Creative Child

Handling Disrespect with Positive Parenting

by Rebecca Eanes

Feeling disrespected is a big trigger for many parents, and too often, we respond with disrespect of our own. Sometimes in the middle of a power struggle, our parenting strategy dissolves into one-upping our kids and aiming to get the last word. We can feel really justified in handing out a punishment to a disrespectful child because 1) we are angry and triggered (how dare they?) and 2) a natural or logical consequence isn’t easy to see. 

Early in my positive parenting journey, I sought out logical consequences to replace the time-outs I had been using. This still ended up being problematic because my focus remained on judging and correcting behavior rather than looking at the heart, but it was a first step in the right direction. Sometimes the consequence was obvious, like the time my son poured an entire bottle of baby wash into the tub. He bought a new bottle out of his allowance, and that seemed to me to be a logical consequence for wasting. However, the answer wasn’t always so simple. I couldn’t think of a logical consequence for disrespect (defiant behavior, speaking rudely, name-calling, etc.), so I often resorted to threats of time-out in his room. Even though I knew this type of punishment wasn’t helpful, I felt that I couldn’t just let my son “get away with” being disrespectful to me or anyone else. Still, I was at a loss as to how to properly handle it.


Once I came to understand behavior as communication, it was even clearer to me that threats and arbitrary punishments were not only useless in handling disrespect but detrimental to it. That kind of behavior (on my part) just drove a bigger wedge in our relationship, and showing my child disrespect is never helpful. If I want to really create a culture of respect in my home, I have to give it as much as I expect to receive it. Otherwise, I’m not really living what I lecture. 

Now, any time my kid shows disrespect or defiance, the first thing I do is shine the spotlight on myself. Have I been spending quality time with him? Have I been speaking life-giving, affirming words or have I been critical? Have I spent too much time on my laptop, phone, or work and not enough time listening, loving, and connecting? The answer to my child’s disrespect often lies in the answers to those questions. If my son is feeling disconnected, those feelings often come out as defiance or disrespect, and the remedy is simply to reconnect. 

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