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Disrespectful Children

Disrespectful Children


Some very nice parents have some very rude children. In fact, parents may be busy taking parenting courses and reading parenting books and doing everything in their power to learn how to be respectful and loving toward their kids. Their children, however, are not busy taking courses; they're just being "natural." When they feel upset or frustrated, they show it – by stamping their feet, yelling, crying, whining or employing any method of communication that gets the message across. In moments of intense frustration, some kids insult their parents: "You're so mean!" "I hate you!" "You don't know anything!" Some kids slam doors or phones.

Natural or Suppressed?

"I want my child to be able to express herself. I don't care if it's not polite and controlled. My parents never let me be natural and I hated feeling suppressed all the time. I want my kids to feel that they can say anything."

This sentiment is often expressed by adults whose parents never gave them a voice. It is important to let kids talk, to tell their end of the story, to express their thoughts and feelings. However, allowing someone to communicate isn't the same as allowing them to be abusive. Those who communicate with harsh language, hurtful words or ugly gestures will lose more than they will ever gain by their "honesty." They will lose love. Those who speak this way to their spouses or children will inevitably discover that they are rejected by the people who are most important to them.

The opposite of abusive communication is not, however, no communication. If a child isn't happy with a parent's rule, he should be allowed to share his thoughts and feelings on the subject. However, he should not be allowed to browbeat the parent with endless complaints and arguments, because browbeating is a destructive communication tool. Anything a child is allowed to do becomes wired into his or her brain as a pattern to be retrieved in adulthood. Thus, children who are allowed to argue with their parents can grow up to be argumentative adults. While the parents may find the behavior acceptable, spouses and bosses may not. Similarly, children who are allowed to call their parents names or otherwise speak in an insulting, disrespectful way, may very well grow up to use this same style with spouses, in-laws, children and others. They will generally find that it doesn't work nearly as well in adulthood as it seemed to in childhood.

Teaching Respectful Communication

Teaching children to express their upset respectfully involves showing them how to do it (modeling), and teaching them to do it. Here are some guidelines for both strategies:

  • Never say or do anything when you are upset that you don't want your kids to say or do to you. For instance, if you don't want to be yelled at, hit, hung up on or insulted, don't ever do those things to your children. If you find it hard to refrain from disrespectful communication, enlist the help of a relationship specialist and/or mental health professional.
  • Do not make exceptions for yourself ("I was tired/overwhelmed/hormonal"). Live by the motto that abusing others is never acceptable.
  • Follow the Relationship Rule: I only give and I only accept respectful communication. I do not give, nor do I accept, disrespectful (abusive) communication. When a child speaks or acts disrespectfully in anger or upset, use age-appropriate techniques to put the child back on track. Do not just accept the communication because it was an authentic expression of feelings or because the child had a good point. Feelings and good points can always be communicated in respectful ways. Show the child how to do it.
  • Use positive reinforcement and rewards to encourage self-control in communication. Let your kids see that respect is a fundamental value in your home. ("I like the way you told me that you didn't like dinner in such a nice voice. You were very respectful. I'm so impressed that I'm going to help you find something else that you can eat tonight.")
  • Use discipline when necessary to discourage inappropriate communication. ("From now on, when you shout at me, you will lose computer privileges for the night." Pick any age-appropriate negative consequence that will motivate the child to think before she speaks. Be sure to discipline in a respectful manner – no yelling, insulting, etc.
  • Be consistent. If you never accept disrespectful communication, your children will grow up to be respectful in all of their relationships. This will help them to enjoy healthy, loving relationships throughout their lives.

Although pre-schoolers tend to experiment with disrespectful behavior, they can quickly learn that you will not accept it. They will also learn – if you are careful to teach them – that there are acceptable ways of saying what they want to say. If your children are older and have already developed ingrained speech habits, don't worry – it is never too late to teach them a new way. Just be patient, because it will take the older child time to undo the habits of the past before he or she can consistently use new skills that you impart. However, if you persevere and do not waiver, everyone in your house will soon possess the tools they need to communicate all of their thoughts and feelings in a productive way. The Torah teaches us, "Do not hurt others with your words" (Vayikra 25:17). Living by this commandment helps us to have peaceful homes and healthy, loving relationships.

Sarah Chana Radcliffe is the author of The Fear Fix, Make Yourself at Home and Raise Your Kids Without Raising Your Voice. Sign up for her Daily Parenting Posts.
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Anonymous May 13, 2015

what do parents of adult children do when being treated in a disrespectful way in own home? I have a friend whose adult son and wife agreed to help with a very small amount of funds monthly if the parents took them in until their finished school. For a while the son and wife helped out a bit...then over several months took advantage of rules made ahead of time: no eating or drinking in bedrooms, clean up after themselves, make their beds etc...soon the son's wife became very verbally abusive and then started getting physically out of control, throwing things, slamming doors etc. When my friend and her husband explained that the son and wife would have to move out...they were told that by law the parents of the son could make them move out...I was astounded and at a loss for what to say...Now, the parents are afraid to say anything to them. These parents helped this couple out with furnishings, money, food, clothes etc. out of their generosity in the past, but now feel they have no contl Reply

Charles Allen South Africa June 1, 2014

As disabled parents of eight grown children an seven grand-children we have given up on seven of our chidren who have only showed us disrespect since they left our care. The only one who really shows respect and care is the youngest of them all. Because of our disability, we battle to survive on our small disability grant, and most of it goes towards our rent, leaving us with a very small amount to buy food.
Every month for not less than 5 days we have no food to eat and when we ask our children just to help us out with food for these few days, they either lie to us or they switch their phones off. The youngest child who is battling to survive himself can only help us when he has money to spare. Four of our older children are wealthy, driving expensive cars and living in mansions. They feel we are not good enough for them and totally ignore us. Their children also treat us with great disrespct.
We love our children but this is not good enough for them and this is hurting. Reply

Lisa Providence, RI May 1, 2013

The Difference Between Anger and Disrespect NO parent or grandparent should tolerate disrespect!

There were times I was a disrespectful child myself, and I got punished BOTH in public and in private!

When a child is disrespectful, it usually comes from anger at having to deal with adults they can't get along with. Sometimes, children sound disrespectful when they're really angry, and they have to learn that anger and disrespect are 2 different things:

If a child says he or she is angry at you for not allowing him or her to play outside in the backyard that's anger, but if a child calls you names - including 4-letter words - that's disrespect. Reply

Carmen February 4, 2011

Re:disrespectful granddaughter Observe what your sun or daughter - in law - are telling about you at their home or even what they are feeling about you.

These attitudes you report are not the feeling of your grandaughter but of someone familiarly very close to her and to whom she feels obligated to be "faithfull", even if faithfull in hate. Sadly.

Very unfortunately, these horrible things happen in many families.

This is a disgrace that should be corrected in order not to causes more damages to all familiar structure (and beyond) in the future.

Try to join a synagogue and find true friends who can help you.

I wish you good luck. Reply

Anonymous Melbourne , Florida January 31, 2011

disrespectful granddaughter My 9 yr. old grandaughter has become very disrespectful and rude to me. When her parents and others are around she is very mean and hateful to only me. When they are not around she is fine. It is so hurtful and nothing seems to work. Please help. Reply

Sarah Chana Radcliffe, author Toronto, Ontario October 13, 2010

adult children It is said that we teach people how to treat us. If we want healthy relationships, we need to apply The Relationship Rule to all of our relationships: with our spouse, our parents, our friends and our grown children. The Relationship Rule is a 2-sided obligation. You must be respectful and so must the other party. If you find that your adult children are trying to avoid you, you can assume that you are communicating in a way that somehow feels bad to them. The other possibility is that they are suffering from a severe mental illness. Since the second scenario is quite rare, let's assume for now that you are doing something "wrong" but you have no idea what it is. You might ask your children at the next opportunity to tell you what it is that they are uncomfortable with. Let them know that you love them and you want a chance to correct whatever accidental communication error you are making. This approach will not only be refreshing to your children, but will most likely give you important information that can help rebuild the relationship. Take whatever they say seriously and sincerely try to make them feel more comfortable. Keep in mind that adult children living their own lives can certainly keep their parents at a distance if they choose to. You cannot force them to want closeness. However, you can help them to WANT more closeness by trying to understand and respect their feelings. Remember to ask G-d to bless your efforts with success! Reply

Nechama Golding for Iowa City October 13, 2010

source Verse 17:24 states: "And you shall not wrong, one man his fellow Jew, and you shall fear your God, for I am the Lord, your God."

The words "you shall not wrong" are understood to refer to wronging someone with words. Reply

Editor September 19, 2010

re: source Hi Tammy,
The correct verse is Leviticus 25:17. This has been corrected. Thanks for pointing that out! Reply

Anonymous September 1, 2010

DISRESPECTFUL CHILDREN Carmen - thanks so much for your comments. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have attempted to explain my innermost feelings to both my son and daughter-in-law. The answer I get is 'please only call when you're in a peaceful state of mind, otherwise you disturb the peace in our home'.

I have since then taken a step back, and am saddened that I'm only contacted when my grandson needs new clothes, apart from that I have been told in no uncertain terms that I have to have permission to call, at a designated time to be arranged prior to the call being made.

I must not ask questions, because 'it's none of my business'

So there you have it in one. Any further suggestions would be wlecomed. Reply

tammy August 31, 2010

source please What is the source for the verse: "Do not hurt others with your words." Ms. Radcliffe indicated vayikra 17:24, but there is not such verse. Please clarify.

Thank you. Reply

Anonymous Thornhill, ON, Canada August 31, 2010

Great Advice, Thank You Sarah Chana I agree with your policy of not accepting disrespect from young or older children...
But how does one handle a situation where the married children in their 20's and 30's are now disrespectful and abusive to their mother...
This is now coming from children who were never disrespectful or unkind as young children growing up in a normal Jewish home because respect and kindness was shown to them through role modeling... Where there was total verbal respectful communication throughout their childhood, now they have picked up bad hurtful habits from others...
Dear Sarah Chana, do you have any helpful suggestions... This very unpleasant situation is negatively affecting my 5 grandchildren too.
Thank you!! Reply

Carmen August 30, 2010

To Anonymous Why don't you say to your son what you are feeling?
Why don't you remember him that one day his own children could do that to him and how would he feel?

Moreover, restrict your financial help to him. Give him less. Let him ask you more and you give him less. Only if and when pleases you, give him more.

Teach him a lesson. Reply

Anonymous August 30, 2010

DISRESPECTFUL CHILDREN Does your article apply to older children who are married with a child of their own? We, my husband and I, have been told we have to make an appointment to call our son, and, bearing in mind we are in the UK and he's in USA, not to email either. We are only wanted in times of financial need, i.e. to buy clothes for our grandson, who we haven't seen in the flesh for 18 months, and we haven't seen photos for months. Your advice would be much appreciated, because we are distraught. Reply

Esther Brooklyn, NY August 30, 2010

"When a child speaks or acts disrespectfully in anger or upset, use age-appropriate techniques to put the child back on track."

"Pick any age-appropriate negative consequence that will motivate the child to think before she speaks."

Can Mrs. Radcliffe please share some ideas for 3-6 year olds? Reply

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Sarah Chana RadcliffeSarah Chana Radcliffe is the author of The Fear Fix, Make Yourself at Home and Raise Your Kids Without Raising Your Voice. Sign up for her Daily Parenting Posts.
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