Whether in their teens or terrible twos, children will occasionally exhibit disrespectful behavior toward parents, teachers and siblings as a way of testing rules and boundaries, expressing individuality or discovering self-control and independence. Parents can respond with several simple techniques in order to correct disrespectful behavior and encourage healthy, positive communication in children.
Approach the disrespectful child in a cool, calm, consistent manner, no matter how frustrated you may become. Children learn from the habits of their parents. If you respond to disrespectful behavior by shouting, using a harsh tone or speaking out in frustration, you are only reinforcing poor communication. Your child is much more likely to respond positively to you if you are calm and collected when demanding that the behavior stop or change.
Be clear and concise in explaining why the disrespectful behavior isn’t acceptable. No one likes to hear “because I said so,” and this all-too-common reason for demanding that children change their behavior does not teach kids why the behavior must change in the first place. Provide a simple, to-the-point reason clearly and calmly. If, for example, your child continues to reach for the cookie jar after you’ve said “no,” remove the child to another room and say, “You can only have a cookie after dinner time.”
Set limits for your child, and consistently enforce them. Children learn through structured guidance, and it is unreasonable for a parent to expect his child to automatically know right from wrong. Establish a rule, for example, to clearly inform your child that it is not acceptable to use foul language, and be consistent about enforcing this rule. Do not revoke privileges sometimes, and then overlook the language other times. Being consistent will reiterate lessons about consequence to your child and quell the disrespectful behavior as she grows tired of suffering the consequence of the behavior. Inconsistency will send mixed messages to children about what is acceptable and what isn’t.
Reward good, respectful behavior with compliments or privileges. Just as it is important to consistently deter disrespectful behavior with discipline, it is equally important to reinforce good, respectful behavior by acknowledging it in a way that shows your child what you expect and admire.
Seek outside help for children whose disrespectful behavior has become patterned and habitual. Disrespectful behavior that is frequent and accompanied by destruction or aggression could be a sign of an underlying issue, such as trouble at school. In these instances, when you are unable to correct the behavior yourself, it may become necessary to work with a family therapist or school counselor to identify the issue at hand and correct the behavior.
Don’t dismiss disrespectful behavior as a stage children will outgrow. While disrespectful behavior often peaks at different developmental stages, it is important to consistently address and correct the behavior in order for it to improve or change.
Examine your family’s communication with one another. If frequent arguments or disagreements occur and are not resolved peacefully and calmly, the child may be exhibiting learned behavior from family dynamics. Seek a family therapist for help resolving disagreements and ineffective communications within the home.