The words “fear” and “respect” go hand-in-hand in the minds of many parents. In fact, confusing these two concepts is the No. 1 mistake we see parents make at the Idaho Youth Ranch--which is why teaching parents the difference between fear-based and respect-centered parenting is one of the key ways we help rehabilitate families.
So what is the difference between fear and respect?
Fears vs. Respect
Put simply, fear is forced, while respect is earned. The cultural misconception that if children fear parents, respect will come naturally is simply false. While it’s true that children may comply with the desired behavior if they fear what might happen otherwise, the eventual outcome is very different from motivation centered in respect. If your child fears you, they are far less likely to come to you voluntarily for help when they need guidance, advice, or assistance as they grow older and develop more autonomy--leaving them to struggle without your help.
Respect Is Earned
With great power comes great responsibility. While motivating and shaping a child through fear can be the easiest way to encourage or discourage a particular behavior in the moment, the path is a dangerous road. Choosing to earn your child’s respect to encourage good choices and good behavior is the best way to foster lasting bonds and give them the tools to manage their emotions and choices for a lifetime.
The good news is earning your child’s respect isn’t difficult. As a parent, you are the center of your child’s entire universe. Children naturally love their parents unconditionally and trust their parents. Earning and keeping your child's respect is as simple as following through with your promises and remembering that your children are people too. They experience the same emotions you do--like fear, confusion, sadness, anger, and joy. The only difference is that children simply aren’t yet equipped with the to tools to manage these emotions. That’s where you come in! Little by little, with respect as the basis for your interactions and guidance as a parent, your children will develop emotional maturity and the tools they need to function as healthy adults.
Seen vs. Heard
A good way to think about the difference between fear and respect is allowing a child to be heard--and not just seen. A fear-based approach sees behavior only and responds with an effective but damaging tactic. A respect-centered relationship takes the whole child into consideration--which includes the person that child will become and he or she matures. Respect sees--and hears--the child behind the behavior and recognizes that the child is another human being who is worthy of respect. This approach also recognizes that the child’s feelings are valid, important, and in need of guidance in the form of boundaries, kindness, and modeling positive behavior.
In the long run, the difference between fear-based and respect-based parenting is the difference in your relationship with your child--and your child’s relationship with life. Where will your child turn when he or she faces difficulty in life or wants to understand something? He or she will look for guidance where he or she feels heard. On the other hand, children who fear their parents are more likely to hold back their fears and concerns and find themselves in trouble.
Put it another way. Adults have lots of different kinds of relationships, right? Think about the relationships adults have with each other. For example, think about what a difference it would make between having a boss you fear and a boss you respect. A respectful boss encourages your creativity, ideas, and input whereas a “fear” boss wants employees who take orders. Would you want a spouse you fear? How about a friend? Try to remember that the relationships you have with our kids is a relationship, and that those tiny people are still people.
Don’t fall into the mindset of equating fear with respect when it comes to raising kids. Know the difference, and put that difference into action!