How to Respond When Your Child is Disrespectful

Tired of your kids being rude and disrespectful? Yelling and punishment do not teach your kids to be respectful. Here are 7 positive ways to respond!

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.

As parents, we definitely need to teach our children how to treat others with kindness, 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.

But, once your child is angry, disappointed, frustrated, or upset, the thinking part of their brain has shut down. They are in survival mode. Their body is flooded with stress chemicals and they are not able to hear and process the lessons you are trying to teach.

I also know you HATE being disrespected.

But, 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.

We can’t teach our kids to be respectful by treating them with disrespect.

Thankfully, there is a way to teach your child to talk about big feelings without being disrespectful.

Another Way to Deal with Disrespect.

I realize that the suggestions listed here may be different than you’re used to. You may feel a little unsure about trying these strategies with your kids. that’s OK.

The goal is to address the behavior without threatening, bribing, or responding with disrespect.

  • Stay calm: It’s not easy to keep cool when our kids are being rude. This may feel impossible at first. Meeting them with disrespect sends the wrong message. Instead, model good self-care by taking a deep breath, counting to 20 or repeating a mantra: “This is not an emergency” before you respond to your child.
  • 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.
  • 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 willing to relate to their experience.
  • 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?”
  • 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.”
  • 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 big feelings and overwhelming emotion, you will be able to see that your child is hurting and needs support. Sometimes, a hug is better than any verbal response.

Once you’ve made it through the big feelings, you can decide if this was simply the result of a child who had too much candy and excitement at the playdate, or if this is a bigger issue that needs to be addressed.

Do the Teaching Later

Once everyone is calm, you can talk about what happened and how to do it differently next time.

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 for your brain, and your child’s brain, to get back to calm.

  • 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 your 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’ve 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. Which means, your child is ready to process and practice new skills.

It means they can learn how to manage big feelings, communicate their needs, and respond respectfully in the future.

Which was your goal all along.

Nicole Schwarz (couch 3)

Welcome! I'm Nicole Schwarz.

I'm a Parent Coach, Licensed Therapist and Author of It Starts with You. I help stressed, overwhelmed, confused parents find calm, confidence and connection with their kids. No one is expecting perfection here. But, if you’re willing to examine your parenting, find encouragement, or try something new, this is the place for you.

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