Does that sound like you? Ugh… it’s a tough place for a parent to be in. Hopefully this podcast will help.
I want to dive into disrespect with you. What it is and how to get it under control with the hopes of getting into our child’s heart to make a difference in the long run.
The truth is, disrespectful behavior is one of the inappropriate ways kids, especially teenagers but not limited to teens, try to solve their problems. Kids can feel powerless in the face of rules and expectations and talking back and showing disrespect is one way they try to take some power back. If they can drag you into an argument, that’s even better: Now you’re arguing about respect instead of focusing on their curfew or their homework or cleaning up their toys!
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.
If you ask your kids about why they’re being disrespectful, they usually say that it’s because they are angry. Someone, and it’s usually you, hurt them. So, out of instinct, they want to hurt you back.
What can we do then? Here are some ideas to help deal with disrespect in a thoughtful and respectful manner.
1. Avoid the Fight in the Moment
When genuinely being disrespected, we should pay attention to the circumstance instead of yelling at the child, “You are being disrespectful!”
You as a parent are upset. You are called names and they hurt.
To teach respect, first, we need to stay calm and stay in control. Identify if this is a real “disrespect” situation, a misunderstanding, tantrum, or simply because the child hasn’t learned the proper response in such a situation.
You may see these words as signs your child doesn’t respect you. But what is the child’s intention when they say those mean words?
It is usually not malicious because kids (and grownups) cannot think straight when they are angry, they’re in fight-or-flight mode. They just reflexively want to fight back to protect themselves and, in this case, they use hurtful words to do so.
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 emotions and they are not able to hear and process the lessons you might want to teach.
I also know you HATE being disrespected.
But, if you are triggered by their disrespectful behavior, your brain goes into fight-or-flight 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 so you need to slow down and let the emotion pass. Deal with disrespect when there’s no emotion present. For some that will be a few hours later, for others it could be a few days.
We’re going to look for a moment when our child is calm and we can sincerely say “Hey, you know the other day you called me a mean mom and said you hated me? That really hurt my feelings. I need you to know that I love you and that really bothered me. Can we talk about it? Maybe think of other ways to tell me how you’re feeling?” If you’ve waited for the right moment hopefully, you’ll be able to clear the air as to why they were so upset and have a talk about how to communicate better in the future.
But, let’s go over a few more ideas since staying calm might be hard for some of you.
What else can we do?
2. Use Family Meetings
If you have major respect issues going on in your household, it’s probably a sign that there’s not enough communication about expectations and consequences. I want you to sit down with your family and brainstorm a plan about how you’re going to be more respectful. For those of you who listen to my podcast regularly this is what I call a Family Meeting. In your meeting I want you to model for your family how to use words in positive ways to allow for opinions to be expressed. This wouldn’t be a meeting where mom and dad lay down the law but one where everyone can give input about what is frustrating them and causing them to be disrespectful. It’s the triggers that lead to disrespect that we have to eliminate to help create more respect. What do I mean? Let’s say my son was supposed to be cleaning his room but was playing on his gaming system instead. This all leads to me taking away his gaming controller and him yelling at me very disrespectfully that I’m so stupid and how I’m ruining his life.
If I were to use a Family Meeting here it would be about the trigger for the disrespect – not cleaning his room -- along with how he and I need to communicate in the future when chores aren’t being done. We might decide how I would approach him next time when he’s playing a game to get his attention, like tapping him on the shoulder and waiting a specified amount of time for him to pause. After our meeting the next time his chores aren’t done, if our agreed upon method doesn’t work then we’re going to have a follow-up Family Meeting. We need to figure out how to tweak what we’ve laid out, maybe it would be setting which hours he can play or delaying any play until his chores are done. All of this is going to be an iterative process, but it should lead to the disrespect quotient in your family being significantly lessened.
If we as a family can train ourselves to look for communication solutions when we have disrespectful bumps in the road that happen, we can have a lot more respect for each other in the long run. But we have to have those Family Meetings to get some real solutions going and we need to keep having them when new issues arise. If you want more information about Family Meetings listen to podcast episode #17.
3. Don’t Take Everything Personally or Overreact
Pretty much every teenager pokes relentlessly at their parents, expressing their frustrations in various ways. Again, this isn’t limited to teens, kids of any age can do this. Eye rolling, scoffing, smirking, little kids might even spit or kick you – those are all tools in their arsenal that convey their disregard. And as we all know; those irritating behaviors can get under our skin. Kids are looking for those weak spots, those places where they can drag us into defending ourselves and our rules.
If we take it personally, it’s going to be hard to respond effectively. If we react to every single one of those behaviors, we’re not likely to see any change in our kids. While these things are annoying, they aren’t something to correct in the moment.
We need to decide which behaviors we’re going to focus on, and which we can ignore using what Love and Logic calls “going braindead”. Remember that those mildly irritating behaviors aren’t about us, they’re simply an expression of frustration by our child. Our role is to deal with our child’s behavior as objectively as possible. It doesn’t mean we won’t be irritated. Let it go and ignore it so we can stay focused on the topic at hand.
Ignoring is about refusing to let our child's disrespect derail us from the task at hand. If we tell our child to take out the trash and they roll their eyes, don't engage in a lengthy argument over the disrespectful eye rolling. Each minute we spend in a power struggle is 60 seconds they'll put off taking out the trash.
If eye-rolling is a common problem, we should address the issue at a later time when both of us are calm just like I said before. Again, say something like, "Earlier today when I told asked you to take out the trash, you rolled your eyes. Are you aware that you do that when you're mad? It really makes me feel disrespected. Can we think of something different you can do when you’re feeling frustrated with me?"
4. Model respect
If we value respect, model respectful behavior. We need to do our best to show them the way it should be done. Make sure we’re treating our spouse, our boss, our neighbors, and others with respect. We don’t have to agree with everyone, but we need to model for our kids that everyone deserves to be respected. In our current political situation, it’s easy to disrespect someone who has a different opinion. Model that opinions for different people are different and it’s ok.
5. Don’t Take Our Child’s Side
Wait, what? What does “taking our child’s side” have to do with disrespectful behavior?
Let’s say our child complains about how much homework he has, calling the teacher names and generally being disrespectful toward her. We might agree that this particular teacher does give too much homework.
If we take our child’s side in this case, we might say we agree that we think the teacher is stupid, and that she’s doing a terrible job. The message our child hears is: if we think someone is wrong, then we have a right to be rude.
The truth is, neither of us has to agree with someone to treat them respectfully. Even if we think the teacher (or the coach, or the boss, etc.) is wrong, we need to let our child know that regardless of how they feel, they still need to find a way to act appropriately.
One benefit of this approach is that our children will most likely encounter plenty of people in their adult life they disagree with. Help them learn the skills they need to handle those disagreements calmly and appropriately.
6. Don’t Demand Respect
“I am your parent and you have to respect me!” Does that sound familiar? A lot of parents ask me, “How can I get my child to respect me?” You can’t demand respect, but you can require that your child acts respectfully, no matter how they feel about the situation.
“You don’t have to like the rule, but you do have to comply with it. Just because you’re irritated doesn’t mean you get to call me names.”
Remember, stay focused on the behavior, and leave the feelings alone. The irony is that, in the long run, your child will respect you more if you remain calm and enforce your rules consistently.
7. Respect Their Choices
It is ridiculous how some parents want to have complete control over their child’s behavior and preferences. If you want your child to respect you, start with respecting their choices.
Everyone has their own preferences. As much as you want your child to be a mini-me and like exactly the same things you do, they are most likely not going to. Your child has their own likings. If you don’t like what they want, you should explain your rationale. But ultimately, they have to learn to make decisions for themselves. As long as their choice is not a danger to safety or health, is not (too) financially consuming and does not hurt others, you need to honor it.
That is why you need to let them make their own choices in things such as what they wear or what homework they do in what order. A child could end up going to school wearing mismatched socks or coloring outside the lines. Every person has the right to think independently and like different things. That should include children.
When children’s differences are accepted, they feel heard and respected. They see first-hand, through your modeling, how to treat others who have different opinions. They learn that they should respect people despite their differences.
When the teenage years come, this understanding and tolerance for differences is how to get your teenager to respect you. That’s when everything Mom and Dad say will sound stupid to them. You want your teenager to know how to tolerate differences and still respect and appreciate you!
8. Use Restitution
If your child or teen behaves in a disrespectful manner, restitution may be necessary to discourage it from happening again. You might have your child help the offended person by doing their chores for the day or some other special service. Just forcing them to say “I’m sorry” doesn’t really work well in getting to the heart of the offense. I have a podcast episode #35 on How to Teach Kids to Apologize that has a lot more detail about what to do if you need help in this area.
I know this is a lot to absorb and I really feel for you if you feel disrespected in your home after all the work you put into your family. I hope things like staying calm, using Family Meetings and the other ideas in this podcast will help you in your journey. It will take effort to bring things respect into focus but it is possible and you’re the key to unlocking respect in your home.