Although every parent would likely agree that their kids should treat them with respect and kindness, and are also vigilant about how their kids treat others, many parents unintentionally allow their children to treat them poorly.
You can see examples of this on a daily basis: kids who interrupt their parents, kids who ignore their parents, kids who speak disrespectfully, kids who yell or push or pull their parent’s hair.
Parents unintentionally “allow” this poor behavior for a number of reasons:
- They are not paying attention to the situation and don’t notice the disrespectful behavior
- They have gotten used to the behavior
- They aren’t sure how to change the behavior
- The behavior fits their expectation of how kids behave
Whatever the reason, “allowing” your kids to treat you poorly is not only establishing a dysfunctional pattern of behavior (aka a bad habit), it also makes it more likely that your kids will treat others that way too.
Here’s a common example: a loving mom who is considerate of her son and watchful of his behavior with others. She knows that she is treating her son with respect and kindness, but often doesn’t notice that he interrupts her, ignores her requests, and also yells at her when he is frustrated.
When he does these things, she is usually able to stay calm and patient, and sometimes she will tell him that what he is doing is not okay. Staying calm and patient is always a good thing, but in these situations, just telling kids that what they are doing is “not okay” is often not enough.
Because children are attentive both to what we say and what we do, you also need to DO something differently in response to their disrespectful behavior. For example, don’t continue the conversation while your child is yelling, or speaking disrespectfully. Don’t just give up when your child ignores what you are asking her to do.
Instead, follow these steps:
- Stop the action and matter-of-factly point out the behavior (example: “Sweetie, I can see you want my attention, but you are interrupting me right now.”)
- Describe why the behavior is problematic (example: “Interrupting is not nice manners.”)
- Suggest an alternative behavior (example: “Please wait until there’s a pause in the conversation, or say ‘excuse me.’”)
- Above all, do not gratify the behavior (example: Do not address the issue your child is trying to bring to your attention until they try one of the alternative actions you have suggested.)
- Ask for a replay (example: "Let's try that again. You need to get my attention--how can you best do that?")
- Only resume the conversation or activity once the problematic behavior is replaced by a more appropriate behavior