3 Lifelong Habits – The Habit of Respect

/ / - Character Development, Articles, Blog


There’s just something delightful about a young child who responds to others with a bright and happy countenance. So, it was with horror, one Sunday morning, I observed my five-year-old refusing to shake our senior pastor’s hand. My son’s grumpy face and folded arms spoke volumes about his mood that day, but also his need for training.

The temptation, as a parent, is to assume my child’s refusal to show respect is merely a reflection of his being tired, shy or having had “enough” for today. Though it’s quite possible one or all of these are true, allowing a habit of disrespect to develop is a mistake. My lack of attention to this habit may lead my child to look inward and consider his/her mood as the dictator for responding to others. People who choose to be kind only when they feel like it are often marked by narcissistic tendencies, which can lead to a life of loneliness and regret.

So, what did I do the day my son looked inward instead of upward to our pastor? I admit, the temptation to throw the well-known excuses of tired, shy or grumpy into the situation did occur to me. Instead, I said, “I apologize, we are working on that.” Throughout the next week, we spoke to our son about the reasons he ought to shake Pastor Mark’s hand, and we expounded on the benefits of being friendly and kind. Thinking we had arrived at an understanding, we joyfully trooped off to church, walked up the sidewalk, greeted the pastor and turned to our son who once again folded his arms and grumpily looked at the sidewalk.

Reasoning had left the door open for choice. Perhaps our son believed all we said about the joys of being kind and respectful, but when it came down to it, he simply didn’t want to do it. This is when we realized respectful behavior is a matter of obedience.

Now, here’s the sticky part of this article. It’s possible, in our current culture, the very word “obedience” conjures up thoughts of dictatorship, tyranny or abuse. On the contrary, training our children to be respectful and obedient is the best gift we can endow to them. It’s how we do it that matters. Wielding the power of parental authority ought to be done with a clear understanding of the office given to us by God. We have been gifted with the responsibility of these little ones as a trust. They are not ours, after all, but His. He is not harsh or vengeful, but gentle and firm. Think about the areas of your own life that used to be weak and in need of training. Is it possible that God has gently, but firmly, drawn you to himself and taught you how to develop new skills through training in righteousness and godliness? Now that you are stronger, are you not closer to the one who so lovingly trained you? This is how it ought to be between ourselves and God. Likewise, with our children. We must not give up or grow weary, for the development of their character is at stake.

So, what are we to do? How are we to train our children to be respectful? Training is the key to unlocking the will. No child is born an athlete, a scholar or an artist. Sure, they may have some natural skill, but it is the habit of doing that one thing over and over again that will develop their skill into a lifelong ability. Athletes will tell you there are days they simply don’t want to train. Scholars and artists, too, will acknowledge days they must apply themselves to their area of expertise, even though they may be tired, grumpy or “had enough.” It is the same with the habit of respect. We must help our children become diligent in this area through continuous training.

Shaking Pastor Mark’s hand and looking him in the eye became a Sunday morning ritual for our son after we made it clear this was the expectation. Our conversations with our son became much more directive than collaborative.

We began by saying, “You will shake Pastor Mark’s hand and be respectful, even if you don’t feel like it.”

“Why?” asked our son.

“Because it is the right thing to do and we do what is right in our family.”

Of course, some greetings were more genuine than others, but in time, the habit of greeting Pastor Mark became a joyful experience. Now that our son is a grown man, it is a joy to see him thriving in his church and work environment. People often comment that he is “so polite and agreeable.” Though it may be making much of a small thing, I think it likely that the habit of being respectful in a simple handshake may just be where our son’s training in the lifelong habit of looking not only for his own interests, but for others, began.

In my next article, we’ll talk more about the beautiful gift of obedience and how we can help our children unwrap it with joy!


Joleen Steel is the curriculum specialist for Camping Stick Kids. She has a B.A. in elementary education. She taught public school for ten years before deciding to open her own music studio and homeschool her boys. Joleen is a pastor’s wife and grew up as a pastor’s kid. Her love for the good news of Jesus Christ flows out of her and into the camping stick kids curriculum. Her easy style and creative approach to teaching will encourage your student to learn the Gospel story and be able to share the good news with their friends and family. Joleen would love to have you visit the camping stick kids website and blog. Come say hi at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

"Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6).