How to Handle Disrespectful Behavior

I remember when our daughter was in kindergarten, and out of the blue I noticed she started talking in a disrespectful tone and using words we didn’t allow in our home. I was really puzzled about where this was coming from until I watched an episode of “Rugrats” with her. Needless to say, we stopped watching that show.

I can almost tell you exactly where we were the first time I experienced the eye roll, heavy sigh, and the snide comment under her breath in response to a request I had made. I felt my blood pressure rise and I knew she had pushed my buttons. I needed to be very careful in how I responded.

As I calmed down, I tried to remind myself that this was actually a good thing – that she was seeking to establish her independence. But at the end of the day, if this behavior went unchecked it could be detrimental.

So, what do you do when your child speaks or acts in a disrespectful manner?

cartoon of little girl shouting and pointing in chattanooga

Choose Your Method

First, you have to choose how and when to address certain behaviors. Certain disrespectful behavior might need to be addressed immediately while others can be handled later. When our daughter’s tone of voice or speech was completely inappropriate, we often looked at her and said, “Perhaps you would like to try a different response,” letting her know that it was unacceptable. Other times, a more severe consequence was necessary, such as revoking phone privileges or when she was younger, giving an early bedtime.

Take a Step Back

Second, remove emotion from your response. Their disrespect is a power play.  If you allow your emotions to lead, you have just lost the battle. Be matter-of-fact. Say what needs to be said without lecturing and move on. If you wait for their response, you’ve engaged and it is highly likely the situation will go downhill.

Raise Their Awareness

Third, don’t assume your child understands what disrespect looks and sounds like. Call a family meeting to identify and define respectful and disrespectful behavior. The earlier you establish these guidelines with your children, the better. Together you can draw up a family statement about how to treat each other.

At a very young age, when our daughter’s behavior was inappropriate, we would say to her, “I love you, but I do not like your behavior.”

That came back to me when our daughter was four and she misbehaved so I made her leave the playground. While in her car seat as I was driving I heard, “Mommy I love you, but I do not like your behavior.”

Set a Good Example

Fourth, model and teach what you want to see. Model what it looks like to be respectful. Take advantage of teachable moments to help them have insight into how to handle situations when others treat them disrespectfully, and remind them that the behavior of others is never an excuse to be disrespectful back.

Set Them Up for Success

Lastly, give them tools. They don’t have to agree with or like everything that is asked of them. There are ways to engage in conversation and express frustration that are still respectful and potentially will even lead to an outcome they want. They need to know that in the end, disrespect will not get them what they want.

Picture of Julie Baumgardner, MS, CFLE

Julie Baumgardner, MS, CFLE

President and CEO, First Things First

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