No R.E.S.P.E.C.T. for anyone or anything. What do you do?



“I am fed up with some of these kids. They have no respect for me or for anything!”

I have often heard people that work with misbehaving kids talk about the lack of respect some of these kids have. They say it like they are ready to throw in the towel and walk away. My suggestion is to take the word “respect” out of your vocabulary.

Did you read that correctly? Are you thinking, “She didn’t just say, ‘take respect of out of your vocabulary’ did she?'” Yes. That is exactly what I said.

You are probably thinking respect is one characteristic that we all need to have. How can we exist if we don’t have respect? How can we teach children about a supreme God if they have no respect for anything.

When ministering and working with children who have experienced a trauma or crisis remember these kids exist in the “fight or flight” part of the brain. It has served them well in the past and when something triggers anything that doesn’t feel safe, they revert back to fight or flight mode. They will run, hide or put up their dukes and fight.

The surviving part of the brain kicks in to keep them safe. They can’t think long-term or even in the moment sometimes. For some it’s all about surviving and just getting through this point in time.

I have had many people say things like, “It’s my job to teach respect.” Or, “children need to learn to respect the adults.” While in theory I agree, in reality it’s not going to happen with the child who has experienced some sort of crisis such as the divorce of his or her parents. It’s not going to happen with a child that has been abused in some way or a child that has been neglected.

Perhaps no adult in his or her childhood has shown empathy to this child. Maybe no one has modeled respect. They don’t know or understand what respect is all about.

  • People have taken from them so they take from others.
  • People have hurt them so they hurt others
  • People have yelled at them so they will yell at you
  • People have embarrassed them in front of others so they have no qualms about embarrassing others
  • People haven’t been fair to them so they won’t be fair to others
  • Adults have not shown any respect toward the child so the child shows no admiration, appreciation or respect to adults

In other words children do to others what’s been done to them. You can count on it!

What you can do

Recently I had a child greet me just like the kid in this picture. It was his first time at our church. It actually caught me off guard. His mom was so embarrassed. I didn’t miss a beat as I welcomed him. As he walked down the hall every person he came across he stuck his tongue out. He kept this up for several weeks. We just continued to welcome him and not make comments on him sticking his tongue out at us. Eventually he integrated into the group and no longer lashes out at us with his tongue. It helped to know his story and to realize he was a very hurting child.

  • Get to know the child personally.
    • Don’t make the child just another child in the group.
    • Learn not only his first name but the correct last name also. (It might be a family where different children have different last names. Don’t offend the child by calling him his sister’s last name.)
    • Ask him or her questions about their week.
    • Remember their situation week after week and inquire about their problems. Ask about the parent that doesn’t live with them. Or about the grandmother they live with.
    • Empathize and share small parts of your life with the child.
  • Model respect. You be the adult and respect the child.
  • Respect their feelings. It’s their feelings and they have a right to feel the way they do.
  • Respect the fact that they have experienced some sort of trauma and that experience has skewed their view of the world and many times of God also.
  • Model the love of Jesus in your interactions with them.
  • Model compassion toward them.
  • Be joyful around them. (Let mirror neurons do their thing.)

After you have gotten to know them; after you have developed a relationship with them; after you have connected heart-to-heart with them, then you can start introducing the concept of respect. It might be a slow process but isn’t it worth it if you can bring this child into the Kingdom?


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