If you pay close attention to social media, music messages, and news trends, you’d be forgiven for thinking disrespectful and rude behavior from children and adolescents is on the rise. The challenges of modern parenting certainly add a layer of complexity. In many families, the authoritarian parenting styles of previous generations have given way to a gentler approach to managing problem behaviors in kids, some of whom have less direct supervision with two parents working and thus more time to be influenced by peers.
Simply put, many parents don’t have the time or resources needed to thoroughly work through undesirable behaviors with their children. As a result, many children have a limited understanding of how to behave respectfully and appropriately.
Where Does Disrespectful Behavior Come From?
When your child or adolescent begins to behave disrespectfully toward you, it is a clear indication you’ve lost some control in the relationship. As a parent, it may be time to change how you respond to your child’s behavior. It is crucial to be consistent in your response going forward and to take your power back. You don’t have to adopt an authoritarian style of discipline in order to establish a clear, firm set of ground rules regarding what behavior will be tolerated and what will not.
At the same time, it’s important to recognize that not all unpleasant behaviors are coming from an unhealthy place. It is not unusual for children and adolescents to challenge authority by rolling their eyes, talking back, or otherwise demonstrating an attitude. When kids behave in this way, they are often pushing back in the normal course of individuation, or developing a sense of self separate from their parents.
How to Avoid Power Struggles
Once you have emotionally entered into a power struggle with your child or adolescent, you have lost. The following are strategies to avoid being pulled into a power struggle:
- Do not take what is said by your child or adolescent personally. Although this can be difficult if your child or adolescent is swearing in your face or name-calling, getting swept up in the words and the heated emotions behind them will only undermine your message, which is: I am in charge here. Period.
- Have a plan ready. If your child or adolescent has been successful in embroiling you into a fight or a power struggle in the past, be prepared for them to try to do it again. Plan ahead about what you are going to do when your kid attempts to pull you in again. Plan to take a calm, businesslike tone. Know your limits in advance, plan to state them, and walk away. Plan to avoid engaging in push-pull.
- Give your child or adolescent an active role in resolving problematic behavior. I often recommend to parents that they involve their child or adolescent in discussions about what they believe the consequences for disrespectful behavior should be. If your kid has a voice in what happens, they may have more buy-in. Once consequences have been determined, you may decide to give the consequence and have a follow-up discussion later about what happened.
- Be consistent. Perhaps the most difficult part about parenting is being consistent, yet it is also the most important part. If you want your child or adolescent to take you seriously and behave differently in the future, you must be steady in your responses and the disciplinary measures you employ.
- Be clear about your role. As a parent, your role is to teach and model respectful behavior and effective problem solving in order to help your child or adolescent function appropriately and successfully. Your job is to help them grow into responsible, respectful adults in an increasingly challenging world. That means setting reasonable rules and limits, and being prepared to enforce them. Let it be known that while you love your child unconditionally, you won’t tolerate disrespect—toward you or anyone else.
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