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5 Ways to Handle Disrespectful Behavior from Children or Teens

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


Teenage boy ignoring mother.
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All children behave disrespectfully at one time or another. The way you respond to your child’s disrespect will be a factor in how often the behavior will be repeated.

Start by establishing household rules that specifically address the issue of respect. Make it clear that you expect everyone to treat each other with respectful words and behaviors. Tell kids ahead of time what the negative consequences will be for breaking the rules.

Disrespectful behavior can range from mild to severe. Mild behaviors may include things like eye rolling or saying, “Whatever Mom!” when reprimanded. More serious disrespectful behaviors include things such as calling a parent names or even physical aggression.

When disrespectful behavior isn’t addressed, it can get worse over time. If young children get away with ignoring a parent’s requests or calling people names, it’s likely to get a lot worse when they become teens.

There are several options parents have when responding to disrespectful behavior. No matter which one you choose, it’s important to remain calm and role model appropriate behavior.

1. Ignore Mild Misbehavior

Sometimes it makes sense to ignore mild misbehavior. If your child mumbles under his breath when you tell him to turn off his video game, you might choose to ignore it as long as he is compliant with shutting his game off.

Other mild misbehavior that can be ignored includes an eye roll or sighing when told to do something. Drawing attention to these minor behaviors can sometimes increase the behavior and lead to more behavior problems.

Avoid a power struggle by choosing your battles wisely. Place the emphasis on the positive behavior by pointing out respectful behavior. Praise kids for behaving respectfully by saying things like, “Thanks for getting ready for dinner with such a good attitude.”

When everyone is calm, have a conversation with your child about disrespectful behavior. For example, point out, “When I told you to clean your room today you rolled your eyes at me. That’s disrespectful behavior.” Explain to kids that there are often natural consequences for disrespectful behavior such as “Kids might not want to play with you when you behave disrespectfully.”

2. Grandma’s Rule of Discipline

Grandma’s rule can be a great way to turn around disrespectful behavior fast. Offer kids a reminder about their disrespectful behavior and make it clear they’ll gain more by behaving in a respectful manner.

Use Grandma’s rule by saying 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.” Wording your response in a positive manner can go a long way to changing disrespectful behavior fast.

3. Use An If…Then Warning

Sometimes disrespectful behavior requires a warning. Use an, “if…then,” statement to tell kids what will happen if the behavior doesn’t change.

For example, say, “If you don’t stop interrupting when I’m on the phone then you’ll need to go to your room.” Give kids an opportunity to change their behavior and if they don’t, follow through with a negative consequence.

4. Provide a Negative Consequence

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

Time out can be an effective negative consequence for young children. Logical consequences can be an effective disciplinary method for both children and teens.

5. Restitution

If your child or teen behaves disrespectful manner, restitution may be necessary to discourage it from happening again. For example, if your child hits his brother, restitution can be an effective consequence. Or, if your teen breaks something out of anger, make him fix it or pay to get it fixed.

Restitution can be a great way to teach children and teens that saying, “I’m sorry,” doesn’t always fix things. Restitution helps kids take responsibility for their disrespectful behavior.

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