Respect comes in two forms, an external form and an internal form. Our children learn the external form of respect (how they react to people, how they handle authority, how they treat strangers) from our expectations. This is also known as manners, but I prefer to use respect because it is tied to our beliefs about others whereas manners often don’t have explanations or meaning. Showing someone respect is pretty straight forward teaching; you tell them what you expect, and they need to meet your expectations. In this case more than any, they will rise to meet your goals for them and over the years their habits will reflect your requirements.
The internal form of respect is much more difficult and much less straightforward. Here you will teach your children your own personal concept of respect. What beliefs are at the heart of your respect for others? Do people have to earn it or do they receive it simply because they are human? Does your behavior change when someone loses your respect? What does someone have to do to lose it? Do you show respect to people you don’t actually respect, and if so, why? This won’t be one discussion when they’re 5 or 8 years old, this will be 18 years of discussions and role modeling and reactions to positive situations and challenging situations. The more aware you are of your beliefs and actions, the more intentional you can be as you pass them on.
It works well to have a moral definition of respect, admit to your children that you don’t live it out as well as you would like, and then ask your children to help hold you accountable when they see you falling short. This is a great way to counter-balance your own weaknesses and team up with your children in search of a higher good (always a great way to teach!).