Dealing With Disrespect

Dealing With Disrespect

When someone starts behaving discourteously toward you, you can generally count on having lost some control in the relationship. Whether a romantic or parental relationship, it may be time to change how you respond to disrespectful behavior. Once you make that decision, it is critical to be consistent in your actions moving forward and take back the power that is yours. You really don’t have to be authoritarian in your discipline to be understood, rather you have to set clear and firm ground rules about behavior, including what will be tolerated and what won’t be accepted.  For the purposes of this article, I will deal primarily with children and adolescents. By the end, you should have a better handle on Dealing With Disrespect.

Try and keep in mind that not all unpleasant actions come from an unhealthy place. It isn’t all that rare to find people challenging authority with eye-rolling, talking back, or just showing ‘attitude.’ When people, particularly children, act this way they can be just pushing back in the normal course of growing up.

Power struggles and how to avoid them

By the time you have emotionally entered a power struggle with a child or adolescent you have already lost.  Here are some approaches to avoid being pulled into the struggle in the first place.


1)  It just isn’t real

Don’t take what your child says personally. It isn’t a true emotional feeling. Although this can be very challenging when your kid is cursing in your face or calling you names, getting caught up in the primitive words and feelings (heated emotions) will only weaken your message, which should be: “I am in charge here, period!”  Remember, it isn’t real.


2)  Clarify your role

As the parent your job is to teach and model respectful behavior, as well as effective problem solving, in order to teach your children how to act appropriately and function in society.  Helping them grow into quality adults is growing increasingly more difficult in this on-line, competitive, connected world. Your route to success here is to set reasonable limits and be ready to enforce them. Make sure they know you love them unconditionally, yet you won’t tolerate disrespect towards you or anyone else.


3)  Always have a plan

If they are good at getting your goat; involving you over and over again in a fight or power struggle, be ready for them to do it again. Hey, if it works, then do it again; right? Plan in advance what you intend to say while you are calm. Take a reasoned and business like tone when the time comes, and known your limits in advance. Be clear about your limits and if you need to, just walk away. Plan mindfully to avoid all that back and forth that comes so naturally with this kind of conversation.  Remember, nothing brings out your primitive side more quickly than encountering someone else’s primitive behavior.


4)  Give them a role in resolving the behavior

One recommendation that I offer frequently is that parents involve their children in discussions about the appropriate consequences for disrespectful behavior. If the child has some voice in what can happen, they often times show more buy in.  Once the consequences have been set up and agreed upon, and you have to apply them. Once you have applied them, you may want to have a discussion later about what happened and how to avoid it moving forward.


5)  Be evenhanded and consistent

This may be the hardest part about parenting a disrespectful child. Simply stated though, it is the most important. Be even handed and consistent with your child. If you want your child to take you seriously and behave better in the future, you really do need to be steady in your responses and the disciplinary consequences you deal out.

I get it; it looks like disrespectful behavior is on the rise, and in some cases it is. Yet, if you put the time and resources into it, you really can work though most undesirable behaviors, teaching your child how to behave respectfully and to expect the same from the people they associate with.


Frank Hopkins is a life coach in Baton Rouge who is certified as a Professional Coach (CPC) by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). Frank has helped numerous people to go through emotional change in a way that is positively transformative.