Present your kids with a fork in the road. Show your kids that disrespectful behavior works out badly, fast, and every time. When your kids start to act disrespectfully, remind them of how to handle the situation respectfully. If your kids don’t respond respectfully after one or two reminders, tell them exactly what to say or do to turn the situation around, and let them know what will happen if they continue to behave disrespectfully. For example, you could say, “Kayla, I’d like you to pick up your pencil and start your homework right now, or you’ll go to time-out.” Give your kids five to seven seconds to decide. Then either immediately praise a positive choice or administer a negative consequence. Be consistent and don’t give up, remembering that your kids will eventually learn to turn their behavior around.

Use time-outs wisely. Know that a time-out is not intended to be a punishment; it’s an opportunity to help kids calm down and get a fresh start. Tell your kids that their job while they’re in time-out is to think of a new plan for better behavior. Choose a time-out spot that’s boring (such as bathroom or the bottom or stairs) so your kids aren’t distracted by anything fun to look at, hear, touch, etc. Make sure the spot is also safe and easy for you to monitor. (If you’re out in public, either use a private spot such as your car or go home as soon as possible and immediately begin time-out there.) Tell your kids that they need to have quiet feet, hands, and mouths while they’re in time-out. Keep the time-outs short – just three minutes. But lengthen the time-outs by one minute (up to a 30-minute maximum) every time your kids demonstrate noisy feet, hands, or mouths. Be sure to use a timer to keep track of how long the time-outs are running. If your kids refuse to go to time-out soon after you tell them to do so, or if they act up in time-out and reach the maximum time limit, take away one of their favorite privileges.

Make consequences logical. Connect a privilege loss to the specific disrespectful behavior that caused the problem. For example, if one of your kids colors on the wall with markers, he or she will have to clean the wall and lose coloring privileges for a few days. Adjust the length of the privilege loss depending on the situation, and combine the privilege loss with other negative consequences if necessary. Consider other logical consequences, such as giving your kids an earlier bedtime or having them write sentences (or, for older kids, a short essay) about the disrespectful behavior they had just demonstrated.

Practice positive behavior. Give your kids regular opportunities to practice respectful behavior that you’d like to see them demonstrate more. Identify exactly what you’re looking for. Then, during free time when your kids would otherwise be doing something they choose themselves, have them practice the respectful behaviors five to 10 times in a row. Try to keep the practice time upbeat and enjoyable, and give your kids plenty of encouraging comments.

Respond to negative behavior quickly and consistently. Help your kids learn that disrespectful behavior works out badly, fast, every time. Don’t wait to implement a negative consequence after your kids act disrespectfully, and be sure to do so whenever that happens.

Be careful with spanking. Understand that spanking isn’t a quick fix to the problem of disrespectful behavior, and that it can result in serious negative side effects (including: it can severely damage the parent-child relationship, it can become physically abusive, and it can teach a child that aggression is a valid way to solve problems). Consider spanking only if your kids are between the ages of two and five, and then only in situations where you need to correct behavior that could bring immediate harm to your kids (such as running toward the street) or that was significantly disrespectful (such as refusing to go to time-out). Never spank older kids for any reason; use negative consequences instead. When spanking young kids, do on only on the buttocks, over the clothes, with an open hand, with no more than two or three swats, and never hard enough to leave marks or injure your kids in any way.

Be patient. Don’t rush the work God is doing in your kids’ lives. Ask God to give you the patience you need to work gently with your kids over the time it takes for their new respectful behaviors to take root and grow into habits that will shape their character and bless their future.


Adapted from Respectful Kids: The Complete Guide to Bringing Out the Best in Your Child, copyright 2006 by Dr. Todd Cartmell.  Published by NavPress Publishing Group, Colorado Springs, Co.,       


Todd Cartmell, Psy.D., is a child psychologist with a practice in Wheaton, Illinois. The author of The Parent Survival Guide and Keep the Siblings, Lose the Rivalry, he is married with two children. Visit his website, for parenting tips, workshop information, and more.