How to Build a Respectful Setting

Published On: 12 July 2022

Reading time: 7 minutes

Respect means thinking about the feelings, wishes, and rights of another person. Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, “treat others as you want to be treated”? When we show respect for someone, we don’t have to agree with them, or even like them, but we can still behave politely towards them.

So how can you teach those in your care both to respect other people and have respect for themselves?

Respect starts with recognising differences

We’re all different. We have our own likes and beliefs, hobbies and personalities, and we look and sound differently to each other. Some of these differences are protected by the Equality Act to make sure we’re all treated fairly in society.

Being different is obvious to most adults, but it can come as a surprise to some individuals in our care. Younger children, in particular, can assume that everyone is just like them. It can shock them to find there are lots of different families who make different choices from their own. You may find after a playdate, social event, or outing, the individuals you work with are likely to tell you all about the things people did differently to what is familiar to them. 

The individuals you support may notice other differences, such as:

  • Physical differences, including hair and skin colour, height, and size
  • Characters and personalities
  • Beliefs and backgrounds
  • Making different choices

Sometimes it can feel uncomfortable when individuals point out these differences. You may feel unsure about what is best to say or correct terminology. It’s okay if you don’t know the answer. Perhaps you can look it up together and talk about what you’ve found out.

Talking about being different

Talk about differences as being something to be enjoyed and celebrated. You might say, “Wouldn’t it be boring if everyone was exactly the same as us?”

Books can be a great resource to celebrate differences in a range of contexts. Don’t just concentrate on what makes us different from each other; look for similarities too. It is important to stress that we have lots of things in common.

Modelling respect

The children, young people, and adults we support learn from seeing the way we behave and copying it. When they see us showing respect for others, they’re more likely to do the same thing themselves.

There are lots of ways we can show respect for others:

  • Using please and thank you with everyone – including those who look after our work spaces
  • Listening when someone else is speaking
  • Keeping calm and polite, even if we feel angry or frustrated
  • Respecting different opinions, especially if you don’t share them
  • Politely sharing our own opinions and being open to changing our views

As a professional, you can model respectful relationships with others by showing them what good communication looks like over the course of your day. 

Giving respect to those in our care

We can’t expect those in our care to show respect for others if they don’t feel we respect them, too. We can show them we value their ideas, feelings, and beliefs, just as we do other people’s.

Ways we can show respect:

  • Listen to their ideas without interrupting them or trying to correct
  • Ask them politely to do things
  • Value their opinion: Ask them what they think and encourage them to share their ideas
  • Avoid automatically saying no when they ask for something
  • Agree rules together whenever possible

Respect the space and privacy of the individuals in your care. This is particularly important for older children and adults. You can also give them ownership over their belongings. This can start with very young children. Let them decide how they want to organise their personal space and decide which belongings are precious to them.

Building positive relationships

Empathy means putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and imagining what it would be like if you were in that situation. We all get better at showing empathy the more we practise it. When an individual talks about falling out with friends or disagreements they’ve had, encourage them to consider the problem from their friend’s point of view.

  • “How do you think Asha was feeling when she said that?”
  • “Why do you think James disagrees with you?”
  • “What else was going on in the room when they got cross with you?”

If an individual in your setting struggles to build a positive relationship with a particular member of staff, praise them for their efforts to be polite to them. Help them learn ways to de-escalate when they feel frustrated or angry, and model and encourage them to use respectful language. Remember to stay calm yourself and avoid giving a big reaction if an individual uses inappropriate language about someone.

What about self-respect?

We’ve thought about showing respect for others, but what about self-respect? The children, young people, and adults we work with need to realise they are special and just as important as everyone else.

Many people have low self-esteem and struggle with their confidence, particularly if they’ve experienced significant trauma in their lives. They may feel worthless or like a failure. Remind the individual of all the things that make them special and encourage them to have the confidence to speak up for themselves and share their opinions.

Help those in your care to develop self-respect by praising them. It’s a simple way to boost their self-esteem. But, instead of just saying “well done”, tell them what it is they did well to make your praise specific. For example, you could say, “You were really kind when you shared with the others.” Focus on the efforts they make rather than on their achievement. You could say, “I’m so proud of the way you practised for the spelling test,” rather than talking about the score they got.

Don’t forget your own self-respect

Many of us struggle with our own self-esteem and confidence as adults. If we want those who we care for to have self-respect and belief in themselves, we need to show them how to do it by setting a good example. Talk about what makes you feel proud of yourself and celebrate your own achievements. It’s not boasting, but instead celebrating your progress and showing others that you know your own value.