Disrespect from children and teens can be shown in a variety of ways - the most common being backtalk, complaining, arguing, attitude, or just plain ignoring. These are all faulty tools that children and teens may use to express displeasure about a limit that was set, avoid a task they don’t want to do, or try to gain control in a situation where they feel powerless. These faulty tools work for kids when parents argue back, engage in a power struggle, or take their words personally. 

Understanding Your Child, Yourself, and the Situation

Children learn from the examples they see. Too many parents expect their children to be respectful when they are not respectful to their children. Punishment is not respectful.


1. In a calm, respectful voice, tell your child, "If I have ever spoken to you that way, I apologize. I don't want to hurt you or be hurt by you. Can we start over?"

2. "You are obviously very upset right now. I know it upsets me when you talk that way. Let's both take some time out to calm down. We can talk later when we feel better."

3. Another possibility is to say what you will do. "When you talk disrespectfully to me, I will leave the room. I love you and want to listen to you when you are ready to talk respectfully. I love myself enough to walk away from verbal abuse." Calmly leave the room without saying a word. If your child follows, go for a walk or get into the shower. After a cooling-off period, ask, "Are you ready to talk with me now?" If you are not too upset, try hugging your child. Sometimes children are not ready to accept a hug at this time. Other times a hug changes the atmosphere for both of you to one of love and respect.

Here are some other  ways you can unknowingly encourage disrespectful behavior in your child – and what you can do instead:

  1. Take everything personally. Over-react.
    Pretty much every teenager pokes relentlessly at their parents, expressing their frustrations in various ways. Eye rolling, scoffing, smirking – those are all tools in the teenage arsenal that convey their disregard. And as we all know, those mild, irritating behaviors can really get under your skin. Kids are looking for those weak spots, those places where they can drag you into defending yourself or your rules. If you take it personally, it’s going to be really hard to respond effectively. If you react to every single one of those behaviors, you’re not likely to see any change in your child. While these things are annoying, they aren’t necessarily something to correct. James Lehman talks about ignoring the little disrespectful things your child does – especially if she’s otherwise complying with your rules. The kid who mutters under her breath as she stomps off to do as she’s told is behaving like a typical, normal kid. It’s when your kid treats people badly while refusing to comply with expectations that you need to jump in and correct the behavior.  

What to do instead:
Decide which behaviors you’re going to focus on, and which you can ignore. Remember that those mildly irritating behaviors aren’t about you, they’re simply an expression of frustration. Your role is to deal with your child or teen’s behavior as objectively as possible. It doesn’t mean you won’t be irritated! Just find ways to handle that emotion away from interactions with your child, if possible. Let it go, and stay focused on the topic at hand.

  1. Bad mouth other people. 
    Life is stressful sometimes: bosses are challenging, neighbors get too loud, family members can be irritating. As a parent, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to show your kids how you manage your behavior when you’re annoyed or upset.Kids “watch us for a living,” as the Lehmans say. If you talk badly about others or treat other people with disrespect, don’t be surprised if your child follows suit.

What to do instead:
Parents have to role model better behavior for their kids. Remember, they’re watching you, even if they don’t seem like they care what you do. If you value respect, model respectful behavior. Do your best to show them the way it should be done.

  1. Take your child’s side.
    Wait, what? What does taking your child’s side have to do with disrespectful behavior? Let’s say your child complains about how much homework he has, calling the teacher names and generally being disrespectful toward her. You might agree that this particular teacher does give too much homework. If you take your child’s side in this case, you might say you agree that you think the teacher is stupid, and that she’s doing a terrible job. You agree that your child doesn’t have to do all that homework because clearly, the teacher is wrong. When you side with your child, in effect joining them in disrespectful behavior, you’re showing them that you don’t have to be respectful to someone you disagree with. The message your child hears is: If you think someone is wrong, then you have a right to be rude.

What to do instead:
The truth is, neither you nor your child have to agree with someone in order to treat them respectfully. Even if you think the teacher (or the coach, or the boss, etc.) is wrong, let your child know that regardless of how they feel, they still need to find a way to act appropriately.One added bonus of this approach? Your child will most likely encounter plenty of people in his adult life he disagrees with. Help him learn the skills he needs to handle those disagreements in a calm and appropriate manner.

  1. Never notice their good behavior.
    Maybe you’re thinking, “Look, my kid is constantly disrespectful. I have to stay on him if I want things to change. “So you correct and redirect every chance you get. Sometimes your child does manage to get it right, but the bad times far outweigh any progress. Kids are just like adults: constant correction breeds resentment. If you’re always calling your child on his poor choices, he might decide there’s just no way he can win. If you never acknowledge the times he actually manages to control his own behavior, he may just stop trying. It may seem counter-intuitive, but relentless attention to failure, with no acknowledgement of even small success, can increase your child’s disrespectful behavior.

What to do instead:
Kids respond well to praise. Not only does it feel good to be praised, it also gives your child important feedback: acknowledging good behavior reinforces those skills. If you notice your child doing something well, you might say: “When you went to your room instead of calling your sister names, that was really great. I know you’ve been working on controlling your temper when you’re annoyed. I appreciate it.”

  1. And last, but not least: demand respect. 
    “I am your parent and you have to respect me!” Does that sound familiar? A lot of parents asks, “How can I get my child to respect me?” The truth is, many kids don’t automatically respect their parents. In fact, it’s pretty normal that your teen thinks they know far more than you; that’s one of the pitfalls of adolescence. Pretty much every teen thinks they’re smarter and more in tune than their parents. So here’s the thing: you can’t make someone respect you. Respect is a feeling, and you can’t legislate feeling. Trying to force your child to respect you just isn’t going to work. If you can’t demand their respect, how can you possibly stop them from acting so badly? The answer lies in addressing their behavior, rather than their feelings – even their feelings about you.

What to do instead:
You can’t demand respect, but you can require that your child acts respectfully, no matter how they feel about the situation. One great way to do this is to use one of James and Janet Lehman’s suggestions: when your child is behaving in a disrespectful way, you can tell them: “You don’t have to like the rule, but you do have to comply with it. Just because you’re irritated doesn’t mean you get to call me names.”Remember, stay focused on the behavior, and leave the feelings alone.

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