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4 Ways to Address Disrespect From Your Child

father disciplining young daughter by pointing finger at her in conversation

Anyone who has been a parent, caregiver, or teacher knows that children can dole out disrespect with as much finesse and talent as they can scarf down candy. We all have different tolerance levels too. I remember my mom having little to no tolerance for disrespect. Her wide-eyed glare across a room could turn me into a submissive little sunbeam in less than a second. On the other hand, I could get away with more with my dad, and I pushed my boundaries; of that, there is no question.

What is "disrespect" exactly? Webster describes it as a "low regard or esteem for someone or something." Meaning, you diminish the intrinsic value of the person/thing by your opinion and behavior toward it. I think understanding this definition is crucial as we tackle how to address disrespect.

One thing I've discovered as my daughter has sprinted through growing up is that she attempts to mimic adult humor as she grows. I don't mean inappropriate humor; I just mean that adults have a way of dishing out and taking humor in a way that communicates that we mean no disrespect by it. Sarcasm walks a fine line, but many adults have perfected the art of sarcasm ladled with humor. My daughter wants so badly to do this and make people laugh, but when she attempts it, it falls far short. In fact, sometimes, it's perceived as horribly disrespectful. But that's not her intention.

This brings me to point number one:

1. Filter Humor From Disrespect 

Okay, so this doesn't mean to give your child a free-for-all to run off their mouth. However, looking at the intent behind their words is terribly important when determining how to address it.

In my daughter's case, many times, it's been an issue of addressing how sarcasm toward adults can be interpreted as disrespectful or that her approach isn't going well. In that event, she often finds it within herself to apologize simply because she hates the idea of an adult thinking she was devaluing them.

On the other hand, there are times she is outright disrespectful. Whether in private or in public, it is apparent she intends to diminish the other person. Eye rolls, heavy sighs, and muttered under-the-breath words are big clues that she's not trying (and failing) to be funny but that she is 100% seriously disrespectful.

2. Try to Understand Why They're Disrespectful 

I'm not a proponent of always talking it out when it comes to discipline; however, I am a proponent of understanding the reasons why. So often, disrespect is leveled because of frustration, embarrassment, or downright rebellion. It's important to know what is driving the disrespect. Otherwise, the underlying issue can't be addressed, and something far more serious can fester beneath the surface.

Think of disrespect as an illness. You go to the ER because you have a horrible stomachache. They suspect you had too much for Thanksgiving dinner, but after looking for underlying causes, they discover you have appendicitis. That underlying cause is much more severe than the stomachache, and the stomachache is merely a sign of that more critical issue.

Firmly putting the child in their place and shutting down the disrespect is very important. They need to understand they are not in authority at the moment. But stopping there is not unlike sending someone home with a stomachache and not doing an examination to find out what's causing it. It treats only the minor part of something far more significant and potentially detrimental.

3. Address the Underlying Cause

Once you've uncovered what is causing the disrespect, it's more effective to address that than to wax prolific on the horrors of being rude. I recall a time not so long ago that my son was very short on patience. Not only was his tone, but his words were downright disrespectful. He was sent to his room to cool off and to be put in his place. But afterward, I visited him there and inquired what was instigating his snappy and rude behavior. It took some cajoling and open-ended questions, but eventually, he revealed he was grieving the recent loss of his grandmother and because he was hiding his emotion, he had no patience to process life.

Addressing the underlying cause of grief replaced a disrespectful boy with one who was grateful, quiet, and now had permission to grieve appropriately. The disrespect, while an issue, yes, became far less of an issue in light of the new information. We may have made our point if we punished the disrespect, but we would not have helped resolve a much deeper, more scarring set of emotions.

4. Address the Disrespect

It is important to note that disrespect should also not be smoothed over by assuming that there is an underlying issue. While it's important to find out if there's one, sometimes, it really is just that stomachache situation, and the disrespect is pure disrespect and nothing more.

At this point, it needs to be firmly and quickly addressed. If the child insists there is nothing else going on behind the scenes, then it's crack downtime. This also means that it is crucial you do not devalue them with similar disrespect during the discipline. Firm, steady, controlled emotions will be critical in reinforcing the wrongdoing of treating someone as less than.

Disrespect can be one of the most annoying parts of parenthood because it seems to lurk around every corner, especially as your child enters the teenage years. Suddenly, they think they're smarter, wiser, and cooler than you. It's going to be critical not to try to prove them wrong by becoming their buddy or BFF. This is a time for you, as a parent especially, to hold fast to the standard of respect. It will be important for the child to learn that respect is a key to successful relationships as they go into adulthood, the workplace, church, social groups, etc.

And one last thing: Lead by example.

So many kids learn how to be disrespectful based on the examples they witness around them. Are you showing respect to your spouse, or do you devalue them in front of your child? Do you treat that customer service rep with respect when you're frustrated, or does your child witness you criticizing them? It's tough to enforce a level of respect you cannot give yourself. Your child will spot that hypocrisy, and your words will fall flat in the face of your own example.

We live in a world where self-respect is becoming more important than respect for others. If you want your child to succeed and be well-received, it will be critical to teach them that respecting and valuing others is tantamount to effective relationships. It can only win friends, whereas disrespect is an instant loss of something and an introduction of stress and anxiety into their world.

Remember, as the Proverb says, "a kind answer turns away anger." Kindness is the action behind respect. It is the reinforcement that there is value in front of you, and because of such, you will hold it with esteem.

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/JoseLuisPelaezInc

Jaime Jo Wright is the winner of the Carol, Daphne du Maurier, and INSPY Awards. She's also the Publishers Weekly and ECPA bestselling author of three novellas. The Christy Award-Winning author of “The House on Foster Hill”, Jaime Jo Wright resides in the hills of Wisconsin writing suspenseful mysteries stained with history's secrets. Jaime lives in dreamland, exists in reality, and invites you to join her adventures at jaimewrightbooks.com!




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