“How We Raised Kids Who Don’t Interrupt and Look You in the Eye” originally appeared on Quora and The Fatherly Forum, and was reprinted with permission.
Our twins, a boy and a girl, are in eighth grade. Between the two of them, they have won Student of the Quarter for Respect and Student of the Quarter for Compassion four times (the maximum awards allowed to a student).
Here’s a pretty simple formula we used for raising them. It’s deceptively simple, but it applies very widely: respect their needs, and set boundaries on their actions.
Here’s an example. Lots of kids interrupt their parents. We were just at a friend’s house and her daughter could come up and interrupt any time. At first, the mother yelled at the child, and then gave up and just put up with it.
Years ago, we told our kids, you can’t interrupt us when we’re talking to friends. “But sometimes we need to talk to you,” they said. So we created a system whereby when they need to interrupt us, they come over, stand quietly, and put a hand on our shoulder or knee.
Our part is to finish our sentence and acknowledge our kids right away. We handle the issue and go back to our conversation. So they get their needs met — they get our attention. And we get our needs met — we don’t have our conversation interrupted and we don’t get nagged.
It takes both of us working together.
As another example, my wife feels very strongly that when someone comes to visit the family, our kids greet them at the door and look them in the eye when they say hello. But our daughter, in particular, is a bit shy with strangers.
So we told her, “Sure, you don’t have to stay afterward. While you’re here, I’ll hold your hand. We can stand with our arms around each other. You can even stand behind me if that makes you feel better. As long as you look the visitor in the eye and welcome them.”
It’s that way with everything we ask them to do to show respect. Usually, if they don’t want to do it, it’s because they have some need that seems to conflict. So we draw that out and figure out a strategy that’s respectful and meets our needs and theirs.
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