As a parent, one of your biggest responsibilities from early childhood is to teach respect and good manners to your child while nurturing their self-esteem. For children, good behavior is learned through positive reinforcement, communication, and consistent support from parents and caretakers.
There are many factors behind a seemingly sudden defiant child with disrespectful behavior, but a change in their behavior can be startling and disheartening.
If your child begins exhibiting disrespectful behavior, it’s important to stay calm and act respectfully back to them. This teaches that anger or acting disrespectfully is not the answer, and it’s not acceptable in your home. Teens acting out can range from talking back and refusing to listen or participate in typical family activities to more severe responses, including name-calling, yelling, or physical aggression.
Here are a few ways you can strategically handle defiant or disrespectful behavior by your teen. It’s important to remember that acting out is usually a sign of something else going on, and getting to the source of the problem is the best way to appease the behavior and move forward together.
Find the source of the problem
Easier said than done, right? If your child is displaying behavioral issues, making snide comments, eye-rolling, or just being generally disrespectful, it’s time to figure out what’s going on with them.
Poor behavior is often a child’s way of telling us that something is wrong—they’re asking for help by acting out and trying to get your attention. Let your child tell you what’s going on with them by prioritizing them and trying to reconnect with them.
Maybe you’ve been working more than usual, or your other kids are requiring more of your attention, and your teen is feeling left out or deprived. Encourage your child to talk about their emotions and what they’re feeling; whether they are angry about something that’s happened at school or are feeling invisible at home, it’s crucial for your child to feel heard and seen in order to feel respected and important at home.
Give your child positive attention
As we mentioned, defiance and disrespect speak volumes about what a child is going through. As a teen’s brain develops, they often act out at family members as a way to respond to the feelings and emotions they don’t know how to control or regulate. Research shows that positive attention between parents and kids fosters a close connection between the two, and in turn, you’ll see more respectful behavior.
With more attention at home, kids will eventually learn that attention-seeking negative behaviors won’t get the response they’re looking for, and they are less likely to talk back, get upset, or act out of anger.
Positive attention includes verbal praise, hugs, high-fives, and more. It also includes labeled praise, where you describe in detail what they’ve done well or done right. Labeled praise provides a clear path forward for kids and paints a picture of what good behavior is expected from them.
While logical consequences are effective teachers for teens, what they often need is just more validation and attention from their parents.
Teach them the skills to make changes in their behavior
Depending on your child’s age, good behavior can be taught by giving them the chance to change their reactions and try again. The severity of the offense is important when disciplining a defiant child.
For example, if your teen screams at you and leaves the house, it’s important to clear the boundaries and expectations of what is acceptable in the home. It’s likely that they already know this is unacceptable behavior. Still, teens aren’t always emotionally equipped to process their anger and emotions in the moment to sit down, take a deep breath, and communicate their feelings.
If your first reaction as a parent is to dole out consequences, take a beat to consider whether or not the punishment fits the crime. Consequences don’t have to be harsh just because your teen’s reaction was; if it feels appropriate after a calm, productive conversation, then trust your gut.
Many parents struggle to teach these valuable skills in the moment because they’re dealing with their own anger and frustration at their child acting out in these difficult situations.
Rather than adding to their anger and distress by handing out more discipline or punishments, have an open conversation with your child about their behavior and why it’s unproductive, disrespectful, and inappropriate. Make suggestions or recommendations on how they could reframe their response to you, at the very least, by trying to stay calm and avoid an emotional outburst.
Give them more responsibility and trust
Parenting a teen can often feel like a constant power struggle between family members. In order to help your child learn and grow, encouraging more responsibility at home is an effective way to curb bad behavior.
Tell your child you hear what they’re saying (even if they aren’t saying it), and their feelings are valid. If they are reaching for more freedom and responsibility, it may be time to loosen the reigns and let them start taking steps on their own.
Disrespectful behavior can originate from feeling coddled or sheltered and wanting to feel more prepared for life. Whether that’s learning to drive, going to the mall with friends, or walking home from school on their own, it’s important your child feels like they are able to participate in some decisions that directly affect their lives and make them feel good.
Be a solid role model
Consistent consequences help your teen take steps forward, but remember that they are constantly learning from you as well.
The way you react to conflict can teach your child a lot about their own emotional control and how to respond in challenging situations. While your child’s disrespectful behavior doesn’t always stem directly from you, the way you respond to conflict and show respect to others teaches them how to behave as well.
When you see issues in your child’s behavior, take a step back and evaluate the way you respond. Maybe you get angry or upset and have trouble communicating your feelings and emotions. This sets the example of how your child may act in similar situations.
When dealing with conflict, take a deep breath and regain control of any anger you may be feeling. Instead, try leaving the room to stay calm, stop talking to avoid saying anything you regret, or ask for a moment to clear your head. This behavior teaches kids that parents struggle too, and it can take work to control anger, maintain respect, and treat family members and peers kindly.
Oppositional Defiant Disorder
Oppositional defiant disorder, or ODD, is a behavior disorder that is most commonly diagnosed in childhood. Children with ODD are often defiant, uncooperative, and even hostile toward their parents, peers, teachers, and other authority figures. ODD is often associated with ADHD, anxiety disorder, and mood disorders.
While we’ve learned that most children are defiant and disrespectful toward their parents on occasion, children with ODD struggle with this much more often. Children with ODD may struggle to make connections to form friendships and can interfere with school environments and learning.
ODD symptoms include:
- Frequent temper tantrums
- Arguing with and refusing to listen to adults
- Refusing to follow rules and constantly questioning rules
- Blaming others for their misbehavior
Your child’s healthcare provider can make an assessment and recommend your child see a therapist if they think ODD may be a potential diagnosis.
Need support in building a healthy parent-child relationship? Clear Recovery Center can help.
While children certainly go through phases where they are rude and exhibit bad behavior, it’s possible that your child’s disrespectful behavior is a signal of other mental health issues they are experiencing. Children are facing new levels of pressure and challenges in this digital world. Your child’s behavior could be a sign of anxiety, depression, and trauma. While disrespectful kids don’t always lead to rude adults, it’s important to address this behavior and find a solution to your child’s disrespect.
At Clear Recovery Center, our teen outpatient programs explore holistic approaches to mental health through family therapy, group therapy, experiential therapy, and more. We work alongside young adults to provide the tools and skills necessary to approach life in a healthy, positive, respectful way. Learn more about our teen programs here.