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How One Mother’s Respect-Talk Found the Hero in Her Son

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In my book Mother & Son: The Respect Effect, I share the need for not only your husband to feel and hear your respect, but your son as well, no matter his age. Even your preschooler has a “man inside the boy” who naturally responds to words of respect, as little Samuel’s mother learned and applied in her relationship with her son.  Read about her experience with using Respect-Talk and ask yourself how you might begin applying the same with your son:

Dear Dr. Emerson,

Applying respect talk on my son changed the world for me COMPLETELY. My son Samuel is four and seems to be a 100% duplicate of his dad. As a mom I have felt so very frustrated in my attempts to get through to him when he acted up, whereas my husband got along with him just fine. Being a very feeling, sentimental, sensitive person myself, I couldn't relate to his personality at all. His main goal in life is to be a hero. To be brave, not to cry, to save the suffering, to be strong, to protect, to guard, to prove he can outdo everybody else.

When he was being bad, I would tell him that he was making mommy sad. I would say, "Look, see the tears, it's because your actions are hurting me. Don't you love your mommy?" And it would do absolutely nothing for me. Back when I was a child, that's exactly what my mom would have said to me. And it always hit home with me. I did not want to see my momma cry. But somehow my son was so different. I started feeling like he had no compassion in his heart. Sometimes I would cry thinking I had the most heartless kid in the neighborhood. I would lose my (according to my husband "endless") patience and get mad at him, punish him, and put him in place. He rebelled and everything seemed much worse afterwards. Then I cried tears of regret and guilt.

When his baby brother was born, my oldest son did not seem to have any affection for him. He saw him as competition only. He would push him over, take away his toys, make him stumble. So I would say, "Look, you're making baby brother cry. See, he is so sad! Don't you love your brother?" And it didn't do anything for me. I would complain to my husband, "How can he be so heartless? Why doesn't he show love? I used to love my baby brother when I was a child; hold him, feed him, change him, push him around in the stroller. Why is our son such a bully?"

I was seriously desperate to find some answers. It just couldn't go on. So I started searching and found your book Mother & Son: The Respect Effect.

And it was the biggest eye opener. I would have tears as I was reading the chapters and starting to understand the problem.

Here's what I started doing. Since my son is still quite young, I have to be creative. Here are several scenes that describe what I do.

I will never forget my very first time to apply respect talk. I am not sure anymore if he was still three or maybe just turned four. We were playing in the sandbox and big brother wouldn't let little brother play with his trucks. Instead of saying "look how sad brother is" I put on my most masculine-sounding man voice and said to him: "Hey foreman (=RESPECT!!!), can you teach my son (baby brother) how to be a good construction worker? He would like to learn how to be a good worker like you. He wants to learn how to drive trucks and build roads. Do you think you could handle that?"

And it instantly worked on him! "Sure," he said in his manly play voice. "I can always use a good helper" (that's exactly the phrase that his dad uses on him). My jaw dropped open as I watched big brother handing over his trucks to little brother and showing him how to drive.

Here's another example. Our house was a huge mess. Toys scattered all over, you could barely walk without stepping on something. I felt tired and used up. Normally I'd say, "Don't you want to help your momma, I'm so tired, I need you to help me clean up." That never worked. He wouldn't do anything until I threatened him with some unpleasant consequences, and finally he would do it with an unwilling heart. So I used firefighters since they are his big heroes. I pretended to be calling his phone. "Hey, fireman Samuel, I am in great trouble. My house is on fire and all these toys are going to burn, if I don't get some brave and fast firemen in to rescue all of them and put them away. Do you think your crew could assist me?"

Within seconds he put on his fireman rain coat, his fireman rubber boots, and the kids fireman hat that he got when we visited the local fire station. He ran so fast and didn't stop until all the toys were picked up. I thanked him for his bravery and swift action, and then I pretended that he earned a badge of honor for being the bravest and fastest fireman in town. He wore that thing around for the rest of the day.

I also noticed how my husband would talk to him before going to work. "Samuel, you're the man of the house now. Take care of mommy and baby for me!" And he'd answer "yes, sir." So it dawned on me that men automatically know how to use respect talk. Later throughout the day, when trouble arose and Samuel was being naughty, I said, "Daddy is counting on you to be the man. You have to do the honorable thing and live up to your promise." And amazingly, that kind of talking was so effective.

I could list many more scenes of our lives. If he pushes little brother, I call "policeman Samuel" and tell him that "some big bully is pushing my little son around. Could you please protect him?" It does several things. It shows trust in his good nature (because who would call the police for help if they weren't fair?), it respectfully makes him realize that his actions were not honorable at all because policemen never bully others, and it puts him in position to correct himself. I usually hear him role play the policeman and the bad guy, then he comes back to me and announces that it's all taken care of and the bully is gone.

I've come to realize that my old method of tears and begging for sympathy was much like nagging to my husband. Annoying and worthless. I was trying to get my son to act out of love to me, but it was so unsuccessful. I was basically pointing out to him how mean and cruel he was. In my heart I was thinking that he was a bad kid, and he could feel it. Instead of motivating him, I got him to lock up.

Now everything changed. God has since shown me the qualities he put into my son to become a successful, compassionate, strong leader. I keep that vision in my mind when I talk to him. The crazy part is that his bad behavior has gone down tremendously. I used to be scared of my own child because I felt like I didn't know the key to his heart. And the sweetest thing of all, he will now come many, many times during the week, give me a big hug and say, "Mommy, I love you!" That used to not happen at all! I must be doing something right now.

By the way, I'm still learning and I still mess up. But the difference is, I can usually detect what went wrong and correct it rather than feeling hopeless and like a failure.

Thank you for all you have done for our family!

Emerson Eggerichs, Ph.D.
Author, Speaker, Pastor

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