Managing Disrespect

managing-disrespectSo our child is treating us with disrespect or contempt and we’re feeling really pissed off. How do we do ‘pissed off’ effectively? When managing disrespect from our child there are a few do’s and don’ts:

Managing Disrespect Don’ts:

Don’t think about your child, think about yourself.

Don’t engage with the content of the child’s message, just respond to the way he is sending it.

Don’t bat the ball back over the net. In other words, don’t fight back, threaten, call her names or be really nasty to get your own back.

Don’t try to be really polite ‘to model respectful communication.’ Nobody responds well to anyone putting themselves on the moral high ground, it’s just irritating. Plus they know that underneath really you want to hit them.

Don’t say ‘I feel sad when…’ That makes you sound like a victim, and anyway you don’t feel sad exactly do you?

Managing Disrespect Do’s:

Know that you have a line and if it is crossed it is best that your child knows that.

Make a strong statement about yourself, beginning with ‘I’ – like for example ‘I don’t allow anyone to speak to me like that.’ (Even if that’s not really true…)

Speak seriously, confidently, matter-of-factly and directly. Then you’ll believe it (and so will your child).


That last point is really important. Say your bit and turn away, disengage, move on to other business, change the subject. That sends the message ‘we’re done with that, I expect you understood and you know what to do.’

If your child continues, be prepared to say something like ‘I think you heard me’ or ‘I think you understood’ a couple of times, in the same matter-of-fact tone of voice.

Disengage again.

And that’s enough. You don’t need to teach or lecture, or talk things through, or get to the bottom of anything. You can check in with them later (when they’re being nice to you again) if you really feel there’s an issue, but you can’t let disrespect become the way your child learns to get your attention and interest.

What you are doing is sending a huge message of trust in your child’s reasonableness and intelligence. It’s quite simple to channel your anger into a strong statement of self-respect and it’s so much more effective than shouting or pleading.

In managing disrespect with a strong statement of self-respect, we don’t just gain respect from our child but we feel it for ourselves too, and the more times we respond like this the more we honestly feel it. Before we know it we’ll be saying things like ‘I never allow anyone to treat me with disrespect’ and it will actually be true!

Start practising when they’re quite young…

11 Responses

  1. Margaret Haynes
    | Reply

    Get this in the ‘bounty bags’!!
    I remember saying to my 2 or 3 year old first-born when she was doing something inconvenient, ‘I feel sad when you do that’.
    ‘And mad’ she added! They know a lot these children.

  2. linda hobbis
    | Reply

    Guilty of getting a lot of this wrong. I find disengaging really difficult and find myself droning on for hours. I will definitely try this approach. #MBPW

    • We’re not really brought up to state our boundaries clearly are we? It takes practice to do it with conviction but it saves an awful lot of muddle and stress. Good luck!

  3. Christine Griffin
    | Reply

    This way of dealing with disrespect is one of the best things that I learnt from Stephanie on my course. Starting the sentence with ‘I don’t allow……….’ is so effective – I always used to say ‘you are so blah blah to speak to me like that’ – The disengaging is incredibly empowering to me – and it really works as my kids have no where to go with it – if I shout back, they have something to shout at but if I speak and then disengage, boy does it make me feel good!!!!!! Thank you Stephanie.

  4. Expat Mum
    | Reply

    When my older kids were early teens I got a lot of attempts at disrespect. Two of the things I used to ask them were 1. When do I ever talk to you like this? and 2. Who else do you use this tone with? The answers were usually “Never” and “No one”. They got the message.
    I was also the master of walking away from the situation and continuing to do so until they changed their tone. Plus, they knew that whatever they were asking for, they didn’t stand a snowflake in hell’s chance of getting with the disrespectful approach. Mwa ha ha.

  5. Joanna @mumbalance
    | Reply

    This is fantastic advice on a very difficult subject. I’m certainly not looking forward to my toddler getting to the age where he potentially will talk to me like that!

    • The great thing is that it’s not in any way disrespectful towards the child so they’re also learning a way of standing up for themselves without hurting others. Even if it doesn’t work every time, little by little it will. Thanks for commenting!

      • Attachment Mummy
        | Reply

        ‘Disengaging’ from your child can’t be anything other than disrespectful! What appalling advice, a perfect way to make your child feel bad about themselves and encourage further ‘disrespect’. The only way to get respect is to give it.

        • Have you ever tried it? I’m not sure why you think establishing your own boundaries clearly is showing disrespect to your child. Children are just relieved when you’re straight with them. You’re also modelling a great way of not accepting disrespect without hurting the other person, which you probably hope they will be able to do by the time they reach the teenage years.

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