4 Ideas To Build Respect In The Family Without A Fight

The best way to get respect is to give clear signals. {Image: payphoto / 123RF Stock Photo}

Ever been on a long car trip with kids? Then you know how fast a minivan can transform into a war zone. This past weekend, we visited extended family for a memorial, which meant six people (four kids) in a car for five hours. Twice.

And one of our kids is a tween, with mental health issues.

Think there were some explosive moments during the drive?? Yep. Ranting, accusing, and disrespect? Yep. Moments my husband and I wished we could quietly leave her by the side of the road? Yep. (Except that she’s never quiet…)

Have anyone like that in your life? A person who could easily dominate a whole family with their ranting or disrespect? You’re not alone, friend! Here are a few things that help our family. (And when they don’t, we know it’s time for a break or an extra visit with the counselor).

Define it.

Define what respect and listening look like, and let the family know it’s expected. Make it a part of your family mission statement and display it someplace prominent in the house. Do they need to look you in the eye when you’re talking to each other? Answer you promptly when you call them?

Does it mean they can never raise their voice? In our home, it doesn’t. It means the words used are honest and not intended to hurt. Raising voices in frustration isn’t bad in itself. Swearing, name-calling, blaming and shaming—whether yelled or spoken—aren’t allowed. The kids know what respect means, and every six months or so, we revisit/revise the expectations as a family so we’re all on the same page.

Build a plan around it.

Pick the ONE most problematic aspect or behavior, and make a plan that clearly defines what needs to change, what happens when it does, and what they can expect when it doesn’t. With adults, it’s a conversation. My husband and I talk in these terms: “What would you like me to do more of? Less of? Stop doing? Start doing?” This doesn’t happen in the heat of an argument. It’s part of the reconciling afterward—the moving forward.

With our kids, we’ll draft up an actual contract and hang it on the kitchen pantry door where we can see it daily. The clearer the goal, the simpler it becomes to reach. Notice I didn’t say easier…. there are some things we’ve been working on with our oldest daughter for over a year. New contracts every few months, and change is stubborn. But there IS progress and we celebrate when it happens!

Require it.

Not demand, yell, fight or argue for it. Require it. When emotions are high, don’t step in the boxing ring with her. Stay just outside the ropes, keep calm, and see it for the tantrum it is. In our house it looks like this:

She yells, accuses, swears. I reply, “I hear you. But I wish I could hear you better. Tell you what, you head to your room and when you’re calm and respectful, we’ll talk.” She yells and accuses and complains. I respond, “We’ll talk in 10 minutes, when you’re calm and respectful.” Wash, rinse, repeat. (And, if you’re me, then you might also be working with mood and mental health challenges, so at this point, you usher them to their room without saying one more word).

Whatever you do, don’t step into the ring. A fight can’t happen when only one person’s throwing punches!

See the real fight.

There is an enemy in the relationship, and that person’s not it. Think about it. If the devil is roaming around like a lion seeking something to devour and our number one job on earth is to love others, isn’t he going to attack relationships above all else? So, yes, stand up for truth.

Yes, set healthy boundaries. Yes, take breaks. And in it all, focus your prayer energy on the one who’s really making a mess of the relationship.

Fight alongside the other person for the relationship and that person’s best. Don’t let the enemy make it you versus them, because it’s just not the truth. It’s you and the other person against sin, and against our common enemy.

Anyone pushing your respect buttons today? What’s your next step in that relationship?


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  1. says

    I really needed to read this post today. We’re having major issues in our home since our son returned from college. Never had them before this past year. I obviously can’t send him to his room but I’ve gleaned some things that will help us hopefully. Thank you, Laurie.

    • says

      So sorry to hear, Melinda! I’ve used a lot of these things with grown siblings and friends… even my husband at times. Here’s to hopes they’ll help your son.

  2. MotheringFromScratch says

    {Melinda} Laurie, this is SOOOOO good. These are all principles that I learned the hard way. Wish I’d read a post like yours about five years ago! 🙂 The main rule that has helped me is that “There is no excuse for abuse.” You can be angry, frustrated, hurt, whatever, but that does NOT give you the right to abuse or disrespect me with your words. I think it is really important to equate verbal yelling, name calling with ABUSE. Because that is what it is — verbal abuse. As always, you give some fantastic advice and encouragement!

    • says

      Love that phrase, Melinda: there is no excuse for abuse. It’s so true. And it’s sooo tiring to keep up that boundary with a tween or teen! Ever since I saw those brain scans in a neuro journal that show verbal aggression physically feels the same to the brain as physical aggression, I’ve been calling yelling and disrespect abuse around here, too. Good for you – taking that stand. And thanks for stopping by!!