One of the issues I explore in my book Happy Kids is that of respect. So often when I see the children I foster with their natural parents, I see a complete absence of respect. Not only from the children to their parents, and vice-versa, but also between the parents themselves, and from the parents towards other adults. It is so sad, and it makes working with these families and trying to rebuild relationships difficult. No one listens to anyone else, as each person focuses solely on their own needs; shouting orders, commands and insults, oblivious to each other.

Respect is crucial, both for a healthy family, and for an individual to function successfully in society. It has been suggested that the lack of respect now seen in many children is responsible for the growing crime rate among minors. There is a saying that ‘what goes around, comes around’, and treating a child with respect will certainly reap its own rewards - he or she will copy the parents or carers behaviour and treat them with the same respect. Children reflect the behaviour they see around them - positive and negative; they absorb it sub-consciously like a sponge.

It goes without saying that as foster carers we always treat our children with respect, but if a child has been living in a disrespectful environment for a long time when they first arrive work will need to be done. Politeness is a big part of respect – teaching a child to say please and thank you; not to snatch and grab; requesting rather than demanding; being aware of and responding to others feelings and wishes; cooperating and having patience, all go to make up respect.

I was recently asked to draw up some guidelines to help parents achieve respect in their children. I’d like to share these with you. You can probably think of more.

  • Never demand, but request – firmly if necessary.
  • Don’t shout, but speak in an even voice, repeating at the same level if necessary.
  • Listen to what the child has to say and take their opinions seriously.
  • Don’t interrupt or over-talk when a child is speaking, and don’t let them over-talk or interrupt you.
  • Teach good manners, tolerance, gentleness, and cooperation in their dealings with others.
  • Talk about other people’s feelings and about not hurting them.
  • Empathise and be aware of the child’s point of view just like they should be aware of yours.
  • Ask the child questions, and listen carefully to their replies.
  • Never smack a child or use any form of corporal punishment (is it illegal for a foster carers to physically chastise a child); it is humiliating for all concerned and sets a very bad example to the child.
  • Never allow a child to verbally or physically assault another person.
  • Don’t be afraid to set boundaries for good behaviour, with a system of rewards and sanctions.

Last but not least, spend time with the child. Time is far more important than anything money can buy. It sends the child the clear message that he or she is worth your attention and that you find pleasure in their company – that is the ultimate respect.

Cathy Glass (

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