Growing Gorillas: Self Respect

Micro Monkeys:

Stop negative self-talk. At this age kids are starting to find that there are things that they cannot do but they can see some peers can do those things. This is a hard pill to swallow especially when those kids are the same age. Often comparison to an older sibling can foster these feelings too. As parents it is easy to forget that a 5-year-old cannot do what an 8-year-old can do even if both are relatively conversant. 

It’s easy for us to look at young kids and think that they shouldn’t take their failures personally but often they will. Many adults still do. We mostly want to break a habit of constant self-disrespect. Negative self-talk is dangerous because if you’re hearing it, you can be certain they are thinking it far more than they are saying it. Negative self-talk should be addressed directly and kids should know that failures is a part of growth as opposed to being a reflection of self. All people fail on the way to success so a healthy relationship with failure is critical. 

Questions for your micro:

When you see something where they were not successful, ask, “How did that make you feel?” Steer them towards a healthy understanding of the failure. 

What are you good at?

What are you bad at? Here steer them to understand these things as a part of their development and not as things set in stone. Create action plans for improvement. 

Spider Monkeys 

All of the above applies but we can add friendship dynamics to the discussion. Here self-respect can be expanded to understanding our need for relative equality in our relationships with others. Relationships are never perfectly equal as there can be differences in terms of experiences and authority. That being said, self-respect begins with some basic guidelines.

-insults will always undermine relationships and are not things that we should endure. Teasing makes the teased smile too, insults do not. Insults bring anger and shame. We have a right to not accept insults and we should not associate with those who insult us. We need respect when people ask us to stop teasing. We don’t get to choose what is insulting. We should take an indifferent attitude towards words meant to harm but we should avoid people who say such things consistently or stand up for ourselves if we cannot avoid the situation. Get help if you cannot address it on your own. 

A great discussion with your kids: what is the difference between insults and teasing? A good guideline is teasing is designed to make both people smile. Teasing usually involves pointing out some kind of weak point in another person or a difference. There’s a fine line between the teasing and insults and everyone should be a little thicker skinned about receiving words and little less liberal about dishing out words and/or apologizing when it seems like we crossed a line. Everyone crosses the line. Everyone’s line will be crossed. Assume it is teasing and move on as the receiver. As the speaker, if your words were only funny to you, apologize and move on. Words are wind, we shouldn’t make too much out of them but they can be the beginnings of bullying behavior. Kids trend toward bullying behavior very easily and very innocently because they are not great at judging the impact of their actions and words.

Does anyone tease you? How does that make you feel?

Do you tease anyone? How do you think they feel? Are you sure they think you are being funny?

Does anyone insult you? Why do you feel these words come with bad intentions? Are these words consistent? What kind of action plan can we make to deal with this?

Sample action plans for dealing with insults (these will often determine whether it was teasing or an insult immediately):

-Ask them to stop but without emotion. Just say you don’t think its funny. If they continue, they are not teasing you most likely and it is time to stand up for yourself.

-Tease them back. If they laugh it was teasing. If they don’t, it wasn’t teasing to begin with and it is time to stand up for yourself.

-Make a joke about the thing they are teasing you about. If they laugh, it was teasing, if they are angry that you are stealing their control of the situation it is not teasing.

Standing up for yourself

Time to stand up for yourself. Tell them you don’t think they are funny. Don’t be around them if possible. If you have to be around them involve an authority figure in the situation. If an authority figure won’t help out, stand tall, it is just words and understand that there is something wrong with them and not you. This won’t be the last jerk you ever have to deal with. Pity them. Jerks don’t have good friends. Something inside them is rotten and they need help. Avoid fighting about this but don’t let them push you around. Respect everyone, fear no one.


All of the above applies but now we are getting into the more delicate aspects of relationships: comfortable equity in terms of action and communication. Friendships (and romantic relationships) are never equal but inequality shouldn’t lead to strong feelings of resentment. In relationships it should be the case that we can communicate and do things together that we want to do much of the time. We do not have to let others dictate our activities or what we can talk about together. 

People violate our self-respect when they dictate activities or permissible communication by using the following to control relationships:

-Anger/Rage: using a raised voice, physical threats and hitting to control relationships should not be tolerated. 

-Unreasonable emotional outpouring like tears is another method of manipulation that can make us concede the right to choose activities or express ourselves. 

-Silence, refusing to interact with someone is another method people use to force activities and communication to be unequal. 

In the end, all decisions within relationships should be based on clear two-way communication. It may be that one person talks more than another or one preferential activity is more common between people in a relationship but no one has to bow to the demands of others and communication and activity should be entered into willingly. Respect for self is recognizing when someone is unreasonably trying to force action from you. 

Disclaimer: everyone will use anger, emotion, or silence when upset with someone else to some degree but it shouldn’t be used as the basis for a final decision. It is healthy and altogether normal for disputes to start that way but they should never be the endpoint of a dispute between two people.


When you hang out with so and so, who does most of the talking? Do you feel free to talk about what you want to talk about? 

Who decides what you do? Do you feel free to decide what you do? 

Do you feel respected by so and so? (Use this for friends and people of authority in their life)

Extra story for self-respect:

Tom’s parents always told him to be nice and he tried to be kind with all of his friends.  Recently he had become friends with Joey and was going over to his house for the first time. 

When Tom got there, the first thing he noticed was that Joey had a lot of fish in a giant fish tank. Tom wanted to look at them but Joey said, “Those fish are my mom’s, let’s go play with my new phone.” When Tom kept looking at the fish, Joey started breathing heavy and said, “Look at my phone now!”

Tom could see Joey was super angry. It was like steam was coming off his head. Tom wanted to be nice so he started looking at his phone even though he was much more interested in the fish. 

After lunch Tom saw that Joey had a really cool basketball court behind his house. Tom started playing basketball and Joey told him to stop. Tom thought shooting one basket couldn’t be a problem so he kept playing a little. Joey started crying and ran in the house. Tom wanted to be nice so he went in the house and did what Joey wanted to do next. 

It was getting to be time for Tom to go home and Joey wanted him to come over tomorrow again. When Tom said he had other plans, Joey stopped talking and wouldn’t respond to anything Tom said. 

When Tom’s dad picked him up, Tom asked if he could go to Joey’s tomorrow. 

“Wow I guess you had a lot of fun,” said Tom’s dad. 

“A little yeah, but I feel like Joey won’t talk to me if I don’t go over tomorrow.”

Tom’s dad frowned, “A good friend won’t force you to do things you don’t want to do. Maybe Joey needs to work on being a better friend. Being nice to others doesn’t mean you stop being nice to yourself.”  

Tom agreed. He didn’t see Joey for a while, but the next time he did, Joey tried harder to things that Tom wanted to do. 

Self-respect is maintaining choice in relationships.

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