The first key to putting an end to your child's disrespectful ways is communicating with authority that you will no longer tolerate disrespect from her. From now on you will expect her to be respectful to all adults and authorities in her life. There is a huge difference between wishing she will change and expecting her to be respectful. Expecting her to be respectful means speaking to her (and even looking at her) with a clear, consistent message that you are in charge - not her, and that you WILL NOT TOLERATE disrespect from her. It also means truly believing she will respond correctly now, not skeptically hoping she might change some day.
You may be surprised how dramatically your child responds to your newfound authority, but this will likely not provide the total solution. You will have to back up your authority with swift consequences that provide the painful lessons he needs to mend his ways. I recommend asking his teacher for regular feedback before you begin this plan, explaining to the teacher your resolve to correct your child's disrespectful habits. This will help ensure he is not simply changing at home, while getting away with disrespect elsewhere. Don't ask for much time from his teacher, just a simple statement of his behavior and attitude for the day/week. As to the specifics of the consequences, there is no set formula for the perfect consequence. The most effective forms of correction vary by children's personalities and experiences. Just be sure you:
1. Choose something you believe will really cause her to feel a reasonable measure of "suffering." I don't mean harm, but leaving her feeling she has lost or endured something enough to make a real impression on her. It could be missing playtime with friends, losing a favorite toy for a day or two, losing screen time (TV, computer, etc.) for a day, or anything else that will really dethrone your little princess and put her back in her rightful place.
2. Enforce the consequence you have chosen. If you allow yourself to "give in," all bets are off and he will certainly continue in his misbehavior.
3. Be ready to increase the painful consequences if she argues with you, defies you, or flippantly dismisses you.
4. For best results, don't simply enforce your plan of correction in the really "big" situations. He needs a consistent message that respect is the norm, and even "minor" disrespect is no longer tolerated. Smaller situations call for smaller consequences, but still should be addressed consistently. For example, I recently took my four year old out to lunch and decided to treat us both to a cookie. One cookie at this restaurant is big enough to split, and I chose a sugar cookie, knowing his favorite is chocolate chip. When offered the cookie, he began to whine and fuss that it wasn't chocolate. It wasn't really a big problem, but I did not like his disrespectful, ungrateful tone, and I certainly didn't want to give in to his demand and put him in charge. I calmly told him this was the only cookie I was buying, and if he calmed down and spoke respectfully, he could have some - otherwise he would get no cookie. He calmed down in a few seconds, enjoyed half the cookie, and thanked me for it.
Hopefully, all of us parents want our children to grow up to be personally responsible, morally sound, basically self-sufficient adults who make a positive contribution to society. While there are no guarantees we can make this happen, we do have a great deal of power to lead our children on this path. If you are frequently frustrated by your children's attitudes and actions of disrespect, laziness, sloppiness, disobedience, etc., TAKE HEART! Here are the five basic keys to steering your kids onto the right path - the path of personal responsibility:
1. EXPECT responsibility in your children. This is NOT the same as wishing, pleading, or even hoping your children will be responsible. Expecting them to be responsible means walking away when it is their time to work, rather than hovering over them to ensure they get it done and get it done right. Expecting responsibility in your kids sends a powerful message of how much you believe in them and their abilities - something children need like air and water. Whether your children are three, ten, fourteen, or eighteen, this principle will go so far to empower them in personal responsible!
2. Clearly communicate your expectations to your children. It is so important to explain your expectations to your children with authority and specificity. Speaking with authority is tied directly to the previous point. It means expecting your children to follow your instruction and leading, because you believe in them. It also means KNOWING you are the primary authority in your children's lives. How many times have you engaged your children in verbal/emotional battles of will, hoping you will emerge victorious, with your kids coming to a greater respect for your authority? How often does it work out the way you were hoping? How drained are you when you finally get there with them? When you speak to your children from a solid position of authority, not waiting for the results to tell you if you really are the authority, they are far more likely to respect you and follow your leadership.
3. Stop taking responsibility for your children. OK, I know this one may throw you for a loop at first, but think it through with me. You know your children are responsible when they take responsibility for their actions - right? And taking responsibility for their actions means taking responsibility for a series of specific tasks - right? So, if your child has a task to complete, and you are watching over them and immediately intervening to ensure it is done correctly, who does it sound like is taking responsibility for the task? And if you are really the one bearing responsibility for the work, how can they really assume true responsibility for it? So, whether your child is dealing with caring for a pet, completing household chores, tackling homework, or maintaining that first car - consider the possibility that his/her irresponsibility may be a reflection of your over-responsibility.
4. Allow your children to suffer the consequences of poor choices. Loving parents don't like to see their children suffer. It hurts us. But suffering the consequences of poor choices is one of life's greatest teachers. We must learn to love our children enough to look at the bigger picture beyond this moment of temporary suffering. Painful lessons typically lead to real learning and changed behavior, sometimes even changed attitudes. "Getting off easy" teaches children it is ok to keep doing things just the way they are, setting their feet more firmly on the path of irresponsibility and disrespect. For parents of young children, check to see how many times you play the "1...2...2 1/2...I'm not kidding...Don't make me come over there...OK...3!" game. Stretching out that three count to a consequence is a reflection of this type of parental rescuing, which simply leads to more and more required effort from parents to persuade children to act. Frankly, the counting to three game can often be a reflection of parental difficulty with any or all of the previous three points, even when parents do a straight three count to consequences. Ask yourself what is really the point of counting aloud to three. Parents of older children / teenagers, how often do you find yourself giving in on a stated consequence, then feeling frustrated and angry at your children / teens for not respecting you and your rules or for being irresponsible? Some lovingly imposed suffering will go a long way to cure this ill!
5. Be available to help your children process and learn from their choices and results. When you see or hear your child expressing their frustration at the suffering that resulted from a poor choice, be ready to genuinely show your compassion for them. This doesn't mean apologizing for enforcing their suffering, which is a natural result of poor choices, disobedience, and misbehavior. It does mean recognizing their frustration, and letting them know you truly hope they get better results - for their sake. If you communicate this message with sarcasm or judgmental preaching, you will effectively shut down your connection and lose influence and leadership of your children. If you are able to genuinely connect with them, then lovingly process with them how the situation could have gone better for them, they will be better equipped to take responsibility for themselves and make a better choice next time. In addition, it is amazing to see how children, especially teens, respond to parents' stories of the lessons they learned "the hard way" in their own lives. (Notice how many of your best lessons were learned "the hard way," which simply reflects suffering the consequences of poor choices and taking personal responsibility to face those consequences!) They love to hear about your mistakes, because it communicates: a realistic humility that you aren't perfect, enough personal strength and courage to expose your mistakes and weaknesses without shame, and a reason to hear and respect your wisdom and leadership besides the simple "I told you so." (However, there is nothing wrong with a steady diet of "I told you so," as it is just a simple reflection of points 1 and 2 above.)
So, what should you do if you are struggling to get control of your children? Give up!!! Even from a very young age, children have a mind of their own and will make their own choices. Rather than attempting to control their behavior (an essentially hopeless endeavor), I want to encourage and empower parents to be the best influence you can possibly be in the lives of your kids.
First of all, this means letting go of the emotional burden we can unintentionally place on our kids of how they reflect on us. Staying calm and learning to avoid emotionally reactivity is crucial to the challenging and rewarding and priceless task of raising children. It also means entering into their world to understand the pressures, needs, desires, and challenges of their lives - A VERY DIFFERENT WORLD from the one in which you and I grew up. And it means making the most of meaningful consequences to help them learn their lessons. Often times, the best consequences to teach our kids lessons are the ones that naturally follow from their (poor) choices. The trick is not to intervene and rescue them from these consequences to spare them hurt and disappointment - let them learn their lessons, and be there to instruct and encourage in response to their consequences.
Along with calmness, connection, and consequences - it is essential to parent with authority. Many parents give up their natural authority out of a desire to please their kids, an effort to keep the peace, or they simply give up in frustration. All organizations work best with strong, clear, caring authority. And this is certainly true in the organization of family life! Even seemingly rebellious teens have a deep need for parents who will exercise clear authority in their lives, hopefully with a calm and deeply caring manner.
For more help, Dr. Butner recommends "ScreamFree Parenting" by Hal Runkel, "Disconnected: Parenting Teens in a MySpace World" by Chap Clark, and "John Rosemond's New Parent Power" by John Rosemond.