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Disrespectful Behavior in Children

By Christa Miller ; Updated June 13, 2017

When your child says or does something that disrespects you, you may feel a combination of pain, shock and embarrassment. You also wonder where you could have gone wrong in your parenting skills. The best way to address disrespectful behavior in children is to understand their triggers and come up with a calm method of deflecting disputes before they escalate beyond your control.

Possible Causes

A variety of factors may cause children to act disrespectful. Children who are frustrated by limitations, children who want attention, and children who feel as though they aren’t being heard or treated fairly may exhibit disrespectful behavior. Children may also act disrespectful by mimicking the behaviors they see around them, so parents should be keenly aware of their own behaviors in order to set a positive example. Often, children crave the need to become more independent of their parents and this can cause a disrespectful attitude, according to Empowering Parents.

Responding to Child Disrespect

When your child is talking back to you, it's best to remain calm and not respond or engage in conversations that involve repeating limits and rules you've already stated, notes Empowering Parents. Casually saying something along the lines of, “I won’t tolerate that sort of talk,” and waiting for a child to speak more respectfully before responding may be effective in many cases. However, extreme cases may require extra discipline. With a young child, explaining why a behavior is wrong and setting her on a time-out chair for one minute per year of age will eventually help correct offenses as long as the technique is implemented consistently, according to HealthyChildren.org.

Responding to Teen Disrespect

Since a teen’s behavior wouldn’t respond to time-outs, making eye contact and then giving him calm and clear feedback about his behavior without using insults such as “smart mouth” is the best way to nip the problem in the bud. However, since teens often use back-talk as a method of diverting parents’ attention from the source of conflict--a hated chore obligation, for example--parents should focus on the goal of the conversation rather than directly punishing the back-talk in most cases. Ultimately, if a parent brushes off the back-talk, a teen will realize that his disrespectful behavior won’t get him what he wants.

Setting Rules of Discussion

Allowing a child to have a voice may help defuse situations that lead to disrespectful behavior. If parents first make it clear that rude arguing won’t work, they can set some ground rules for fair debate in the future. According to Family Education online, rules may include: no attacking, no condemning, no belittling, clearly defining the problem, clearly defining how to rectify the problem and figuring out how to prevent the problem in the future. However, parents have the final say in all cases, and parents have the right to cut a debate short if they feel as though the rules have been broken.

Warning Signs

Although all children should be expected to oppose their caregivers by arguing, acting out and talking back from time to time, children who are particularly uncooperative or hostile may have a condition known as Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or ODD. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, your child may have ODD if she has frequent temper tantrums, argues with adults excessively, actively refuses to comply with rules, frequently questions rules, blames others for her errors and misbehavior, tries to upset or annoy others, is easily annoyed by others, uses mean and hateful language when she’s upset and acts spiteful or revengeful on a regular basis.

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