We often forget that children aren’t born with a built-in sense of respect for others. Our children need to be taught to be respectful.
Think about it, babies are born having to manipulate their world to get their needs met, and they do this primarily by crying. Crying is natural and appropriate for babies—it’s how they communicate that they’re hungry or wet or need to be held.
But as kids get older, it’s our job as parents to teach them respectful ways of getting their needs met. And crying, manipulation, and disrespect are certainly not respectful ways to accomplish this.
Unfortunately, many kids have not been taught respect or choose not to be respectful even though they know better. Indeed, it’s common to see children and teens arguing with adults (or ignoring them outright), using foul language, copping an attitude, and not using manners or respecting those in authority. Sadly, this has become the norm for many children and teens.
In my opinion, YouTube, movies, music, and video games all seem to glorify a disrespectful, angry, rude way of dealing with others. As a result, we have to work harder as parents to teach our kids to be respectful.
More importantly, though, many parents have not established a firm culture of accountability in their homes. Part of the problem is that parents are often busy, making it much harder to respond immediately to our kids. Let’s face it, it’s easier to let things slide when you’re worn out and stressed from working so hard.
Finally, I believe that many parents have a hard time looking at their kids in a realistic light. I can’t overstate how important it is to be willing to look at your children realistically, noting both their strengths and their areas of weakness. Being realistic allows you to see inappropriate behavior as it happens and address it—and not make excuses or ignore it.
How can you change the culture in your own home if disrespectful behavior is starting—or is already a way of life? Here are nine things you can do as a parent today to start getting respect from your kids.
It’s not about your child liking you or even thanking you for what you do. It’s important to remember that your child is not your friend. He’s your child. Your job is to coach him to function effectively in the world and behave respectfully to others, not just you.
When you think your child might be crossing the line, a good rule of thumb is to ask yourself, “Would I let the neighbor say these things to me? Would I let a stranger?” If the answer is no, don’t let your child do it, either.
Someday when your child becomes an adult, your relationship may become more of a friendship. But for now, it’s your job to be his parent, his teacher, his coach, and his limit setter—not the buddy who lets him get away with things.
It’s good to confront disrespectful behavior early, if possible. If your child is rude or disrespectful, don’t turn a blind eye. Intervene and say:
“We don’t talk to each other that way in this family.”
Giving consequences when your kids are younger is going to pay off in the long run. As a parent, it’s crucial that if you see your child being disrespectful to admit it and then try to nip it in the bud.
Also, if your child is about to enter the teen years (or another potentially difficult phase) think about the future. Some parents I know are already planning how they will address behavior as their ADD daughter (who is now 11) becomes a teenager. They’re learning skills to prepare for their interactions with her at a later time. This preparation can only help them as they move forward together as a family.
It’s beneficial for you and your co-parent to be on the same page when it comes to your child’s behavior. Make sure one of you isn’t allowing the disrespectful behavior while the other is trying to intercede. Sit down together and talk about your rules, and then come up with a plan of action—and a list of consequences you might give—if your child breaks the rules.
Related content: When Parents Disagree: How to Parent as a Team
It may sound old fashioned, but it’s important to teach your child basic manners like saying “please” and “thank you.” When your child deals with her teachers in school or gets her first job and has these skills to fall back on, it will go a long way.
Understand that using manners—just a simple “excuse me” or “thank you”—is also a form of empathy. It teaches your kids to respect others and acknowledge their impact on other people. When you think about it, disrespectful behavior is the opposite of being empathetic and having good manners.
When your child is disrespectful, correct them in a respectful manner. Yelling and getting upset and having your own attitude in response to theirs is not helpful. Getting upset only escalates their disrespectful behavior. The truth is, if you allow their rude behavior to affect you, it’s difficult to be an effective teacher.
Instead, you can pull your child aside and give them a clear message of what is acceptable. You don’t need to shout at them or embarrass them.
One of our friends was excellent at this particular parenting skill. He would pull his kids aside, say something quietly (I usually had no idea what it was), and it usually changed their behavior immediately.
Use these incidents as teachable moments by pulling your kids aside calmly, making your expectations firm and clear, and following through with appropriate consequences.
Related content: How to Give Kids Consequences That Work
Being realistic about your child’s behavior patterns may mean that you need to lower your expectations. Don’t plan a huge road trip with your kids, for example, if they don’t like to ride in the car. If your child has trouble in large groups and you plan an event for 30 people, you’re likely to set everyone up for disappointment, and probably an argument.
It is often helpful to set limits beforehand. For example, if you’re going to go out to dinner, be clear with your kids about your expectations. Clear expectations will help your child behave and, in some ways, will make them feel safer. They will understand what is expected of them and will know the consequences if they don’t meet those expectations. If they meet your goals, certainly give them credit, but if they don’t, follow through on whatever consequences you’ve set up for them.
When you’re in a situation where your child is disrespectful, that’s not the ideal time to do a lot of talking about limits or consequences. At a later time, you can talk with your child about her behavior and your expectations.
If your child is disrespectful or rude, talk about what happened once things are calm. Talk about how it could have been dealt with differently. A calm conversation is a chance for you to listen to your child and to understand her problem better. Try to stay objective. You can say:
“Pretend a video camera recorded the whole thing. What would I see?”
This is also a perfect time to have your child describe what she could have done differently.
One of the biggest mistakes parents can make is to take their child’s behavior personally. The truth is, you should never fall into that trap because the teenager next door is doing the same thing to his parents. And your cousin’s daughter is doing the same thing to her parents. All kids have conflicts with their parents. Your role is to just deal with your child’s behavior as objectively as possible.
When parents don’t have effective ways to deal with these kinds of things, they may feel out of control and get scared. As a result, they often overreact or underreact to the situation. When they overreact, they become too rigid. And when they underreact, they ignore the behavior or tell themselves it’s “just a phase.” Either way, it won’t help your child learn to manage his thoughts or emotions more effectively. And it won’t teach him to be more respectful.
Understand that if you haven’t been able to intervene early with your kids, you can start at any time. Even if your child is constantly exhibiting disrespectful behavior, you can begin stepping in and setting those clear limits.
Kids really do want limits, even if they protest. And they will protest! The message that they get when you step in and set limits is that they’re cared about, that they’re loved, and that you really want them to be successful and able to function well in the world. Our kids won’t thank us now, but that’s okay. It’s not about getting them to thank us, it’s about doing the right thing.
Janet Lehman, MSW, has worked with troubled children and teens for over 30 years. A veteran social worker, she specializes in child behavior issues — ranging from anger management and oppositional defiance to more serious criminal behavior in teens. She is co-creator of The Total Transformation® Program, The Complete Guide To Consequences™, Getting Through To Your Child™, and Two Parents One Plan™.