, with complete disrespect, to his mother. The only thing that might rival it is hearing a parent berating or shouting at a child with even less respect.
You hear it everywhere, in airports or grocery stores, in school yards or just walking down the street — parents yelling or barking or being sarcastic with their kids; parents who sound like drill sergeants or wardens in a prison. No respect, treating kids like slaves or imbeciles or like little jerks who are so irritating they can hardly stand them.
Hearing a parent abuse a child verbally can be a painful, frightening thing, as described by Nancy Baird in a recent BYU Women's conference:
"One morning, very early, in Puerto Rico, I was out running in a little park in our 'Urb,' our gated neighborhood. As I ran, I heard through an open window in a house above me, a man screaming, raging at a child. It was a terrible sound. The screaming. The child crying.
"The park became silent. Which is saying something on an island where there is always sound — birds, wind, palms moving. There was no sound beside the screaming and the crying of the child. The birds stopped singing. The wind dropped. The palms were still. It was as though the whole world stopped and was listening. … It was frightening."
When we parents disrespect our children, we are forgetting that they are the most important thing in our lives! Simply remembering and reminding ourselves of this can expand the respect we give them, and ultimately the respect they return to us.
This doesn't mean we don't discipline them, or correct them, or have high expectations of them. But it does mean that we try to do each of these things with gentleness, with perspective, with patience and with respect.
You may not be (hopefully have never been) a blatantly disrespectful parent, one who verbally abuses your child in ugly and profane ways, but if we are not wary, disrespect creeps in through our tone of voice and even through the looks we give our children.
We recommend "the DAT formula."
"D" stands for decibels. Just turn down your volume a little, speak a little more softly, a little more calmly. (Most parents have learned that decibels are contagious, and that the louder they speak, the louder their children will respond, and vice versa.)
The "A" is for agency. When we give children no choices or input on things, we disrespect them as individuals. Of course, we have to make most choices for them when they are small, but giving them as many choices as we can, as early as we can (things as simple as what color of juice they want), is not only a great teaching method, but a simple and direct way of respecting them.
The "T" is for tone. Even when our decibels are OK, we often use a tone that is condescending or sarcastic or even mean or arbitrary — a tone we would never use with a friend or other person we respect.
None of us are perfect, so don't beat yourself up too much if you occasionally lose it with a child. But keep trying. Keep reminding yourself that they deserve respect.
And hey, here's another great thing to remember: When we respect our children more, an amazing thing happens — they respect us more!
New York Times No. 1 bestselling authors Richard and Linda Eyre are the parents of nine children and, by coincidence, the authors of nine internationally distributed parenting and life-balance books. They lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Part of today's column is an excerpt from their new book "5 Spiritual Solutions for Everyday Parenting Challenges," which will be released in March. Visit the Eyres anytime at www.TheEyres.com or www.joyschools.com and read their blog at www.deseretnews.com/blog/81/A-World-of-Good.html.