Back in the early 1800’s, Sir William Curtis toasted the Board of Education with the three R’s of education – Reading, (w)Riting and (a)Rithmetic.  The phrase caught on and has since been used to describe the basic learning subjects in school.  Today, you have the three R’s of Recycling – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.  These are all very catchy ways to remember the important aspects of education and recycling.  I am proposing the Three R’s for Children – Respect, Relationship, (then) Rules.  I have been working with children of all ages as well as their parents or guardians for over 20 years in various settings.   As a Certified Positive Discipline Educator and Emotions Mentor Coach, I help to empower children and adults with education and tools to improve their lives and wellness. 

The tools that I have learned through my education and experience give me a great deal of insight into positive ways of working with children, both in the home and classroom.  Before we take a look at the 3 R’s for children, we need to remember a few basic truths about children and about ourselves.  First and foremost, all children just want to be loved – even the misbehaving children.  American psychologist, Rudolf Dreikurs said, “A misbehaving child is a discouraged child.”  Keep in mind that children are always thinking, feeling and deciding based on their experience or perception – not yours.  If we look at a child’s behavior as the tip of the iceberg and recognize that ultimately what is underneath is a child who desires love, then we can make better decisions on how we interact with, teach and love them. 

Now, I have some tough love for adults.  Pause for just a moment and reflect on yourself and your relationships.  Do you treat your spouse and your peers with respect?  Do you treat yourself with respect?  Do you trust others and have healthy relationships?  If the answer is no, it is important that you investigate that.  When we are in a position to influence children of our own or other’s children, it is imperative that we work towards being mentally healthy ourselves.  Children notice when we display unhealthy habits and have unhealthy relationships.  They come to their own conclusions and that becomes part of their perception.  Their maturity level prevents them from understanding this subconscious process.  However, you and I are aware of how this works and we need to take responsibility for our own mental health so that we can positively affect our loved ones.  As you continue this article, reflect on yourself as you seek to improve your relationships with your children.


The first “R” is Respect.  Using Positive Discipline techniques in your home or classroom allows you to be kind yet firm with children.  Being kind yet firm shows children that you respect them while still respecting yourself.  You are neither always controlling or always permissive.  One definition of respect for children states that “showing respect to someone means you act in a way that shows you care about their feelings and well-being.”  When you talk to children, are you the boss and exerting your authority all the time?  Are you considering where they are or what they are doing at that moment?  Children will listen to you AFTER they feel listened to.  While they might not be able recognize or verbalize that they need to be treated with respect, their behavior will show it. 

Jane Nelson, a licensed marriage, family and child therapist and co-author and founder of Positive Discipline, says, “Children do better when they feel better.”  Children feel better when they feel that they have a voice and their voice matters.  Next time you are having a power struggle with your child or student, take a step back and make sure you are treating them with respect and listening to what they have to say.  This does not mean that they get their way necessarily, it just means that they have been heard. Respect is a vital part of any good relationship.   

The second part of teaching respect is being firm.  Show children how to be respectful as well as be respected.  Being firm means not always giving in to your child’s request or tantrum.  It shows them that though they are important, they do not always get their way.  This is how life works as an adult as well.  Being firm establishes healthy boundaries without breaking your child’s spirit.  It teaches the child to respect authority and can also help avoid rebellion because they were heard and respected.  One way to be kind yet firm is to involve children in the decisions.  Dreikurs said, “When children are allowed to help make family decisions, they tend to be much more supportive and happier with family life.  Also, when allowed to help make rules, they will follow them much closer than if rules are forced on them.  All these add up to a happier home for all.”  Allow children to give their input by giving them a few choices.  For example, if you are having trouble with a bedtime routine, establish a time to go to bed and then discuss all that needs to be done in order to get ready for bed.  Then ask, “Would you like to put on your pajamas first and then brush your teeth or brush your teeth first and then put on your pajamas?”  Involve them in the process by giving them limited choices and then give them a voice.  It will empower them and create a more confident child.  Do not forget to be firm and follow through on the set bedtime. 

Respect is also learned when teaching children their own capabilities.  This helps to create self-respect and confidence.  When parents, teachers or caregivers do too much for children, they do not understand their own strengths and capabilities.   Teaching children to be confident in their capabilities can start at an early age by teaching them age-appropriate responsibilities.  For instance, children can put their own toys away between the ages of two and three.  Working in the school system with kindergartners, I teach many children how to open their own milk at lunch and throw away their own trash.  However, as moms, we tend to go behind our children at home and do simple things for them as well as cleaning up after them and putting their things away.  We then get frustrated over the summertime when we feel like we are always cleaning up after the kids. 

Moms, I want to empower you to realize that your children are capable of cleaning up their messes and so much more at an early age.  Let your children be responsible for taking care of their things, including their messes.  Teach them how they should do it.  Allow them to make mistakes and learn from them and they will rise to the occasion.  Trust me, they will.  Opening a milk from school lunch is not always an easy task but they learn it quickly.  I used to tell my own child that he is putting me out of a job when he does things for himself.  But isn’t that the goal?  Don’t we all ultimately want to raise confident, capable adults who contribute to society?   

A capable child is also one who learns how to solve problems for themselves.  As adults, we tend to give children the answers to their problems because we have more experience or knowledge.  Many times, we do not even realize we are doing it.  However, if we take a step back and ask them how THEY think they can solve the problem, it helps them develop that confidence muscle and problem-solving skill.  It gives them a voice and shows them their capabilities.  As an added bonus, it also gives us an insight as to how our children think. 

Our current society tends to have “helicopter moms” who go before our children and arrange things the way they want them or protect their kids before they fail.  Now we even have celebrities who lie and manipulate to get their children into the best colleges.  Do we know what this does to our children?  It takes away their ability to make mistakes and learn from them.  It takes away necessary life skills that they will need as adults.  It deprives them of confidence in their own capabilities. 

While we still have influence over our children, ask them how they think they should proceed or what they should do to solve a problem.  Help them think through their solutions and then make a decision.  They may not solve something the way we would and that is perfectly okay.  Help them develop their own unique problem-solving skills.  This will look differently at different stages in life.  When they are young, we give more instruction and do more of the “thinking” for them.  As they approach the adolescent years, we “think with” them.  Eventually, as teens, they will have enough experience and guidance to be solving their own problems and taking responsibility for their own actions.  However, we do hope they will still come to us for advice.  Jane Nelson said, “The challenge of parenting lies in finding the balance between nurturing, protecting and guiding, on one hand, and allowing your child to explore, experiment, and become an independent, unique person on the other.”   

We (parents, teachers and caregivers) will not always be there for our children.  They need to learn that it is okay if they fail or fall.  It is okay to make a mistake.  It is okay to spill the milk at the table.  That is how they learn.  The sooner children start to learn this in a safe environment where we can help them see what happened and what can be done differently next time (after we hear their thoughts on the event), the better it is for them.  When they do fall, comfort them instead of rescuing them, though at times it may be painful to let them face the consequences.  Their ability to fall and get back up (recover) enables them to become more resilient.  Resiliency is a key mental and emotional skill that will prepare them for life.  Resiliency contributes to self-respect and being able to be confident in oneself.


Teaching respect by demonstrating it to our children and to ourselves allows for better relationships and more confident children.  This leads us to our second R, Relationship.  As I mentioned before, respect is a vital part to any relationship.  Better relationships are possible when children feel respected by others, have respect for themselves, recognize their value, are able to contribute to their family, class or community and they feel heard and understood.  Communication is easier when there is a mutual respect.  Trust comes more naturally when people feel valued and heard. 

A few of the best ways to improve relationships are to spend quality time together and mutually learn and share with each other.  How are you doing that with your children?  If you are task-oriented or a scheduler, schedule time with your child.  Do not always have an agenda.  Let them share what is important to them during this time.  Meet them on their level and learn their interests sometimes.  In conversations, ask questions with the intention of learning and listening.  Help them recognize their strengths and learn what motivates them.  Give them a safe space to talk, play, sing, cry, whatever their heart desires, without judgment.  Why not talk, play and sing right along with them? 

Share yourself with them.  Talk to them about your life and your experiences too.  It seems that too often we feel the need to portray that we have it all together.  They know better so why not let them in a little?  However, if you do this, be careful not to burden them.  Allowing them to see that you make mistakes shows them how you recover from them as well. 

Model these four R’s of Recovery from Mistakes:

  1. Recognition – Be aware of your mistakes but do not treat yourself as a failure or play the blame and shame game. Simply recognize that what you did was not effective.
  2. Responsibility – Recognize the part you played in the mistake and be willing to do something about it.
  3. Reconciliation – Be humble enough to say you are sorry. Also, be willing to forgive.
  4. Resolution – Work to come up with a solution that is satisfactory.

Children have an innate way of sensing if you are genuine or not.  When you intentionally spend time with them on their level, show an interest in them as well as allow them to see that you are not perfect, you are creating a foundation for a stronger relationship.


With a mutual respect and a strong relationship, there is a higher likelihood that the rules will be followed.  The rules will look differently for families and classrooms, depending on the number of children, ages and genders of the children.  Trust your instinct and do what works best for your situation.  A great resource is The Child Whisperer by Carol Tuttle.  This book describes the four energy types, or true natures, of children.  It is a goldmine of information and helps you determine the best ways to parent or teach your children according to their nature.  The author states, “When honored for who they really are, children will cooperate more easily as a by-products of parenting efforts, and you will experience increased cooperation and harmony in your parent-child relationships.” Also use resources like the Positive Discipline parenting tools to help you implement rules in a kind and firm way. 

As Dreikurs said, “We cannot protect our children from life.  Therefore, we must prepare them for it.”  Let’s prepare our children by investing in the relationship, modeling respect and resiliency and giving them the tools necessary for a successful life. 

If you would like to learn more tools or would like to improve your own mental health and relationships,  schedule a FREE consultation or coaching sessions online at

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