According to Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary disrespect is a speech or behaviour which shows that you do not think someone or something is valuable, important. It also means contempt. A child’s disrespectful behavior can be a parent’s greatest “button-pusher”. According to James Lehman- “don’t give your child’s bad attitude or backtalk power in the moment by arguing with him, because that only teaches him that he can push your buttons”. on the other hand said “a child who is allowed to be disrespectful to his parents will not have true respect for anyone”. Sometimes disrespect comes along with adolescence; other times a child may show disrespectful behavior from an early age. Either way, it’s a behavior that can push any parent’s emotional buttons.

The Nature of Disrespect

As adults, we expect our children to respect us: our feelings, our home, our authority. And society expects children to be respectful. The phrase, “Children are to be seen, not heard,” comes from a long-held belief that children should be compliant, quiet and do as their parents say. Yet anyone who’s been around a child for more than an hour knows this often isn’t the case. So how can we reconcile our expectation of respect with our child’s need to test limits as they assert their independence? Just how far is too far?

There are several reasons a child may behave in a way that is “disrespectful.” First, he or she may not realize the behaviour is disrespectful. For example, a mother or father is trying to correct them, and the child simply replies “don’t tell me what to do or not to do, I am an adult” or “dad or mum please stop shouting. I think it is time I need peace in this house”. What will strike the father or the mother at that moment is “DISRESPECT”. Kids also have difficulty asserting or expressing themselves appropriately when feeling angry or frustrated. Adrenaline kicks in and eyes start rolling, voices raise, feet get stamped and doors get slammed. Some kids have difficulty managing the stress and emotions they experience when faced with a limit or being told “no,” and just can’t keep themselves from crossing the line. Add in adolescence and hormones and you’ve got the potential for emotions and irritability to escalate quickly. Some television shows or home and foreign movies send some messages to children. In a foreign movie, a child can be seen screaming and yelling at his or her parents and even going as far as saying I hate you. Children tend to pick this up and start showing sign of disrespect.

Responding to Disrespect

Most parents face mild to moderate disrespectful behavior from their kids from time to time. But what’s an effective way to respond?

1. Decide which behaviors need to be addressed. Most kids have engaged in mildly disrespectful behaviors, such as rolling their eyes at a parent, at least a few times their lives. Sometimes it’s as they’re walking away; sometimes they do it before they realize, “Oops, mom’s still standing in front of me!” This is an example of a behavior that you may choose to “let go,” and instead focus on larger issues of disrespect (such as yelling, swearing, slamming doors, screaming “I hate you,” depending on your child’s age

2. Don’t take responsibility for your child’s disrespect. One of the reasons a rude child is so upsetting to us is that we often feel it’s a reflection of our parenting. If you’re sitting around the dining table with relations and your son blurts out something rude or inconsiderate to you, it can trigger feelings of anger and embarrassment. “What kind of parent will other people think I am if my child is acting this way?” As hard as it is, remember: your child’s behavior is a reflection of him – not you.

3. Define to your child what disrespect is. Talk to your child about which behaviour is respectful and which isn’t. We often expect our kids to know things without spelling them out. Kids who are younger tend to think in terms that are “concrete.” You have to actually tell them “When you yell at me, it’s disrespectful.” Don’t assume that just because your child has reached adolescence, he has insight into how his behavior comes off to other people. There are times it may be a tone of voice or just the way something was said that sounded like it had “attitude.” Again, decide if those are things that can be let go from time to time or if it’s frequent enough that it’s a pattern that needs to be addressed.

4. Give your child alternative problem-solving skills. If your child is handling her frustration or anger in a way that is disrespectful or unacceptable, talk with her or him about different ways he or she can express herself appropriately. You can actually role-play different situations with your child. Have her play the parent and you play her. Give him or her words to use to let you know how disappointed or unhappy they are. Because in life, she’s going to have to express being unhappy or frustrated – not just to you, but to others such as friends, teachers and eventually a boss or spouse.

5. Provide positive reinforcement.  Recognize times your child does behave in a respectful way toward you or others and make sure he knows you are aware of it: “You know, I really enjoyed talking to you this way today. I hope we can have more conversations like this.” Even if he was only respectful for a moment, notice and acknowledge it. You want to reinforce the behavior you want to see more often. Focusing only on behaviour you don’t want to see won’t accomplish your parenting goal: to teach your child to behave in a respectful manner toward you and others.


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