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Behaviors At Home

The Disrespectful

Action: Why is my child behaving this way, what unmet needs does he or she have, and what specific things can I do to help him or her behave better?

Primary Causes of Misbehavior

This child has been mistreated and therefore is mistreating others.

Primary Needs Being Revealed

There may be a great deal of conflict between the adults in the home.

Escape from Pain
He or she is feeling a great deal of pain caused by peers, family, or educators.

Secondary Needs Being Revealed

This child, because of his or her hurt, is hurting others as a form of power. The power is usually a demonstration against adults.

Because of the treatment received, the child—through disrespect—lets everyone know he or she is somebody.

Actions to Take
  • Always remember that disrespect is never given without reason. The reason may or may not have to do with the parent. Yet a child's disrespect will never be resolved unless we realize this fact—and do something about it.

  • Adopt the strategic position of acting in a positive rather than a negative way. Don't try to fight fire with fire. The behavior of this child can't be changed with such an approach.

  • Be aware that, more often than not, the parent is not the cause of disrespect. It's an indicator that a child has problems, is experiencing failure, has been hurt, or has been indulged too often by adults. However, a close look will reveal that disrespect is often a result of a circumstance which could be altered rather than a permanent condition. It's an instant response which the child might withdraw immediately if so allowed.

  • Try responding to the offender with "What's wrong? Did I do something to offend? If I did, I'm sorry." This can set the stage to resolve rather than fuel the situation.

  • Keep the responsibility on the child. This is an important aspect of handling the disrespectful child. Retaliating only lets him or her off the hook.

  • A public confrontation may put the child on the spot and compel him or her to act even worse to save face or retain his or her image as one who "doesn't get pushed around by anyone." Whenever you can, move to a private place to handle disrespect.

  • Remember, an undignified reaction always reinforces negative behavior in this child. Approach disrespect as you try to approach other misbehavior—objectively. Although it's normal to be offended by disrespect, returning it only proves to your disrespectful child that he or she is right and justified in the behavior. It convinces the child that the parent does not deserve respect. That's why a private one-on-one discussion always has a better chance of success and of achieving honest communication—and an apology from your child.

  • Be calm, poised, and perceptive when disrespect is shown. Most disrespectful outbursts are the result of quick, unthinking, and emotional responses. They would never have been made with forethought. By remembering this reality, you'll never prolong a child's quick outburst. Rather, you'll shorten it.

  • If you believe that the disrespectful remark was completely unwarranted, say so. Simply say, "Jim—I don't think I deserve that." Follow this remark with "Now . . . tell me what's really on your mind." This is confronting in a calm and caring way. This response will produce more instant child apologies and resolve more ugly incidents than you might think.

  • Remember, disrespect is often a result of hostility and revenge. Give the child nothing more to be hostile toward, and he or she will usually cooperate.

  • Don't jump on disrespect too quickly and harshly. Doing so can turn a cornered kitten into an ugly tiger. If your reaction is negative or retaliatory, you may receive further disrespect. So be careful not to let your initial response be defensive, indignant, or attacking.

  • Don't engage in sarcastic comments, put-downs, ridicule, or barbed teasing with your children or their friends, or you will probably hear similar statements made to you—openly or behind your back. There is much truth in the old cliché: Example is the best teacher. The behavior you display toward children will be mirrored. You can count on it.

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Please Note
We are labeling behaviors, not children! For the sake of convenience, we will describe behaviors with terms such as The Whiner or The Interrupter.

Never use such labels when talking to—or about—children! Doing so could cause many new problems and seriously damage the teacher-student or parent-child relationship.