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How to Raise a Respected Child

Sandra Dodd

Holly says the ice cream we have in the freezer is too sweet. She had chocolate milk last night and said there was too much chocolate in it, so she divided it and made chocolate milk for someone else with half of it. She usually prefers plain milk.

Plain milk tastes WAY better if it's your choice than it does when it's plain because someone else wouldn't let you put chocolate in it.

Without free choice, how can a person choose what is plain and good?

Unschooling begins with a choice between going to school or not. How many millions of people are never given that choice?

Next is the choice between "doing school-work" or not. Sometimes new unschooling parents are hoping that holding their breath and waiting might lead to children studying a curriculum, just as the mathematically-allegorical monkeys might type Hamlet.

In the success-bearing phase, unschoolers stop looking for Hamlet or even for English history. But knowing that Ian Holm, who plays Bilbo, plays Polonius with Glenn Close in a Mel Gibson movie causes it to be worth a look for lots of people. And he was Fluellen in Kenneth Brannagh's Henry V, too. If they watch Hamlet or Henry V because of Lord of the Rings, is that like chocolate milk, or like plain milk? If they don't watch Hamlet yet, or ever, that's fine too.

The most peaceful unschooling families have loosed the ropes that held learning at the dock. They have developed faith in the idea that humans learn best in freedom.

Perhaps it's just a pretty truism, about unschooling families. Maybe it is as real as granite. Here are some other patterns for your consideration, though: Unschooling families with young children often fear for the neighbors to "test them" and find them wild or "behind." Unschooling families with older children politely try to hide their smugness at the positive responses of others to their older unschoolers. How does that change come about?

There are traditional dialogs adults have with stranger-children. They ask what school they go to. They ask whether the child likes his teacher, and what his favorite subject is. My children haven't gotten past the first two questions, because if "I don't go to school" doesn't stump the interviewer, "I don't have a teacher" usually does. And so an adult who succeeds in having a conversation with an unschooled child finds himself speaking with a person, and not "a student," not "a child."

For some, this is their first real conversation with a person who isn't grown to adulthood. My kids are used to being the first, in that way. They're used to the look in people's eyes when they realize that here is a child who has something to talk about and who will confidently and guilelessly speak.

How does that confidence arise?

I really believe unschooling works best when parents trust a child's personhood, his intelligence, his instincts, his potential to be mature and calm. Take any of that away, and the child becomes smaller and powerless to some degree.

Give them power and respect, and they become respected and powerful.

Is it just that simple? That a parent can GIVE a child power and respect? Can a parent give a child freedom?

With the freedom to choose what they eat, my children have bypassed sweets more times than I could have counted, and eaten hearty, real food. I saw those choices working before they were old enough to go to school, or not to go to school. They had all the food they wanted.

With the freedom to choose to stay up or to go to bed, I saw toddlers ask to go to bed because they were tired, and then saw them go to sleep smiling, and wake up happy. They had all the waking they wanted, and all the sleep they wanted, instead of feeling deprived of either.

Of my childhood, I remember tears over pancakes. EAT THEM NOW. I didn't eat them again for fifteen years, after that forced-pancake day. Was that good for nutrition? Discipline? Love? Respect? No, it was destructive. I remember being forced at school and at home to drink milk. Was one glass enough? Then is half a glass enough? Will a child drink not one drop more than he HAS to? Is milk better than peace?

For many children, information is treated like cold pancakes. Skills are forced like too-warm milk.

What if hot pancakes, served with a smile, would taste really good with milk? What magic happens when it's fully acceptable for a child to say "No thanks" to hot pancakes?

Neediness expresses itself differently with different kids. Abundance expresses itself similarly in all.

Neediness creates various interpersonal problems, health difficulties, psychological stress and sorrow. Chronic neediness becomes a vacuum that cannot be filled.

Abundance in one person provides benefits for others. A child with all the trust he needs can trust others. A child with all the time he needs can share that time with others. One who has freedom won't begrudge freedom in others.

Most people have never known a kid who has experienced true abundance. Most have never met a child who had been given a full measure of respect, so that the child was respected (already) and full of respect (respectful). It is easy to respect someone who has that respect already, and who has so much that he can spread it around to others.

An abundance of love, of confidence, of self and of freedom will create a flow of respect from and toward a person.


First publication: Home Education Magazine, January/February 2003
"How to Raise a Respected Child" appears in the book Moving a Puddle, with my other published articles from before 2005..

Bio at the time of the writing:

Sandra Dodd's children are Holly (11), Marty (13) and Kirby (16). They have never been to school, and they eventually came to amaze the neighbors. Their abundance is shared with others, usually in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Further reading on the idea of abundance in children is here: Spoiled

More current info on those Dodd kids here.


This article in Spanish: "Cómo criar a un niño con respeto" por Sandra Dodd (and on the blog where it first appeared)

As a child I was taught that fashion and all it entails was "wordly" and that Barbie stuff promoted low self esteem. Baloney! What promoted low self esteem was being told my interests weren't worthy.
Ren Allen, on parents discouraging children's interests

Other writings on the theme of respect

A beautiful story by Marina DeLuca-Howard Ideas on living by principles rather than by rules Saying YES! to children Some general thoughts on Respect by Robyn Coburn