5 Ways to Handle Disrespectful Behavior from Children

Responding to Talking Back, Swearing, Defiance and Other Rude Behaviors

Disrespectful children tend to become disrespectful adults.
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Whether your child rolls her eyes or she says, "Whatever Mom!" when you tell her to do something, occasional mild disrespect can be common. On the more serious end of the spectrum, disrespectful children call people names, disregard the rules, and become physically aggressive.

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


Don't excuse disrespect by saying things like, "Well kids will be kids." Excuses allow your child's rude behavior to continue.

Instead, step in and teach your child socially appropriate ways to interact, deal with frustration, and communicate effectively. Here are the most effective discipline techniques to stop disrespectful children from turning into disrespectful adults:

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 give your child attention when he's acting obnoxious.

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.


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 when he can earn a privilege.

Say something such as, “When you lower your voice and talk calmly, I’ll answer you,” or “I’ll help you pick up the toys when you stop being bossy.” Teach your child that polite and kind behavior will lead to 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

Moderate or serious disrespectful behavior requires an immediate negative consequence. If your teen walks out the door after you’ve told him he can’t leave, take away his privileges.

Or, if your 6-year-old screams in your face when he's angry, don't take him to the park.

Time-out can be an effective negative consequence for young children. Logical consequences can be effective for older children and teens.

5. Restitution

If your child or teen behaves disrespectful manner, restitution may be necessary to discourage it from happening again. If he hits his brother, make him do his brother's chores. Or, if your teen breaks something out of anger, make him fix it or pay to get it fixed.

Teach your child that saying, “I’m sorry,” doesn’t always fix things. Restitution will help him take responsibility for his 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 disrespectful behavior is 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.


Hafen CA, Allen JP, Schad MM, Hessel ET. Conflict with friends, relationship blindness, and the pathway to adult disagreeablenessPersonality and Individual Differences. 2015;81:7-12. 

Ty A, Mitchell DG, Finger E. Making amends: Neural systems supporting donation decisions prompting guilt and restitutionPersonality and Individual Differences. 2017;107:28-36.