5 Ways to Handle Disrespectful Behavior from Children

How to Respond to Back Talk, Swearing, Defiance, and Outright Disrespect

Disrespectful children tend to become disrespectful adults.
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Whether your child rolls her eyes and says, "Whatever Mom!" when you tell her to start her homework or she pretends she can't hear you when you tell her to turn off her electronics, is on the mild end of the disrespect spectrum.

On the more serious end of the disrespectful behavior spectrum, you'll find behaviors such as calling people names, disregarding the rules, or physical aggression.

No matter where your child falls on the spectrum, it's important to address disrespect before it gets worse. A 2015 study conducted by researchers at the University of Virginia found that disrespectful children are likely to become rude adults. 

So while you might be tempted to excuse disrespect by saying things like, "Well kids will be kids," brushing it off won't do your child any favors. Kids need to learn how to treat others with respect so they can develop healthy relationships with peers, authority figures, and family members. 

Your child's disrespect may be a sign he needs help learning socially appropriate ways to manage his anger, deal with frustration, and communicate effectively. Here are the most effective consequences for disrespectful behavior: 

1. Ignore Attention Seeking Behavior

It may seem like ignoring minor disrespect is the same as allowing your child to get away with it. But selective ignoring can be one of the most effective negative consequences.

Ignoring doesn't mean letting your child get away with being mean, however. Instead, it's about refusing to let your child's disrespect derail you from the task-at-hand.

If you tell your child to clean his room, and he rolls his eyes, don't engage in a lengthy argument over his disrespectful behavior. Each minute you spend in a power struggle is 60 seconds he'll put off cleaning his room. Give him a warning about what will happen if he doesn't get to work. 

If eye rolling has become a common problem, address the issue at a later time when both of you are calm. Say something like, "Earlier today when I told you to clean your room, you rolled your eyes. Are you aware that you do that when you're mad?" 

Talk about the potential consequences of disrespect. Ask, "Do you think that you roll your eyes when your friend says something you don't like?" Engage in a discussion about how other people feel when they witness rude behavior.

Explain the natural consequences for disrespectful behavior such as, “Disrespectful children often have trouble making friends."

2. Grandma’s Rule of Discipline

Grandma’s rule of discipline is a simple but effective way to get your child to comply. Instead of telling your child what he can't do, tell him how he can earn a privilege.

So rather than saying, "If you don't pick up right now, you won't be able to play outside," say, "You can play outside as soon as you are finished picking up your toys." Then, walk away and leave it up to your child to pull himself together.

You also might try saying things like, “When you lower your voice and talk calmly, I’ll answer you,” or “I’ll play with you when you stop being bossy.” Teach your child that polite and kind behavior yields positive results.

3. Provide a Single Warning

Use an, “if…then,” statement to warn your child what will happen if the behavior doesn’t change. Say, “If you don’t stop interrupting when I’m on the phone then you’ll need to go to your room.”

This gives your child an opportunity to change his behavior around. Just make sure you're fully prepared to follow through with a negative consequence if he doesn't comply.

Avoid repeating your warnings over and over again. Otherwise, you'll be training your child not to listen. 

4. Provide a Negative Consequence

Most disrespectful behaviors should result in an immediate negative consequence. Take your child's age and the seriousness of the offense into consideration when determining a punishment. 

Time-out can be an effective negative consequence for young children. If your 6-year-old screams in your face when he's angry, for example, send him to time-out. 

Logical consequences can be effective for older children and teens. If your teen walks out the door after you’ve told him he can’t leave, or your child calls you a name, take away his privileges. You might remove his electronics for 24 hours or ground him from leaving the house for two days.

5. Use Restitution

If your child or teen behaves in a disrespectful manner, restitution may be necessary to discourage it from happening again. Restitution is about doing something kind for the victim or doing something to make reparations for the damage that has been done. 

If your child hits her brother, make her do her brother's chores for the day. Or, if your teen breaks something out of anger, make her fix it or pay to get it fixed.

Teach your child that saying, “I’m sorry,” doesn’t always fix things. Restitution will help her take responsibility for her disrespectful behavior while also working to repair the relationship.

A Work in Progress

When you're addressing disrespectful behavior it's normal for your child to take two steps forward and one step back. So while he may be polite and kind one day, he may struggle the next.

Consistent discipline is the key to helping him make progress over the long-term. Point out his good behavior when you see it. And when he's having a bad day, consider his disrespect a sign that he needs more practice.

Most importantly, be a good role model. Whether you're frustrated with the service you receive at a restaurant or you're angry at the telemarketer who interrupted your dinner, treat others with respect and your child will follow suit.

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