5 Keys to Know if Your Child Fears or Respects You

Do you know if your child fears or respects you? Their happiness, development, and relationship with you depend on the difference.
5 Keys to Know if Your Child Fears or Respects You
Elena Sanz Martín

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Elena Sanz Martín.

Last update: 27 December, 2022

A certain hierarchy has always been necessary for the education of children. In the past, this was because relationships were vertical and that was the way to impose discipline; in the present, because although family ties are more democratic, the roles of parents and children are clearly differentiated. Now, are you clear on whether your child fears or respects you? Actually, these terms are very different, as well as the consequences that come from them.

Respect inspires, arises from love and admiration, and creates healthy and solid bonds. Fear, on the other hand, paralyze or generate defiant, unstable, problematic reactions and causes suffering. The line that separates the two concepts is fine and blurry, so many parents feel that they must be authoritarian in order to be respected by their children. However, respect is earned, not imposed; it’s a daily job that begins when children are young.

Do you want to know whether your child fears or respects you? Take a look at the following keys.

How to know if your child fears or respects you

To answer this question, you can look at the way you treat your children. Do you listen to them? Do you treat them with consideration? Are you flexible and empathetic? However, it’s usually difficult to detect our own failures. Therefore, a better way to determine what’s happening is to observe the behavior of the children themselves. Discover 5 keys to keep in mind to know whether your child fears or respects you below:

1. The degree of trust

This is, without a doubt, the key point that can help you know if your children fear or respect you. When faced with a dilemma, a conflict, or a doubt in their life, are you the first person they look to for advice? Or, on the contrary, do they do everything they can to keep you in the dark?

In the first case, these children know that even if they’ve made a mistake, you’ll be able to support and guide them. They respect you as a person and look to you for advice and guidance. In the second, it’s clear to them that they’ll only receive criticism and reproach. They feel that your goal isn’t to teach them and accompany them in learning, but to punish their failures, so they’ll avoid making you part of their difficulties.

A mother having a respectful conversation with her teen daughter.
You must achieve closeness with your children so that they can trust you and open up to tell you their emotions and what’s happening to them.

2. Emotional expression

Are your children able to express their emotions with you? Do they feel free to get angry, sad, or frustrated in your presence? This is a sign of respect, a sign that they know you’ll validate their emotions, allow them to be as they are, and help them manage them.

A child who fears their parents will seek to repress themself emotionally so as not to suffer the consequences. In authoritarian families, expressing anger or disagreement isn’t allowed because you must only obey without complaining. In these cases, sadness is seen as a sign of weakness. Therefore, if children hide or cover up their emotions in the presence of their parents, they’re likely to fear them.

3. The quality of the bond

As we said, respect produces warm and affectionate relationships in a mutual way. If your children respect you, you’re likely to be emotionally close, enjoy each other’s company, and enjoy spending time together. Although conflicts and disagreements sometimes arise, your relationship is generally healthy and harmonious.

On the contrary, when children fear their parents, they develop cold or ambivalent attitudes toward them. For example, they can be surly, distant, and indifferent; but they can also feel resentment and rejection towards their parents despite being emotionally dependent on them.

4. Critical thinking

Is your child able to discuss house rules, negotiate, or suggest agreements? If they feel comfortable giving their opinion and even contradict you, this is an excellent sign that they respect you. It’s not that they continually challenge your authority or try to overstep the agreed limits, but that they feel that it’s possible to dialogue with you and also expose their point of view. They know they’ll be listened to and this will allow them to develop critical thinking and express themselves.

When children fear their parents, they tend to blindly obey, even if they don’t understand the rules or agree with them. Even if they learn nothing from punishments or consequences, they still submit. It’s likely that, at a certain moment, this submission turns into rebellion and defiant attitudes are produced, directly seeking to argue or disobey.

In this case, the child feels that they have no say at home and that it’s not possible to dialogue or reach agreements. Thus, they’ll probably choose to either submit or rebel, but they won’t think of negotiating calmly with their parents.

A father pointing his finger angrily at his son.
When children merely obey, it’s a sign that they fear their parents. This usually produces submission or rebellion in the future.

5. Autonomy

To find out if your child fears or respects you, you can also look at their level of autonomy. Do they take the initiative to learn new things or take on new challenges? If so, it’s because they feel secure and confident. They know that you’ll understand their mistakes and help them improve. With this confidence, they may ask you to help them with their homework, ask you to teach them a new artistic or sports skill, or show them how to prepare a recipe.

When parents instill fear in their children, these little ones develop an enormous fear of failure. For that reason, they avoid taking on new challenges. They’ll try to get good grades and fulfill their obligations, but won’t be encouraged to try anything new, either inside or outside the home. This would mean making mistakes until they learn, but they’d rather not try due to fear of the consequences.

Knowing whether your child fears or respects you will help guide your parenting

Now that you’ve been able to determine whether your child fears or respects you, it’s time to make decisions. If you think you’re overly authoritarian, it’s time to make some changes. A child who grows up in fear fails to develop their full potential, becomes accustomed to fear, obedience, and dependence on others, lacks self-confidence and often harbors pain and resentment toward their parents.

To change this reality, start by being more empathetic, flexible, and loving in your parenting. Listen to your child and allow them to fail, make decisions, and express themselves. This won’t detract from your authority; on the contrary, it will make you a better role model for your child.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Dweck, C. S. (2009). Mindsets: Developing talent through a growth mindset. Olympic Coach21(1), 4-7.
  • Pérez Ramos, M., & Alvarado Martínez, C. (2015). Los estilos parentales: su relación en la negociación y el conflicto entre padres y adolescentes. Acta de investigación psicológica5(2), 1972-1983.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.