We all know what it feels like to be respected (or disrespected). But what does the word respect really mean? To teach respect in the classroom we must be able to define it. We won’t bore you with dictionary definitions—they’re not particularly helpful when working with kids, anyhow.

Respect can be summed up this way: It’s about treating others as you would like to be treated.

woman standing in front of Children in a Classroom

What does this actually look like in the classroom? Kids who show respect and are shown respect:

  • Feel safe around their peers and their teacher;

  • Don’t yell or talk over others;

  • Listen to others even when they disagree;

  • Don’t try to control others;

  • Talk openly about their needs and wants;

  • Admit when they’ve made a mistake; and

  • Freely express who they are and allow others to do the same.

Here are some ways to teach and encourage respect in the classroom:

  • Model respect. Children look to adults for clues about behavioral expectations. If they see their caregivers and teachers treating others with respect and compassion, they’re more likely to do the same. Children are master imitators. If we expect them to always say please and thank you, we must act as role models and do the same.

  • Start with yourself. Too often adults make the mistake of demanding respect from children while treating children disrespectfully—for example, by shaming, lecturing, or being critical. This can happen when our “buttons get pushed” or we’re tired or frustrated. Teachers and caregivers must commit to unlearning ineffective or harmful ways of responding to children and model the respectful behavior they expect from kids. We can train ourselves to think before we speak and choose our words carefully, knowing that children imitate what they see and hear.

  • Discuss respect with students. Use age appropriate language to let students know how they should treat others. Teach your children to use respectful words and phrases, like “Yes, Miss/Mrs. Smith,” and to say please and thank you. Explain that respect is shown not only in their behavior but also in their attitude toward others. Make sure kids know that it’s not okay for anyone, including adults, to use disrespectful behavior.

Kids learning to draw in a classroom

  • Praise respectful behavior. Let students know when they demonstrate good manners, empathy, and respect for others. This signals to kids that treating others with respect leads to positive outcomes.

  • Incorporate social-emotional learning. Focusing only on negative behaviors can make students feel like they are “bad” or “problem children.” Social-emotional learning (SEL) is a different approach—it uses positive discipline and deliberately emphasizes recognizing students for their positive character qualities. SEL equips children with the tools they need to manage their own emotions. And when kids can keep their emotions in check, they’re better at controlling their behavior and navigating interpersonal relationships.

  • Respect starts at home and in the classroom. It lays the groundwork for positive interactions and relationships throughout a person’s life. Respect is one of the core tenets of the HONORABLE CHARACTER™ Classroom Management System. Learn more about this highly effective ready-made tool to promote prosocial behavior in students.