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How to respond when your child is disrespectful

Disrespect is a common problem for many children. Here are seven ways you can deal with the problem.

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  • The playdate is over. It is time to head home. You gave a 5 minute warning. You expect everything to go well.
    Suddenly, it happens. Your child responds disrespectfully.
    "No! I don't want to go! You never let me do anything fun!"
    You feel the anger rising inside you. You yell back, "How dare you talk to me like that!"
    He continues, "You didn't even send me a treat in my lunch today! You are the meanest mom ever!!!"
    Now, you're furious. "That's it! No TV for a week!"
    This back and forth continues. You drag him to the car, kicking and screaming. Vowing never to let him have a playdate ever again.
  • Disrespect Is Not OK

    Disrespectful communication is a problem for many kids. We definitely need to teach our children how to treat others with kindness and respect, and how to communicate big feelings without being disrespectful.
    Unfortunately, we cannot teach them to be respectful in the heat of the moment.
    I know you WANT to deal with it right then and there. I know you HATE being disrespected. But, once your child is angry, the thinking part of their brain has shut down. They are in survival mode, sometimes called, "flight or fight" mode.
    Plus, we cannot teach our kids to be respectful by treating them with disrespect.
    If you are triggered by their disrespectful behavior, your brain goes into survival mode too. You are not able to think rationally. Your responses will either be filled with anger, yelling and punishment or you will shut down and give up.
  • Is There Another Way to Deal with Disrespect?

    If you feel pressured to punish or yell at your child in the moment, I would encourage you to try one or more of these 7 responses:
  • 1. Stay calm

    Does this seem impossible? It's not easy to keep cool when our kids are being rude. Meeting them with disrespect sends the wrong message. Model good self-care by taking a deep breath, counting to 20 or repeating a mantra: "This is not an emergency."
  • 2. Decode the Behavior

    Look at things from your child's perspective. Were they caught off guard? Is what you're asking inconvenient? Do they feel powerless? Their response is a reflection of what they are feeling inside. Unfortunately, at this point, they can't put it into more appropriate words.
  • 3. Empathize

    Help your child understand their own feelings by offering an empathetic response, "It seems unfair that we have to go already!" or "I know it's hard to leave when you're having such a fun time!" You do not have to agree with the feeling, it simply means that you are trying to relate to their experience.
  • 4. Check the Time

    Some kids are affected by low blood sugar, hunger or thirst. Others are very sensitive to environmental stimulation or not getting enough sleep. Has it been awhile since your child ate? Could they use a sip of water? Or a break from a loud environment? Offer it in a non-threatening way, "I'm going to have a cracker, would you like one too?"
  • 5. Slow It Down

    It's easy to get pulled away with the "runaway train" of angry, frustrated words and emotions. Instead of jumping on board and responding to every criticism or complaint your child throws at you, try to put on the brakes, "Whoa! That's a lot of info. I'd like to listen, but you're talking too fast. Let's calm down so I can understand what you're trying to say."
  • 6. Let it Go

    Sometimes it's best not to give a response, especially if you know your child is hungry or tired and talking out of a "survival mode" brain – or if you can't keep yourself from responding in a sarcastic, angry or disrespectful way. You don't have to ignore it forever. Once everyone is calm, you can talk about what happened and how to do it differently next time.
  • 7. Connect

    If your child is misbehaving, the last thing on your mind is cuddling. However, for many kids, connection is exactly what they need! If you are able to look past the behavior and ignore all of the "runaway train" information, you will be able to see that your child is hurting and needs support. Sometimes, a hug is better than any verbal response.
  • Do the Teaching Later

    Waiting or delaying your response does not mean that you are a passive parent or you're saying that disrespect is OK. It means that you are waiting until your brain, and your child's brain, is able to receive information and move on without being rude, angry or disrespectful.
    • When you're ready to talk, you can start with, "It seems like you were upset about leaving the playdate earlier. Can we think of a different way to tell me how you feel?"
    • You can also address some of the things that were said, "I heard you say something about snacks in your lunch. Is this something you want to talk about now?"
    • You have feelings too! It's OK to express them, and let you child know how their words affect you. Be careful not to point the finger back at your child, keep the focus on how it felt to you. "I felt hurt when you said I was the meanest mom ever."
    • If you lost your cool and said angry words in the heat of the moment, it's OK to admit it. You are not perfect, and it is good for your kids to see that you are working on calming skills too!
      This is when the teaching happens. Calm brains can learn information. They can process and practice new skills. Your child can learn how to manage big feelings and respond more respectfully next time.
    Editor's note: This article was originally published on Nicole Schwarz's blog. It has been republished here with permission.