What Do We Mean When We Say Respect

Respect.

It’s a word we use a lot in a Montessori environment. Please respect your friends, your environment, the work, the book, etc.

But what does it mean to respect someone or something? And how do we communicate that to a young child?

I found myself using the respect word a lot more in the last few months and it wasn’t until I was correcting one of the boys that I realized how vague the term respect can be for a child. Something had happened and I told my son, “Please respect your…”, in exasperation he shouted back, “I don’t even know what that means!” It got me thinking…

We often use the word respect and assume the child inherently understands what it means to respect. Sure, we model respect in the way we treat others, the environment, and interact with them, but still…is that enough?

I usually say respect means taking care of things, treating others like you want to be treated. Even these explanations can be hard for a child to correlate to their specific behavior at hand.

What Do We Mean When We Say 'Respect' in the Montessori EnvironmentAfter some careful thinking I responded to my son, “Respect is thinking about how your words and actions affect the people and environment around you.”

We could stop there. They could just think about what they’re doing, but it still doesn’t call them to a specific action.

Pausing, I amended my statement,

“Respect is thinking about how your words and actions affect the people and environment around you and choosing to do what is best or most helpful for those around you or the environment.”

Oftentimes we have to talk through the specific behavior at hand to help our children see why yelling or talking loudly, even in play, when someone in the room has a headache or a hearing aid is not respectful. Children don’t always take note of these details and if they do, they might not always understand what it means for their actions.

It’s training them to be observant and considerate people. It’s helping them to think through their actions and ask, “Why? What? How?” It’s laying a basis of self-reflection. Learning respect, even at their young age, though the process feels slow, is cultivating a spirit of humility and service in their hearts and lives.

How do you talk about respect in your home?

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