Eye rolling, curses, insults, backtalk, name-calling, ignored requests, snide comments: disrespect from your child or teen comes in many different forms.If you’re struggling with disrespectful behaviour from your kids, you are not alone.
The truth is, disrespectful behaviour is one of the inappropriate ways kids especially teenagers, try to solve their problems. Kids can feel powerless in the face of rules and expectations, and talking back and showing disrespect is one way they try to take some power back. If they can drag you into an argument, that’s even better: now you’re arguing about respect instead of focusing on their curfew or their homework.
So while it may be healthy and normal in some cases, disrespectful behaviour isn’t something you want to let go unchecked. Indeed, ignoring it completely can cause disrespectful behaviour to escalate. Here are some ways you can unknowingly encourage disrespectful behaviour in your child – and what you can do instead:
Don’t Take Everything Personally or Overreact
Pretty much every teenager pokes relentlessly at their parents, expressing their frustrations in various ways. Eye rolling, scoffing, smirking – those are all tools in the teenage arsenal that convey their disregard. And as we all know, those mild, irritating behaviours can get under your skin. Kids are looking for those weak spots, those places where they can drag you into defending yourself or your rules.
What to Do Instead: Decide which behaviours you are going to focus on, and which you can ignore. Remember that those mildly irritating behaviours aren’t about you; they’re simply an expression of frustration. Your role is to deal with your child or teen’s behaviour as objectively as possible. It doesn’t mean you won’t be irritated. Just find ways to handle that emotion away from interactions with your child, if possible. Let it go, and stay focused on the topic at hand.
Don’t Bad-Mouth Other People
Life is stressful sometimes: bosses are challenging, neighbours get too loud, family members can be irritating. As a parent, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to show your kids how you manage your behaviour when you’re annoyed or upset. Kids watch us for a living. If you talk badly about others or treat other people with disrespect, don’t be surprised if your child follows suit.
What to Do Instead: Parents have to role model better behaviour for their kids. Remember, they are watching you, even if they don’t seem like they care what you do. If you value respect, model respectful behaviour. Do your best to show them the way it should be done.
Don’t Take Your Child’s Side
Let’s say your child complains about how much homework he has, calling the teacher names and generally being disrespectful toward her. You might agree that this particular teacher does give too much homework.
If you take your child’s side in this case, you might say you agree that you think the teacher is stupid, and that she’s doing a terrible job. You agree that your child doesn’t have to do all that homework because clearly, the teacher is wrong.
When you side with your child, in effect joining them in disrespectful behaviour, you’re showing them that you don’t have to be respectful to someone you disagree with. The message your child hears is: if you think someone is wrong, then you have a right to be rude.
What to Do Instead: The truth is neither you nor your child has to agree with someone to treat them respectfully. Even if you think the teacher is wrong, let your child know that regardless of how they feel, they still need to find a way to act appropriately.
Don’t Forget to Notice Their Good Behaviour
Maybe you’re thinking, “Look, my kid is constantly disrespectful. I have to stay on him if I want things to change.” So you correct and redirect every chance you get. Sometimes your child does manage to get it right, but the bad times far outweigh any progress.
Kids are just like adults: constant correction breeds resentment. If you’re always calling your child on his poor choices, he might decide there’s just no way he can win. If you never acknowledge the times he manages to control his behaviour, he may just stop trying.
What to Do Instead: Kids respond well to praise. Not only does it feel good to be praised, but it also gives your child important feedback: acknowledging good behaviour reinforces those skills.
Don’t Demand Respect
“I am your parent and you have to respect me!” Does that sound familiar? A lot of parents ask, “How can I get my child to respect me?”
The truth is many kids don’t automatically respect their parents. Indeed, it’s pretty normal that your teen thinks they know far more than you; that’s one of the pitfalls of adolescence. Pretty much every teen thinks they’re smarter and more in tune than their parents.
So here’s the thing: you can’t make someone respect you. Respect is a feeling, and you can’t legislate feelings. Trying to force your child to respect you just isn’t going to work.
But if you can’t demand their respect, how can you possibly stop them from acting so badly? The answer lies in addressing their behaviour, rather than their feelings – even their feelings about you.
What to Do Instead: You can’t demand respect, but you can require that your child acts respectfully, no matter how they feel about the situation.
When your child is behaving disrespectfully, you can tell him: “You don’t have to like the rule, but you do have to comply with it. Just because you’re irritated doesn’t mean you get to call me names.”
Remember, stay focused on the behaviour, and leave the feelings alone. The irony is that, in the long run, your child will respect you more if you remain calm and enforce your rules consistently.