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R.E.S.P.E.C.T.: Find Out What it Means to Me...And You...And The Rest of the World

By: Liza Hahn, MS, LPC-IT, Registered Yoga Instructor

As a school counselor, the topic of respect comes up on almost a daily basis in regards to student behavior. Usually it's when a student is not being respectful to others, including teachers and/or peers. As a private therapist, the topic of respect still comes up, however, it's usually related to personal interactions and when exploring values. Whichever environment respect is discussed, it has become clear to me that this term means different things to different people. Hence, leading to some very confused kiddos.

So, what is this respect thing all about anyways?

According to an online dictionary search, the definition of respect, when used as a noun, is: “Due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others.” Yet, “due regard” can look, sound, and feel different for each person, family or culture. This lack of clear definition can clearly cause miscommunication, conflict, and a bunch of hurt feelings.

We are not born with the “respect” characteristic. It is a trait taught to us, usually during childhood, by our parents or elders that we interact with on a daily basis. Even better, it is role-modeled for us by these same people, as well as others in our worlds.

I used to work with a middle school teacher who taught a fabulous lesson about respect when preparing her students for an incoming substitute teacher. She would ask the students: “Imagine you are inviting a friend over to your house to play. What expectations do you need to tell your friend about before they come into your house so they know how to behave?”

The students would brainstorm answers like, "Take your shoes off," "Ask before taking something from the fridge," "No yelling," "We can’t go into my parents room," etc.

The teacher then asked, “What would happen if they didn’t follow these rules?”

Students respond with a variety of answers ranging from, "They may have to go home," to "They won’t be able to come over again."

She asks if their friend would be considered disrespectful, which they agree could happen.

This lesson leads to a discussion about respect in general: Why it's important to treat substitutes with respect, the creation of common expectations, and what respect means in their classroom community. What a great opportunity to clarify a pretty abstract concept!

This lesson gave me an “a-ha!” moment on the importance of teaching about respect, talking about what this means to us as individuals, and to avoid making assumptions that someone may “just know” what it means to be respectful. As Aretha Franklin so powerfully sang, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me!”



P.S. Need some help figuring out what your limits are and how to communicate them? Head over here. Or for guidance on managing her expectations: Read more here.


If you are interested in scheduling an appointment with Liza, you can reach her via email: or call our intake line: 608-709-6972.

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[This article does not create a client-counselor relationship. This article is general counseling information and is not to be considered legal or medical advice. Please consult with your mental health professional before you rely on this information.]

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