Tired of the backtalk from your kids? Learn what to do when your child disrespects you and how to rebuild your relationship.
The Terrible Two’s. The Threenager stage. When kids were younger, we could chalk their snarky attitude to “it’s just a stage.”
But after a while, that stage can get out of hand.
Kids can be disrespectful, no matter how many times we’ve tried to teach them otherwise. Eye-rolling, poor tone of voice, sarcasm, and even physical aggression can be their go-to way of communicating. Sometimes, the attitude and anger stem from a major change in the home—not exactly something we could erase.
Regardless of the possible reasons for these problem behaviors, it’s difficult for everyone involved. Both parent and child seem to circle one another with no sign of meeting halfway.
What to do about disrespectful children
It’s never too late to stop your child from disrespectfully speaking to you. You also don’t have to rely on punishment or yelling to get him to stop, either. And most importantly, you can do this in a way that also improves your relationship in the long run.
Take a look at how to handle your child’s behavior once and for all:
1. Don’t tolerate rudeness
Has your child yelled at you, closed the door, or mouthed something disrespectful? As much as it hurt, you might have thought that it was best to let it go. After all, you don’t want to fuel the fire with even more confrontation—it’s hard enough as it is.
Allowing her to act rude only enables her to continue to do so.
Yes, it’s good to pause. You don’t need to respond right away—calm down first before blurting something you might regret or yelling right back at her as a reaction. And you can certainly pick your battles and not make an issue out of everything.
But once you’re both calm, address child’s disrespectful behavior and set healthy boundaries of how you communicate, no matter the circumstances. She needs to be respectful, even if she had a bad day, or even if it’s her birthday.
Don’t tolerate rudeness towards her siblings either, even when it seems like a typical rivalry. She should know that it’s not normal to act disrespectfully.
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2. Ask your child why they’re upset
What’s the secret to curbing this kind of behavior? Ask your child why she’s upset.
We miss this so often. When our kids act up, we react so quickly that we forget to ask why they’re upset. Asking what’s bothering them forces us to empathize with their emotions. We can see why they’re upset and acting the way they are.
Asking reassures your child that you’re on the same—not opposing—side. You’re not trying to pick a fight. Instead, you’re reminding her you’re here to help and that you’re in this together to tackle whatever is bothering her.
3. Model the respectful behavior you want to see
My son and I were cleaning the living room when I made a mistake. He’d gotten confused when I said we could leave a few of the toy cars out. “It’s mid-day, and your brothers would play with them anyway after nap time,” I tried telling him.
He didn’t understand why I would leave a job half done. My patience waned, and after a few seconds, the conversation spiraled down. (Isn’t it silly to think about the things we fight about?)
He said words and mimicked attitude I knew he could’ve only picked up from me. And I was reminded how important it is to model the behavior we want to see in our kids.
We’ll never be perfect, but the more we try to be a good role model, the less likely we’ll disrespect our kids.
Ask yourself, Would I want my child to say this? If the answer is no, be careful about saying them yourself. Because one day, either out of habit or because she feels she has permission to, she might say those disrespectful things right back.
4. Praise your child for being respectful
Let’s say your kids were playing trains together, except your younger one kept knocking the tracks down, even by accident. It happened so many times you were expecting your older child to blow up and say something mean.
But she didn’t. She responded with patience and rebuilt the tracks. She even brushed it off and treated her brother with respect.
Look for these moments so you can praise her for her behavior. Perhaps she shared snacks with her siblings, or took a deep breath to stop herself from throwing tantrums. It’s much easier to praise her for the times she’s respectful than it is to discipline her when she’s not.
5. Explain it’s okay to disagree, but not to disrespect
We sometimes mistake disrespect for disagreement. We think if a child doesn’t do what she’s asked to do, then she must be disrespecting her parents.
But your child has a right to disagree—she just has to do it with respect. You can even encourage her to disagree and question you, but she can’t insult, yell, or treat others with disrespect because they don’t agree with her.
And if she blurts something disrespectful, show her an appropriate way to express herself. Acknowledge it’s fine to disagree with you and suggest phrases to say instead of what she had said.
Show empathy for how she feels, since seeing the situation from her perspective can help you be more patient. But remind her that, however valid her negative feelings may be, there’s always an alternative solution than being disrespectful.
Disrespectful communication can strain any parent-child relationship. You’re not able to enjoy parenthood as much as you want to, and you know you need to teach your child better communication skills.
But hopefully, with these reminders, you can see that it’s not hopeless, no matter how much you struggle or how long it seems these negative behaviors have been going on.
Set high standards of how you want her to behave—she’ll likely meet your expectations, whether high or low. Setting low expectations or assuming this is how she behaves can lead to bad behavior. But setting high expectations encourages her to meet them, no matter how far-fetched they may seem to you.
This means not tolerating rudeness. Instead, it means disagreeing respectfully, asking what’s bothering her, and modeling the behavior you want to see.
Dealing with disrespectful children isn’t about making your day easier or more pleasant, or even getting her to do what you ask. Being respectful strengthens your relationship—well beyond the Terrible Two’s.
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