10 Ways to Handle Disrespectful Behavior

How to Handle disrespectful child

Verywell / Nusha Ashjaee 

If your children roll their eyes and say, "Whatever, Mom!" when you tell them to start their homework or pretend they can't hear you when you tell them to turn off electronics, they are on the mild end of the disrespect spectrum. On the more serious end of the spectrum are behaviors such as name-calling, disregarding rules, and 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.

While you might be tempted to excuse disrespect by saying things like "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. Effective consequences can help.

Your child's disrespect may be a sign that they need help learning socially appropriate ways to manage anger, deal with frustration, and communicate effectively.

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 is about refusing to let your child's disrespect derail you from the task at hand. If you tell your child to clean their room and they roll their eyes, don't engage in a lengthy argument over the disrespectful behavior. Each minute you spend in a power struggle is 60 seconds they'll put off cleaning. Give a warning about what will happen if they don't get to work. 

If eye-rolling is 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."

A significant amount of parent-teen conflict occurs due to a lack of meaningful connection. Connect with your teen, decrease the conflict.

Find the Root Cause

If ignoring behavior doesn't seem to work, or you feel like something else might be going on, try looking deeper. Behavior is communication, and disrespectful behavior might be your child's way of telling you something is wrong.

Maybe your kid wants more of your time and attention. We often hear this framed in the negative ("They just want attention,") but it can also be a very real need. That doesn't mean you can't have boundaries or that you need to drop everything for your child. But if a need for connection is behind bad behavior, you may be able to improve things by finding a way to meet this need. For example, maybe you spend 15 minutes reconnecting each day after school.

Use When/Then Statements

Instead of telling your children what they can't do, tell them how they can earn a privilege. "When/then" statements frame requests in a positive way. Use these statements to notify your child what will happen after they choose to change their behavior. Say, “When you wait your turn while I’m on the phone, then I can take the time to answer you.”

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 respond.

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.

This gives your child an opportunity to change their behavior. Just make sure you're fully prepared to follow through with a negative consequence. Avoid repeating your warnings over and over again. Otherwise, you'll be training your child not to listen.

Have Your Child Try Again

A wrong choice should be followed by the right choice. If you want your child to learn to act respectfully, give them a chance to practice.

Let's say your 10-year-old say, "Take me to my friends house, right now!" Before you launch into a lecture about speaking respectfully, simply say, "Oh! Could you try that again?" This gives your child the chance to soften their tone use use their own thinking skills to identify a better choice of words.

For younger kids you could say something like, "I can't hear you! I can only hear your kind voice."

Pick Your Battles

If your child is struggling with a handful of behavior problems, it can sometimes feel like you are constantly reprimanding them or doling out consequences. This can be discouraging for you both. Consider focusing on the one or two most important behaviors, while letting the others slide for a time.

For example, address the biting and hitting that your toddler has started doing, while not worrying too much if they don't say hello to adults who greet them. You can work on basic manners after you have taught them not to physically hurt others.

Provide an Immediate Consequence

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

A calm-down corner can be an effective consequence for young children. If a 6-year-old screams in your face when they are angry, for example, immediately explain to them why this behavior is inappropriate and provide them an opportunity to correct it.

if your teen walks out the door after you’ve told them they can’t leave, or your child calls you a name, set the boundary: "I will not let you disrespect me" or "I won't allow hurtful language in this home" or "I trust you will find a different way to deal with your frustration."

Many actions that are labeled "misbehaviors" can often be corrected when a child is given the skills and attention they need to make those changes. The aim is not to dish out more punishments. The goal is to remain connected, teach them valuable skills, and maintain a healthy parent-child relationship.

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 their sibling, have them do their sibling's chores for the day. Or if your teen breaks something out of anger, they can fix it or pay to get it fixed.

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

Refill Someone Else's Tank

When your kids are disrespectful, it can take a toll on your mood and energy. Sometimes the best consequence is finding a way for them to replace that energy that you lost. This doesn't have to be directly related to the behavior. The idea is that they dampened your mood or energy, so now they have to do something to brighten it. For example, they might do some of your chores while you relax, or they might prepare one of your favorite foods.

Use Reminders

Kids are still learning and we can also use reminders some of the time. Sometimes the best way to respond to disrespect is with a calm yet firm reminder that you expect your child to speak and act kindly.

Reminders work best ahead of time, however. For example, if you are about to board an airplane with kids, go over what respectful behavior looks like (inside voices, no kicking the chair in front, etc.).

Give Them a Hug

We all have our bad moments. Harsh consequences for disrespectful behavior can sometimes just fuel the fire. Remembering that discipline means "to teach," show you child what loving, kind behavior looks like by responding with a hug or another way of showing affection.

This doesn't mean that you can't set boundaries or that you are just letting the behavior slide. You can follow up with a conversation on why it's important to be respectful. Many kids will be more open to listening after they feel confident that you'll give them unconditional love.

A Word From Verywell

When you're addressing disrespectful behavior, it's normal for your child to take two steps forward and one step back. So while they may be polite and kind one day, they may struggle the next. Consistent discipline is the key to helping them make progress over the long term. Point out good behavior when you see it. And on bad days, consider disrespect a sign that they need 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.

7 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.