Disrespectful Kids: How to Get Your Child or Teen to Behave with Respect


We all know that kids can act in many disrespectful and rude ways to parents:  they can slam doors, roll their eyes, and tell you they hate you, to name a few.  It’s natural to get very worried and  frustrated and wonder if these types of  behaviors constitute out-and-out abuse,  or just “rudeness and mild disrespect.” How can a parent know when these rebellious  and rude behaviors have crossed  over a boundary and gone way too far?

“Let  his problem of being rude be his problem, not yours. Don’t engage. Deal with  your own problem of enforcing appropriate limits and sticking to what you  believe is right, no matter how unhappy he might be.”


Related: Does your child behave disrespectfully toward you and  others?

What Do You Consider to be “Disrespect”?

In the land of disrespect, people hurl insults  at one another, put others  down and hurt one another with intention. A good way  to make the distinction  between disrespect and general rudeness is to consider  the intention behind it.  Is your child simply expressing his unhappy feelings  and his wish to have  more freedom, perhaps? Does he express his frustrations with rude   behaviors like slamming his door, stomping his feet, abruptly walking away from   you while talking, having baby tantrums or rolling his eyes? These need to be   understood for what they are – an expression of his frustration, rather than an   intentional act of disrespect and defiance with the desire to hurt you. Stick  with the issue  and don’t get sidetracked about how he is delivering his upset. If  the issue is  about his chores, for example, stay with that – don’t let him deflect you with  his  rudeness. Let his problem of being rude be his problem, not yours.  Don’t engage. Deal with your own problem of enforcing appropriate limits  and sticking to what you believe is right, no matter how unhappy he might  be.

Let’s say that you’ve told your 13-year-old he can’t use his cell phone  at night, but you catch him texting when he’s supposed to be sleeping.  Would you consider this disrespectful behavior toward you? Would you  react to it and punish him for his disrespect? Or would you consider  this instead his clumsy attempt to exert control over his life and  make his own rules? Would you punish him because you think he’s being  disrespectful toward you? Would that change if he called you a bad name and  threw something at you while you were taking his phone away and doling out  consequences? And would his reaction be considered crossing over the  boundary into the land of disrespect? The answer to the last question is  “yes.”

Related: How to stay calm and parent effectively, even when your  child pushes your buttons.

Here’s a typical struggle between parent  and child that you might relate  to: you expect to be  listened to and have your child  comply with your rules while he lives under your roof. That’s  reasonable. Meanwhile, your child  developmentally seeks his own autonomy  and strives to be more self-directed and to think more independently as he  grows up, and does not want limits imposed on him. That’s  reasonable. No one is  wrong in what they are seeking here.

The problem is that kids often don’t know how to find more appropriate  ways to express their desire for independence, accept limitations and  learn to comply when necessary. On the other hand, parents may not  recognize that their child’s rudeness is often driven by the push  for more independence, and is not always meant as a threat to their  authority. The child’s intentions really have nothing to do with  disrespect. The child, of course, needs to learn how to listen to his  parents while finding appropriate ways to seek autonomy and self-direction  while the parents need to be careful not to label the child’s behavior “disrespectful to their authority” and take the rebellion personally.

The Bottom Line: 6 Ways to Deal with Disrespectful  Behavior

The bottom line is that when a child breaks a rule, the parent should  hold the child accountable. That’s appropriate and helpful. But when  the parent misunderstands and believes the child is being disrespectful  toward him by not obeying his rules, he is heading down the wrong path–and  all-out battles can result. These battles are often fought using mean  words, and at times even get physical. That’s because when  actions feel personal between a parent and child, emotions get heated and  highly charged. Make no mistake, reactivity will be high. And if there was  disrespect before, there will really be disrespect now!

Here are six ways to handle disrespect in your home, and turn the  dynamic around in your home:

1. Don’t treat this as a personal attack–even though it can feel  that way. To help your child be respectful,  understand that their rude  behavior might be an expression of their frustration  about their lack of  independence, not an attack against your authority. In fact, it’s  because you  have that authority that they’re acting out! Don’t take it personally; just  hold them accountable for any rude behavior. It also might be a good idea  to consider whether you’re giving them enough reasonable independence. Is  it  time to allow your child to make more of his own choices and face  the consequences, whether good or bad?

2.   Take a self-inventory. To help your child be  respectful, always take a self-inventory and  see how you might inadvertently be  contributing to the disrespect. What’s been your part in this negative  dynamic? Observe how you are managing your relationship with your child  and consider if his negative behavior might be an expression of his  reaction to that management. In other words, are you over- or under-functioning for your child, taking things too personally, and  being too reactive? Are you tangled in a power struggle that you need to  step out of?

Another type of parent/child struggle that breeds disrespect is  when parents don’t expect enough of their kids, and therefore,  don’t hold them accountable for much  of anything. The child grows  up believing she’s not expected to follow the rules or listen   to her parents while living under their roof. Parents in this  situation might even say they do expect those  things,  but their behavior tells a different story. If you find ways to  let your child off the hook over and over again by excusing,  justifying, rationalizing  and minimizing her poor behaviors, you aren’t  expecting enough of her. A child given this message has independence,  but doesn’t have boundaries or guidance. The end result is that she’s  left feeling anxious and out of control. She will often act with disrespect  because, for one,  she can; two, she doesn’t respect her parents’  spinelessness; and three, she  hasn’t learned to take responsibility for her own  behavior. When a parent  tends to “give in,” “give too much,” “give up,” or “flip out” with his child  rather than take a clear stand, he is planting the  seeds for more and more  disrespect.

3. Expect Respect. To help your child be respectful, EXPECT   him to comply with your rules and listen to you. Of course, you also need  to be flexible, not rigid or  dogmatic, and listen to him and get his input–but  the bottom line is  that you will expect him to listen and follow the rules that  you have set  forth.

A parent can demand respect, but the behavior that  results probably  won’t be authentic.  Authentic respect  comes from a  parent behaving in ways that invite respect.

Related:  How to expect respect and stop power struggles in your family.

4. Behave the way you want your child to behave. To help  your child be respectful you  must live by your own principle of acting  respectfully to your child NO MATTER how  he is behaving.  Act respectfully  while  holding him accountable – these actions aren’t mutually exclusive.  It’s difficult to continue to act respectfully  toward your child  even when he is hurling insults at you, but it’s so important to be a  good role model. Act with integrity without letting your child off the  hook.

5. Choose your battles. In order to help your child be   respectful, don’t make big issues of all the rude ways that he might express his  frustrations. Again, don’t take these  expressions personally. In other  words, don’t give legs to (and make a moral issue out of) those rude child  behaviors like stomping, eye-rolling, getting the last word, saying things  aren’t fair, slamming doors, walking away and other behaviors that are  simply your child’s way of expressing his frustrations. Kids are  entitled to feel what they feel – that’s about them, not about you. Be careful  not to take their feelings, their separate opinions or disagreements to  heart, or believe your child is deliberately  disrespecting your  authority when they express those feelings. There will be a place and time for  you to help them learn more effective ways to express their frustrations.

But do take seriously deliberately hurtful behavior that is   directed toward you or another – that’s not mild  rebellion, it is outright  disrespect. Hold your child accountable to better  behaviors. Don’t engage  by reacting, but  do decide what you will and won’t do in response to  disrespectful behavior. Perhaps  you won’t be willing to do that extra favor for  your son because you don’t feel  goodwill toward him when he treats you so  unkindly. Or perhaps you will step  away from a conversation with him when you  are treated with disrespect, and  continue only when he gains some self-control  and stops calling you names or  being condescending to you.

Again, if the behaviors cross the line into disrespect, make sure you do  not allow yourself to be treated poorly. Decide how you will manage yourself in  the future when being treated like this by your child. His disrespectful  behavior is his problem to work out; your problem is what you will and  won’t put up with.

Related: Has your child’s behavior crossed the line into  outright disrespect and defiance?

6. Ask yourself, “Who owns this problem?” When it comes to  your kids being mildly rude  toward you, ask yourself each time it  happens, “Who owns the problem of disrespect?” For example, if your  daughter stomps off and  mutters under her breath after you tell her she can’t  go to the party, don’t  let her rudeness belong to you. Don’t  engage in  it. Her rudeness is her problem. Your problem is deciding if she can   or can’t go to the party and enforcing whatever you thoughtfully and  non-reactively decided. Her next problem is to figure out better ways to  communicate her  upset. She can have a tantrum even if  she is 3 or  18–that’s her  business. You don’t have to give in to  it, withdraw from  it, or flip out about it. You have your own problems to  figure out; that’s your  business. Also  remember that stomping off and muttering (even though it’s  annoying) might be showing a lot of self-control on  her part – she could  have screamed at you or been physical if she hadn’t walked  away muttering. The  more you are able to act on behalf of yourself instead of in reaction to  her, the more she will be able to see you separately from  herself.

Know Where You End and Your Child Begins

It’s difficult to respect another person for who they are if you can’t  see who they are. Often with our kids and those we love, our anxiety gets  us so emotionally tangled with them that we don’t know where we end and they  begin. Work toward managing yourself instead of managing them and their  emotions, and you will be better able to “see” and appreciate one  another. This will help to breed respect between yourself and your child — and in all your relationships.

If you need help navigating the challenging  obstacles that come up as  you raise your kids, remember that our Parental Support Coaches  are here for you.  They’ve helped thousands of families just like yours come  up with sensible,  effective solutions to tough parenting problems, and they can help you.


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