Ask Parent Coaching: What to Do When Your Child Says “I Don’t Care”


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I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard parents say that their children respond to consequences by yelling “I DON’T CARE!”  Nothing seems to bother these kids, or so it seems — not even losing their cell phone, T.V. time, or having an earlier bedtime.

My goal in this article is to prove to all of you parents, once and for all, that your child’s attitude doesn’t have to interfere with your ability to help them change their behavior. Believe me, even though they may be shouting “I don’t care” there are still ways to parent effectively.

Here are four different situations that trigger your child to say “I don’t care.” I’ll tell you what your child really means when he or she goes there — and most importantly, you’ll be equipped to handle it the next time he or she says, “I don’t care!”

Situation #1: Kids learn quickly what kinds of things to say that pound (forget push!) your buttons and how to invite you to arguments that you can’t resist. James Lehman often reminds us that kids would much rather argue about something than do what we’re asking of them. Some parents have a huge button with neon flashing lights on it, detailing their frustrations about whether or not their child cares and what kind of attitude their kids carry into situations and tasks. Again, if this is you, it hasn’t gone unnoticed by your child. Saying “I don’t care” is effective bait to lure parents into arguing about how they think their child should feel.

How to handle it: Say something like, “It’s okay that you don’t care, but it’s your responsibility  to do your chores,” then walk away.

Situation #2: As a parent, you use your authority to make rules and set limits that will help teach your children the acceptable and unacceptable ways to behave. Let’s face it, having other people decide things for you can create feelings of powerlessness — and kids feel that just like anyone else. Not only that, but many times children don’t know how to get what they want from other people appropriately or how to deal with different situations. So, at times kids will say ‘I don’t care,” merely as an expression of their feelings of powerlessness.

How to handle it: Don’t take their words at face value and don’t make it that easy for your child to convince you that you don’t have power. There needs to be consequences for behavior. Don’t let your child manipulate you out of holding them accountable.

Situation #3: This next one is huge, and the most common trigger that I come across on the support line. If you’re not using time and task-oriented consequences, then your child has no goal to work towards in order to regain privileges. With no goal or end is sight there isn’t a reason for your child to participate in working on the behavior. They give up and basically don’t care what happens, because they don’t have any investment in producing different results. Not only is it important to be clear on what will go on restriction for certain behaviors, but it’s just as important to lay out exactly what your child will need to do and how long they will need to do it in order to obtain a normal status again.

How to handle it: Don’t focus on removing privileges, give your child an opportunity to earn things back by practicing skills and desired behaviors. Read this article on time and task-oriented consequences (How to Give Kids Consequences That Work)

Situation #4: “I don’t care” is a handy and readily available excuse kids use to avoid taking responsibility. They’re basically giving you a reason why they think they don’t need to change or solve the problem differently. For kids it’s a serious obstacle to being able to solve their problems differently. I think that “I don’t care” becomes the motto of defiance for older kids who have moved on from the less evolved plea of “That’s unfair.”

How to handle it: Any time your child is trying to justify inappropriate behavior by using faulty thinking, it’s an opportunity for you as the parent to challenge it and reframe things so that you’re highlighting what the actual problem is. For instance, “It sounds to me like you think the rules about doing your homework don’t apply because you’re not interested in math. You need to have a plan on how you’re going to get it done.”

Related Content: Bribing Kids vs. Rewarding Kids for Good Behavior: What’s the Difference?


As a parent coach, Tina Wakefield coached parents on techniques from the Total Transformation, as well as Empowering Parents' other programs, for over 8 years. Tina is also a mother and stepmother.

Comments (2)
  • gourmetgal
    I get the "I don't care" response quite frequently when my 15 yr old son doesn't like what I've said whether it be chores or a manner of behavior. I have changed my behavior and don't "rise to the bait" anymore. I have told him that the rules don't changeMore and "it is what it is", the jargon something he can relate to. The onus then is on him. When he behaves he gets to have friends over and I take them places that are fun (bowling, mini golf, out for pizza, etc). But when he acts up, those things disappear. If they disappear LONG enough(and YOU can stand your ground)eventually the message sinks in and they cooperate because NOW they have found a "what's in it for me?" reason. Sounds simple, right? Doesn't ALWAYS work but I have seen improvements.It will be interesting to see how good he becomes when he turns 16 in the fall and can get his driver's permit. Good luck to all the parents who are struggling with this. Know that you are not alone.
  • Kemuel Ronis

    Terrific Advice- practical and simple. I get so aggravated with parents who say they can't control their teenagers. So often they are just unwillingly to say no or discipline their kids effectively because their children control them through withdrawal of love or by being sullen.

    Great post!

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