We all know that kids can act in many disrespectful and rude ways to parents: they can slam doors, roll their eyes, and tell you they hate you, to name a few. It’s natural to get very worried and frustrated and wonder if these types of behaviors constitute out-and-out abuse, or just “rudeness and mild disrespect.” How can a parent know when these rebellious and rude behaviors have crossed over a boundary and gone way too far ?
What Do You Consider to be “Disrespect”?
In the land of disrespect, people hurl insults at one another, put others down and hurt one another with intention. A good way to make the distinction between disrespect and general rudeness is to consider the intention behind it. Is your child simply expressing his unhappy feelings and his wish to have more freedom, perhaps? Does he express his frustrations with rude behaviors like slamming his door, stomping his feet, abruptly walking away from you while talking, having baby tantrums or rolling his eyes? These need to be understood for what they are – an expression of his frustration, rather than an intentional act of disrespect and defiance with the desire to hurt you. Stick with the issue and don’t get sidetracked about how he is delivering his upset. If the issue is about his chores, for example, stay with that – don’t let him deflect you with his rudeness. Let his problem of being rude be his problem, not yours. Don’t engage. Deal with your own problem of enforcing appropriate limits and sticking to what you believe is right, no matter how unhappy he might be.
Let’s say that you’ve told your 13-year-old he can’t use his cell phone at night, but you catch him texting when he’s supposed to be sleeping. Would you consider this disrespectful behavior toward you? Would you react to it and punish him for his disrespect? Or would you consider this instead his clumsy attempt to exert control over his life and make his own rules? Would you punish him because you think he’s being disrespectful toward you? Would that change if he called you a bad name and threw something at you while you were taking his phone away and doling out consequences? And would his reaction be considered crossing over the boundary into the land of disrespect? The answer to the last question is “yes.
The Bottom Line is, Here are 3 ways to handle disrespect in your home, and turn the dynamic around in your home:
1. Don’t treat this as a personal attack–even though it can feel that way. To help your child be respectful, understand that their rude behavior might be an expression of their frustration about their lack of independence, not an attack against your authority. In fact, it’s because you have that authority that they’re acting out! Don’t take it personally; just hold them accountable for any rude behavior. It also might be a good idea to consider whether you’re giving them enough reasonable independence. Is it time to allow your child to make more of his own choices and face the consequences, whether good or bad?
2. Take a self-inventory. To help your child be respectful, always take a self-inventory and see how you might inadvertently be contributing to the disrespect. What’s been your part in this negative dynamic? Observe how you are managing your relationship with your child and consider if his negative behavior might be an expression of his reaction to that management. In other words, are you over- or under-functioning for your child, taking things too personally, and being too reactive? Are you tangled in a power struggle that you need to step out of?
Another type of parent/child struggle that breeds disrespect is when parents don’t expect enough of their kids, and therefore, don’t hold them accountable for much of anything. The child grows up believing she’s not expected to follow the rules or listen to her parents while living under their roof. Parents in this situation might even say they do expect those things, but their behavior tells a different story. If you find ways to let your child off the hook over and over again by excusing, justifying, rationalizing and minimizing her poor behaviors, you aren’t expecting enough of her. A child given this message has independence, but doesn’t have boundaries or guidance. The end result is that she’s left feeling anxious and out of control. She will often act with disrespect because, for one, she can; two, she doesn’t respect her parents’ spinelessness; and three, she hasn’t learned to take responsibility for her own behavior. When a parent tends to “give in,” “give too much,” “give up,” or “flip out” with his child rather than take a clear stand, he is planting the seeds for more and more disrespect.
3. Expect Respect. To help your child be respectful, EXPECT him to comply with your rules and listen to you. Of course, you also need to be flexible, not rigid or dogmatic, and listen to him and get his input–but the bottom line is that you will expect him to listen and follow the rules that you have set forth.
A parent can demand respect, but the behavior that results probably won’t be authentic. Authentic respect comes from a parent behaving in ways that invite respect.