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One of the misbehaviors many parents can’t stand, is when their children treat them disrespectfully. It’s completely appropriate that disrespectful behavior irritates parents and it’s not wrong to want it to stop. The question is HOW DO WE GET OUR KIDS TO TREAT US RESPECTFULLY?
Mike Fitch, CMHC
What Parents Need to Know First
You do not have to put up with disrespectful behavior. It is OK to expect those in your life to talk to you kindly and to treat you with respect. The tough thing is training others how to treat you. It takes a lot of work, a lot of patience, and choosing to be 100% firm with others about the way they interact with you, but it is possible.
If you want to know how, keep reading.
Step #1 Get clear with your family about what respect sounds like/looks like/feels like
Our kids are not born knowing what the difference between respect and disrespect is. They need us to teach them and be EXTREMELY clear with them about what respect sounds like/looks like/ feels like, etc.
Find different moments to teach your kids how to speak to/treat you and others. Use moments when they’ve slipped up to say “That’s a good example of being disrespectful.” Then find times they’ve done well and say “That’s a great example of being respectful.” Point out respect and disrespect in TV shows, on the radio, in the books you read, when you’re running errands, etc.
Do whatever it takes to help your kids develop a clear understanding of the differences between respect and disrespect.
Then let your family know that treating each other with respect is what a family does and that disrespectful behaviors will no longer be allowed.
Step #2 Come up with a phrase that tells your kids they just treated you disrespectfully and they need to try again
This step has two parts:
If you’ve completed Step #1, your kids now have a clear understanding of how to treat you and each other. It’s good to remember that your kids may be really used to speaking to you in a certain way and they may need some help remembering to treat you kindly. This next step is to help them develop the new habit of treating you respectfully.
Create a phrase that will tell your kids that what they just did/said was disrespectful and they need to try again.
Some examples are:
“I’ll listen when you say that kindly”
Choose one that is easy for you and will work for your kids. Then teach your kids this phrase, what it means, and what you expect them to do when you say it.
After you have taught your child the phrase, use it EVERY time they do something disrespectful. Then do not engage with the child again until they try again in an appropriate way. Doing this consistently will be the best way for them to learn which behaviors are going to be OK and which aren’t.
You may have to prompt them quite a bit at first, but with time, you won’t have to do it very often.
Step #3 Teach your children how to express themselves appropriately
This step overlaps with Step #1 where you are getting clear with your kids about what behaviors are respectful and which ones aren’t. But we’re going to dive a little deeper.
Expressing negative emotions
SOME of the time, kids will say something disrespectful because they are struggling to express feelings of frustration, anger, hurt, or embarrassment in a productive way. So Instead of saying appropriately saying what’s on their minds or their hearts, they’ll yell out things like:
“Stop being a jerk!”
“You’re being rude right now.”
“You’re acting like a brat.”
“That person was so mean.”
It’s important for your child to learn of to express their feelings, but they are going to need you to teach them how and model this behavior for them. You can do this by teaching them how to share what’s bothering them instead of saying rude things.
Let’s use the examples from above to illustrate:
Instead of “Stop being a jerk”, you might say “They way that you’re talking to me right now is really hurting my feelings. I do not like it.”
Instead of “You’re being rude right now”, you might say “Your teasing me went too far and my feelings are genuinely hurt.”
Instead of “You’re acting like a brat”, you might try “You are choosing to keep all the toys to yourself. How would you feel if your friends did that to you.”
And instead of “That person was so mean”, you might try “That person kept telling me they were better than me and I felt stupid.”
If you can start expressing yourself this way, you can show your kids that there is a healthy way to let people know when their actions or words are hurtful. It also teaches them how to identify their feelings, their personal boundaries, and their needs. Those are all critical life skills that I wish more kids and adults had!
Asking for something they want or need
Kids will often ask for something they need or want in a way that is rude or whiny. In this case, it’s OK to say something like:
“Try that again. I will listen when you say that with a nice voice.”
You can teach them right in that moment the appropriate way to ask, or you can have a family meeting to teach them. Whichever seems to work best for you.
*The important thing is to not only teach your child what NOT to do, but to also teach them what TO DO. They need to know how they can say what’s on their mind in a way that will work for the family. It is critical that your kids can still say what they want, need, or feel as long as it’s done in a healthy way.
Step #4 Have the adults in the home model respectful behaviors for your kids
A little while ago, I had a client in my office telling me some of the awful things that her child would say to her. When I asked her about how the adults in the home treated each other, she confessed that her child was simply calling her things that her husband had called her!
This broke my heart. If any of you are in that type of situation, I would encourage you to seek professional guidance. Each person deserves to be treated with love and kindness.
Your kids will treat you the way the adults in the home treat each other.
In other situations, the adults aren’t intentionally being rude to each other or their kids. Rather, they’ve just gotten casual in the way they treat each other or have let sarcasm run wild.
The reality is, that kids will mimic what they see in the home. If you are talking disrespectfully to your kids, you can’t expect them to speak respectfully to you. If you and your spouse/partner are unkind to each other or you are speaking unkindly about others in front of your kids, they are going to pick up on that as well.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t vent behind closed doors. What it does mean is that it is important to pay attention to what kinds of behaviors you are modeling. If you find that the adults in the home could be more respectful, then make some goals to move towards improvement. This will help everyone behave better and feel better.
Step #5 For kids who do not respond to the first four steps:
Choose a consequence that matters and use it each time the child is disrespectful
The reality of kids is that some will respond really quickly to steps 1-4 and some will not. For children that continually treat your disrespectfully, it’s time to be a little more firm in the way you respond to this behavior.
You’ve spent enough time having disrespect be a problem for you, it is completely appropriate to have disrespect become a problem for your child. Not in a way that is hurtful or harmful to your child, but in a way that makes the decision to be disrespectful unpleasant enough for them that they would rather treat you kindly.
NOTE: If you are trying to train your child out of disrespectful behavior, focus just on training them out of this ONE behavior. Don’t try to train them to be respectful at the same time that you’re trying to train them out of five other behaviors. That will become too overwhelming and discouraging for all of you.
First, sit with your child and talk to them about the need for the disrespect to discontinue. Get really clear about what behaviors are respectful and which aren’t. Then choose a consequence that MATTERS to the child that you can be absolutely CONSISTENT with that they will receive each time they choose to be disrespectful.
Being clear with your child gives them the greatest chance of success because they know what is expected. It also helps you be more confident in your parenting, because you know they are clear about the expectations and the consequences.
After you have had the discussion, the very next time AND every time your child is disrespectful after that, you give them one prompt “Try again”. If they don’t say what they were saying respectfully within five minutes, they receive the consequence.
Every. Single. Time. Even if it’s inconvenient. Even if they through a huge fit. Even if you feel sad they’re getting a consequence. I promise that it will get better with time and that it will be SO worth it in the end.
I have seen this work with strong-willed kids, kids with ADHD, with OCD, ODD, etc. It may take some kids longer than others, but it will work with time.
**For some parents, it will be easier just to skip the prompt and go immediately to the consequence. You choose. But whichever way you choose, be 100% consistent.
If you try all of these steps and see no improvement, PLEASE consider seeing a professional for some help. You may need only one or two appointments with a therapist to learn how to extinguish this behavior and have peace in your home.
Why it’s worth the effort
Imagine what your home will be like if you don’t get disrespectful behaviors under control. Your home could be a place that no one wants to be in.
Also, imagine how your kids will treat their friends, co-workers, spouse, future children, etc. if they don’t learn how to treat other kindly.
Now imagine the opposite. Being in a home where everyone treats each other with kindness and respect. How amazing would that feel?! And how would your kids treat others in their life?
Teaching your kids the critical life skill of respect can be one of the hardest and the most important things that you ever do.