Knowing What to Expect, When Teaching Respect

Age-Appropriate Respect

As we begin our discussion of teaching children to respect themselves and others it is important for you to know that age and stage of development a child is in affects their ability to respect, empathize, appreciate, and tolerate diversity.

We found this description in a great book Playwise By Denise Chapman Weston and Mark S. Weston. We highly reccomend this book for all nannies and au pairs to use with children.

You may want to print this page since it is a great reference to use when teaching children and it is quite long.

Stage 1 Infancy: Birth to Two-Years-Old
The stage of life from newborn to toddler.

Expect babies to be self-centered. The first 12-months of life are affected by instinctual drives for nurturing, food, and basic care. Babies are unable to relate to what others feel (like annoying a pet by pulling his tail) and cognitively too immature to understand the concepts behind these traits (such as imitating nurturing behavior of her caregivers toward siblings, stuffed animal, or adults).

While it is fine to say, “No! Don’t pull the cat’s tail that hurts him,” do not expect children under two-years-old to understand or show signs of empathy. And while it’s fine to say, “Johnny, say thank you to Sally for giving you the gift,” do not expect the child to show overt signs of appreciation or respect.

Stage II Early Childhood: Preschool to -Years-Old to Six-Years-Old
The stage of life from toddler through Kindergarten.

This is often called the play age because it is the peak period of interest in play and toys, marked by exploration, discovery play, creativity, magical thinking, fierce striving for independence, and learning social skills.

Between ages two and four expect children to be egocentric and self-centered. They tend to be focused exclusively on themselves, with little concern or understanding of how others may be feeling. You may often hear, “I don’t care,” “It’s not fair,” “What about me,” and “It’s my turn!”

You can expect children between the ages of two and four to appreciate people and objects in terms of how much they meet their interests or bring them pleasure. They associate respect with an individual’s level of authority and power to reward or punish them. They respect others due to their physical size and strength (for example, little boys love bigger boys) and status among peers.

Do not expect children to understand the feelings and thoughts of others until age three. Do not expect them to appreciate the thoughts and meaning behind a gift or favor (although you can prompt them to say ‘thank you”). Do not expect them to pay respect to someone who does not show them respect.

Between the ages of four and six expect children to begin to recognize the value of their relationships and associations with family, teachers, and close friends. They should exhibit more generosity and willingness to share. They should begin to understand the feelings of others. The ought to begin to respect people for their skills and talents.

Do not expect children between the ages of four and six to exhibit these developing understandings consistently or when tired, cranky, stressed, or overexcited) without preparation and reminder cues from the caregiver.

Stage III Late Childhood: The School Years Six-Years-Old to 11-Years-Old
This stage of life begins with entrance into first grade and extends into the beginning of adolescence.

This period is marked by major interest and concern for social involvement with peers. Participation is rule-based group play and increased motivation to learn and academic success. This stage is very important for establishing attitudes and habits about learning, work, and personal potential.

Expect children to make only small strides in developing these skills and traits a little bit at a time. Expect that children will experience cruelty and disrespect at the hands of their peers. You can expect they will tune out empathy when it is convenient to them. They will invest more energy in caring and appreciating friends than they do siblings. They will demonstrate a commitment to humanity skills in a disciplined environment that stresses morality and kindness.

Do not expect children at this stage to pay attention to these issues if they are not reflected in the actions of their parents, older siblings, caregivers, and educators. Do not expect them to develop respect or empathy through fear or force.

Stage IV Early Adolescence: 11-Years-Old to 15-Years Old
This stage of life begins around the time a child finishes elementary school and concludes by the time he graduates middle school or junior high and enters the world of high school.

This period is marked by change, the onset of puberty, growth spurts, increased interest in peer relationships and opposite sex, and fierce striving for self-identity and independence.

Expect young adolescents to become more attentive to the nature of relationships between people, more aware of prejudice and discrimination and the disparities between rich and poor, and motivated to tack action to help those who have been mistreated or oppressed. You can expect adolescents will convey an attitude of contempt toward adult customs and sensibilities. They typically will act scornfully toward, mistreat, and undervalue their family family members, in particularly their siblings.

Do not expect young adolescents to put effort into treating family members with respect and empathy unless the parents have taken the time to understand their adolescent’s cultural values and interests — even if they do not wholeheartedly approve of them.

Have you had difficulty teaching children to respect others? Do you think understanding these normal age-appropriate stages of learning respect will help you in teaching children respect in the future?


  1. The kids never listen. Whenever I ask them to do anything they don't react. If I call them for dinner they don't come. Complete disrespect of my authority.

  2. This is so important. I hate to admit it but I get so mad at the 3 yr old for not sharing. But this info says not to expect toddlers to know how to share. I neverd realize teens act disrespectful towards their parents because that is part of their development. I feel enlightened. It is like an aha moment I am having. I am printing this out and keeping it with me to look at everyday so I will stop feeling so frustrated when kids seem self centered, don't share or seem disrespectful.thanxLisa, Jersey Shore NJ

  3. I just copied this and am printing it out and hanging it on the fridge. Sometimes (I hate to admit it) I expect too much from the kids. I am hanging it on fridge wo I can remember kids have to be taught how to be respectful.

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