Episode 46: Handling Disrespectful Behavior

Have you ever stood in the chaos of a store aisle, grappling with your child’s melting down, feeling the weight of judging eyes on you? Handling disrespect without losing our cool is a universal parenting challenge. In today’s episode we’re talking about why our kids get disrespectful and some ways we can handle it. Our children are learning about the world and their emotions, so it’s essential to approach their emotional upheavals with empathy. Remember, we are not here to control our children, but rather to teach them emotional self-regulation. It’s important not to take their behavior personally. As challenging as it might be, staying calm helps us maintain our leadership role as guides during these emotionally charged moments. At times, these situations can feel stressful. However, we can still be supportive even under pressure. It’s about learning to decode the messages behind our kids’ meltdowns. By leading by example, we can help build their emotional resilience. 

What you will learn on this episode:

-How to handle your children’s tough behaviors and emotional meltdowns using empathy and understanding.

-The importance of not controlling your children but teaching them emotional regulation and self-management.

-How to avoid taking your child’s outbursts personally and approach problem-solving from the child’s perspective.

– Redefining the concept of “winning” in parenting as guiding children through challenges while preserving the relationship.


*This transcription below was provided for you or your convenience; please excuse any mistakes that the automated service made in translation.

Hey everyone and welcome back to Leadership Parenting. I am so glad to be with you today. I have a couple of things on my mind. I’ve been working with moms around some parenting issues and one of the things that have been coming up a lot, over and over and over again, is how to handle tough behaviors from our kids. When I say tough behavior, I’m talking about our kids actions that don’t match what we want them to be doing. This can be from how they talk to us or their attitude, all the way to their actions particularly disrespectful what we might call rude behavior or even inappropriate behavior. 

We’ve spent some time talking about how to handle tantrums in an earlier episode, and some of what we’ll talk about today is going to be related to that, because basically, there is a process that we need to go through as parents to help us deal with any challenge we might be facing with our kids. It’s just really a tried and true formula that we have to get centered as parents, as adults, and grounded and clear on a role as a parent so we can keep ourselves together when our child is having these behaviors and attitudes. But I think there are some specific strategies that we can use to help our kids manage that behavior, and they’re all going to come after we get our own stuff together. So I know I’ve talked about tantrums before and we will talk about it again, because we are dealing with children. So let’s talk a little bit about disrespectful behavior from your child. It’s an important issue because I think all of us knows what this feels like to have a child do something, say something, that does not fit what we want them to do. 

So I saw this the other day in the store at Target and I saw a kid asking his mom for something and I don’t remember what it was, but she said no and he started to get super upset and very disrespectful. What that looked like was he yelled, he pouted, he called her a name and he started to ignore her and walk away. Anyway, this sweet mom, which my heart just went out to because I’ve been there, she kind of lost it. She got so angry, so frustrated, and I could totally understand why, because the son of hers, whom she just has invested all this time, I assume, effort, attention and love, he just started to behave so counter to everything I’m sure she has taught him, and in public he was having this fit and really kind of embarrassing her. I mean, you could tell she was kind of looking around, she didn’t quite know what to do and then she got so upset and she called him a name back. In other words, her behavior got disrespectful also and it ended with her literally dragging him out of the store by his arm with a lot of people staring at them. I’m sure she was aware of it in some way. She may have felt embarrassed herself, and I just think it’s unfair that our work as a parent comes under such scrutiny by others. 

Oftentimes our kids have these meltdowns or these difficult explosions or feelings that they’re having in front of others, and it’s like we have a report card on our parenting taped to the back of our kids. When they behave well in air quotes I’m doing that they get an A, and when they melt down or act out their big feelings, well let’s just say it’s not an A that we get as parents, our parenting and our children’s behavior. Just they don’t always correlate and that may be the most important thing for us to remember that we are teaching and training and loving and connecting, and the result is not always evident by how our kids are showing up, especially not in the beginning of their lives and those kind of the years that they’re growing. They don’t have the maturity yet to hear the concepts and then put them into action flawlessly. So that mom, I’m sure, felt really judged and probably like she was flunking her parenting grade, her scores as a parent, and I wanted to just put my arms around her and tell her it’s okay and of course that would have been very odd for me to do that as a stranger. But I felt that I kind of tried to catch her eye and yet at the same time I was trying not to look at her because I didn’t want her to feel like everybody was looking at her, but I almost wanted to just say it’s okay, it’s okay, you’re not the only one. We have all been there. 

So what do we do? What do we do with a child who’s acting in a way that’s super disrespectful or aggressive or just some way that’s not okay with us? And first, before we go into that, I just want to validate that every one of us knows what this feels like. I just don’t know a mom or a dad who hasn’t had this happen to them. Maybe they’re out there, maybe they have some kids that know automatically how to emotionally regulate. Or maybe parents have this magical ability to help their kids manage their emotions, and I just haven’t met them. And I’ve met a lot of parents Out of my five kids, I’ve never had the experience where my children automatically knew how to do this. I get it. I remember being there and my hope is, after we talk about this a little bit, you’ll feel more equipped on what to do when this happens in your family. 

So first thing I want you to remember, as a leader or parent, is that our job is to teach our children, not to control them, not create our version of a well-behaved child. Okay, that is kind of a different statement. I’m gonna say it again Our job is to teach our children how to manage their emotions and be kind of responsible human beings. Our job is not to control or create a version of a very well-behaved child. Now, I think I believed my job was to create well-behaved children. I’m looking for behaviors that are gonna show that my kids know how to regulate their emotions. I think that’s kind of we jumped to that conclusion. But our job really isn’t to get them to behave certain ways. Our job is to help them find the skills and practice and learn how to manage their emotions, so then they can show up in a way that fits with being collaborative and being respectful, so that their values can be their guide. So they’ve got the social skills to make and keep friends and partners. 

So we need to remember that we’re working with kids who aren’t mature yet. This is hard enough for me to do as an adult and be on top of it all the time right. So our kids don’t know how to do this, naturally. So I think the first step in understanding what to do with disrespectful behaviors to get a sense of what our goal is. I want you to keep that in mind. Your job is not to have children that never are disrespectful. In fact, you should expect this to happen. It’s part of the process that they have to go through. 

So when our kids get disrespectful, our first thought is often we’ve got to nip this in the bud, we’ve got to get control over this. We got to teach them this isn’t okay, and you’ll hear that come out in our language. Like you, don’t talk to me that way. That’s not okay for you to act this way. No, sir, no ma’am, this is not happening and that’s very natural. It’s come out of my mouth Can’t tell you how many times. I don’t want you to beat yourself up for that, but here’s the key I want you to remember as we teach our children about respect. 

When they are in a disrespectful mode, they are dealing with big emotions and their brain is not capable of learning exactly in that moment. So let’s revisit what happens when your brain gets in fight or flight mode, which is what’s happening to a child. You know, this feels a little odd for us to think of it this way, because we don’t always correlate the things that cause our children to get in fight or flight mode or get upset. We don’t always correlate that with what would put us into fight or flight mode. You know, like what would get us into that state? Something way bigger than what we’re seeing our kids dealing with. We just ask them to put their toys away. Right, we just told them no, you can’t have brownies for dinner. That seems reasonable to us, but perhaps in a child’s brain, for whatever reason, it’s very disappointing In their mind. It may be a bigger deal than it is to us. 

So what I want to remember is that when kids have disrespectful behavior. They’re usually experiencing some emotion that’s difficult for them to manage and a lot of times it’s frustration. Sometimes it’s disappointment. I was watching my not quite year old grandson have a little bit of a tantrum because he couldn’t get the wooden carrot into the little kind of hole that is the game or the toy for his age and he would try to put it in and you could just see, oh, he would shake his head and get so upset and you know you and I are looking at it, thinking like this is not a big deal, this is not worthy of a freak out. 

It’s almost cute for us to watch a toddler struggling with something because we get it. It’s it’s over their ability to be able to manage their frustration. For us, if someone came up to us and like spit in our face or take like your purse from you or took something important from you, you would be like that warrants a freak out. That crossed a boundary. That’s not okay. But a lot of times we look at what’s happening in our kids world and we think it’s not anything, it’s not a big deal. So what we I think is helpful to remember is that for our kids it is a big deal, whether it should be or it shouldn’t be, it obviously is. 

So being able to go with the idea that our kids are feeling frustrated and that probably at that moment, this is the best option they’ve come up with for handling it, even though it’s a terrible option for us. We need to teach them better options, but trying to teach that to them in the moment is probably not going to be super successful. So I’m going to show you what to do when you’ve got this happening with a child in real time, and I want you to be able to kind of keep in mind your goal. Your goal is not to stop the behavior that is so frustrating, isn’t it that woman and target? She just wants her child to walk calmly beside her. When she says, no, we can’t get that game or that toy or that treat or whatever she wants him to, just okay, just let’s just have a pleasant walk through the store. That’s not asking for much. And so when he starts to get mad and upset, you would think that the goal is to just stop that behavior. 

But our long-range goal, our leadership parenting goal, is to teach a child through experience how to be capable and competent in managing their own emotions, and then eventually they’ll be able to manage their behaviors. So we want to remember that it’s not unusual that it’s happening when you have a child that is getting upset about something. We don’t have to like it, but to be able to accept that it’s part of our job as a parent and that it’s okay that we’re dealing with it. I don’t know about you, but that is huge for me if you tell me that this is expected, that this is part of what kids do, that it’s even part of what I apparently unknowingly signed up for when I became a parent. It helps it not feel so scary or big or like a bad grade on my report card. 


If my child’s body is flooded with cortisol and adrenaline and you’ll see this in little kids as they get, you know, physical with it, it’s just like their body’s telling them to either fight or run, and so when you’re in the middle of a threat mode like that, we’re not really open to reasoning very well, and that’s why this is so difficult. And what’s so interesting is that we have the same brain that our kids have, right, so when they start behaving in that manner, we get activated, our threat center gets hot and it becomes very difficult to manage our own emotions. So I think it’s really helpful to recognize what your job is. Your job is not to get them to stop the behavior. I’m going to say that probably three more times today. Your job is to lead them through these things, not manage it perfectly and not even to make sure it never happens again, to accept that it’s part of what this raising children is going to look like, and we want to make sure that our control of our own emotions don’t get kind of stolen away by the kids behavior. That’s way too much control that our kids have. They don’t do it on purpose. I really don’t think they do, and certainly we’re not doing it on purpose. But that’s kind of what ends up happening, and you’ll hear it when we say things like they know how to push my buttons, yeah, and we’ve got to learn how to not react when our buttons get pushed. So what we’re looking to do is to take a step back and recognize that we can choose to not be reactive. So let’s see what we can do on our end so that we can stay calmer, so we can kind of pick and choose what we’re going to do when these kinds of things happen. So let’s look at a series of steps that you can follow when your child is being, let’s say, disrespectful to you or someone else. Let’s see how many steps do I have here? I think I’ve got seven steps, so let’s walk through these. 


Number one I want you to consciously slow things down. When you’re in the middle of a tussle with your child or your child is, you know, showing you some behavior that we would consider disrespectful, I want you to first give yourself just a nanosecond pause to be able to recognize that you’re being set off by this. Something is happening inside of you. I’m activated. I need to slow this down because I’m at risk of moving into a reaction mode and really following my child’s brain into this place of not being emotionally regulated myself. So it’s important to be able to slow it down, and the best way I know how to do that is to take a deep breath. We don’t have time to do a whole breathing sequence when we’re right in the middle of things, but you can just take one slow, deep breath. This helps our nervous system calm down, okay? 


Second, I want you to be aware of what it is you’re feeling. You know we have this thing that we call the emotional body scan. What am I feeling? Where is it in my body? How big is it? This is where you’re starting to recognize. I’m feeling angry. I’m feeling really frustrated right here. I’m disappointed, I’m sad. That made me really sad. I know you don’t have a lot of time for this. This doesn’t have to take more than a nanosecond. Wow, I’m hot right now. I’m feeling really mad. 


Okay, number three we’re not going to take this personally. I know this is hard, maybe the hardest, when someone says mom, I hate you, mom, you’re a stinky mommy, or they kick the wall, or they throw something, tell you that your dinner stinks and they might throw up, or any number of things that kids might say that sound so disrespectful and even mean. Here’s the secret we can’t take this comment personally. Something else I want you to think and said this situation requires me to lead my child. This is not about me as a person. Okay, if you can do that the very first time without a struggle, I you win an award, because for me that is not an easy thing for. But we kind of have to do this right, because the moment we take it personally, we are saying we’re on equal terms here. I’m going to treat you like a peer. 


You’re doing this on purpose to hurt me, and I think kids will say that sometimes, that they are doing it on purpose. They look like they’re doing it on purpose. It feels like they’re doing it on purpose, and we can’t get caught into that trap. We are having this kind of battle with a child and we’re giving them the power as if they are kind of a worthy enemy, our nemesis. It moves us out of connection with them and I I know they’ve moved out of connection with us, but I want you to notice the difference there. It feels like look, you started it. You called me a name. That’s not okay and I’m going to separate from you and you know, fight back. 


So the younger you can imagine your child being, the easier it will be for me you to maintain your status and your stance as a parent. That is not going to take this personally. Now I’m not saying you should take abuse. You’re not. It’s not okay if you’re getting hit. It’s not okay if you’re being screamed at in your face. I understand that this is something that they’re going to have to be boundaries set around. 


Most of the time, though, guys, we are talking about kids melting down and us taking it personally. It just makes it so hard to do the next steps that you have to do to lead them through it. If I could have you walk away with one thing, that would be. This is my child’s regulation problem. Even if it’s become a habit, it’s still not about you. The moment you and I take this personally, wow, our threat system starts to activate and starts to respond, and then it’s hard for us to control our own behavior and that’s why we yell, that’s why we walk out of the room, that’s why we get disrespectful, because we’re thinking this isn’t fair, I don’t deserve this. How dare you? And those are normal thoughts that come when we perceive threats. So we’re gonna work with our own thoughts on the fly, right, because I can’t have you sit down and write out all your thoughts in that moment. This is all immediate. This is like happening in a blink and it’s over. So we wish it wouldn’t have been that fast, but it starts so quickly and then, all of a sudden, it’s a full blown tantrum. So it’s not taken personally. That’s the thing I want you to remember. 


The next thing we can do is to get curious so we can see the problem, particularly from our children’s perspective. If we’re gonna problem solve this, then we need to get a good sense of really what the problem is. And we’ve already decided that the problem isn’t you. You’re not taking this personally, so the problem lies somewhere in your child’s perception of what’s going on. And most of the time I think kids are just disappointed and frustrated. They had a vision of what they wanted. They’re in the middle of playing and we’ve asked them to clean up for dinner and that wasn’t what they planned. Or they smell broccoli cooking and they don’t like broccoli. And even though that doesn’t seem like a big deal to you and me, to our kid it is. And so if you can kind of get inside your child’s thinking and start to see what’s really upsetting them and maybe even empathize with them this is where you say that validating stuff. 


I had a client ask me why am I always being asked to do that silly? Say what you see. She really hated it. It felt ridiculous to her. I get it, especially when you’re upset and this all feels like a big problem for you, for me. But the reason we do this is because it helps a child connect with themselves and it also helps you remember what’s happening. So it can feel silly, but it’s a compassionate way to allow children to have their feelings and be seen. So you say it with sincerity and with a good will that you know that they’re struggling. I see you’re feeling really frustrated. I can tell you’re really mad. You really don’t like broccoli. You’re really feeling sad that we’re having broccoli tonight. 


Now they may not be able to hear it clearly a lot of the time, but often that’s all that’s needed for a child to kind of move out of that fight or flight mode. You’re really using your connection, validating their feelings. You’re not responding with fuel to the fire by being reactionary. I think that’s really important. It took me a couple of times to explain this and support this mom in trying it with her child, and the thing that was getting most in her way was the idea that once she validated her kid she had to somehow give in to them, and that is definitely not the case. You can be validating your child’s sadness about not getting that toy at target all the way out the door as you hold the boundary. Once she saw that she could and should hold the boundary, she found that saying out loud what her kids were feeling actually helped her to stay calm. I know I know you’re really sad, you’re really upset, she repeated as they marched out of the store without the toy. 


He wanted a way to keep the boundary while being attentive and connected and not returning the anger or the disrespect, not giving into it either. So, number six, be the leader and maintain the safety. Be thinking about what’s a reasonable resolution of this problem. Where do you want this to go? What would a win be? A win for you and a win for your child? Remember, we’re not looking at completely stopping the behavior before it happens. It’s already happened. So what would be a win? 


Let’s start with what a win would look like for your kiddo. They think it’s to get what they want More time in front of the TV, on the playground, not taking a shower, not eating what you made for dinner. But a win for them is actually gonna be to be acknowledged, to be allowed to have their feelings about things and to be able to stay connected to you. And they may make that difficult, so they don’t realize this yet, but over time this is the long game. Kids will get it at some point. They get that it isn’t safe to run across the road or hit their sibling or just eat pancakes for dinner all the time, every night. They’ll get that one day and understand and probably I would bet they’re gonna parent their kids with the same rules because they are reasonable rules, but their ability to see that now it’s not always there. So we hold the boundary and we’re charged with maintaining safety and reason. I’m not gonna let you run across the street. I won’t let you hit your sister, making very simple, calm statements, particularly around safety issues. 


Now, sometimes parents have a hard time saying this. It could feel like you’re asserting your power over your child and in essence, that’s exactly what you’re doing and that’s exactly your job. You’re tasked with the responsibility to keep things safe, to teach responsible behavior in your actions and in your words. So I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying what you will and will not allow. This is important. The kids need that clarity. You could tell your child what you’ll do when that happens. If you call me a name or if you spit at someone or throw something, we’ll stop playing and go inside or up to your room and calm down so we can talk about it. 


You’re essentially saying that your job is to keep everyone safe and that you’ll help your children learn more effective and appropriate ways to manage their feelings and express themselves. Okay, that’s my way of saying it. That’s too big of a mouthful. You can also say it to your child like this I’m here to keep you safe. I’m going to step back so you don’t hurt me. I’m not gonna continue driving to the party while you are yelling. I’m going to go with you into the other room where it’s safer for you to express your feelings. I’m here and I can help. 


It’ll take time for you to get used to saying these things and a time for your children to get used to hearing them and understanding what they mean. So you can either say what you won’t allow I won’t let you run across the street or you can state it in the affirmative I’m going to make sure you stay here on the sidewalk where you’re safe. This is what setting boundaries are about. You describe what you will do when something happens Key for you to feel empowered in what you can do, because you can’t, obviously, control your child’s behavior, but you can set the parameter for how you’re going to respond to maintain safety. So maybe it’s removing them from a situation like if they’re little, you can pick them up, but we kind of want you to stay with them or be with them in the place as they’re coming down. 


We’re not trying to leave them alone to calm down, because if they’re calm and focused then they probably can calm themselves down and handle things. But when they’re upset, leaving them alone when they’re upset doesn’t usually help them calm down. So it’s nice to stay nearby. Maybe it’s just outside their room. I’m not leaving you, I’m here. I know you’re really upset. Now, if it’s verbal rudeness that you’re dealing with, you might say wow, those are strong words. I know you’re upset. I know you can find another way to tell me what’s happening. I’m really interested in what you’re feeling. Give them an option and then, if they can’t, it’s because they’re unable to. That really helps me to think of it that way. I know it looks like maybe they’re just doing it on purpose, but I really think it’s because it’s the best option that they feel that they have. Okay, I know you’re not able to find those words right now. We’re gonna stop playing and calm down first and talk about it. 


This is how you win with them. It’s a different kind of win, right, you don’t win the struggle with your child. You don’t get to be right. It’s not that kind of a game. It’s you and your child against the immature and underdeveloped brain. It’s you and your child striving to get through a challenge with your connection intact and new skills on the way. Maybe not there yet. So think about what a win might look like for you. Would a win be that you could eventually help your child manage emotions and calm their body down? Would it be that you’re eventually able to get them to go and do the thing that you’re asking them to do, like get in the car seat, put the toys away, come and sit down and have dinner, or maybe just accept that you’re giving them a no, no brownie for dinner? Because a win for me at first glance is that my child’s not gonna melt down or call names or just do exactly what I asked them to do, like. That feels like my win, but we’re in the process of learning here. Our wins need to look different, needs to be a process win where you’ve stayed calm and you’ve stayed in the leadership position and you’re teaching these little concepts, little wins, understanding more of how your child works, why they do this, how to stay connected to them as they learn the skills. 


Sometimes we can actually reevaluate our expectations for our kids and make sure that this is really a battle worth our attention and our focus. I remember having battles with my kids about kind of what I look back now are kind of dumb things, I think now, where they put their shoes each day I wanted them in the mudroom and they would kick them off at the door when they walked in after school and like I’m thinking these are great kids, they’re hard workers, they’re really kind and thoughtful kids. They just didn’t ever really think that the shoe thing was that important and that kind of got under my skin, right. I mean, it became a focal point of my being listened to, my authority being followed. So I think we can make things about our authority, sometimes when it’s not really anything else that is super important. 


So, having a vision for your child, you wanna know what your end goal is with them, and is it really that they emerge from childhood having done everything we asked, or is it that they’ve learned skills to help them be responsible and healthy humans? We call it picking our battles and sometimes when we say it, it sounds like we’re just choosing which battles to lose Instead of what I think it means is perhaps there’s a way to eliminate many of our battles Just because we choose to drop the struggle and adjust our expectations to fit, maybe, what your child is already doing. So I remember purposely deciding that the shoes were gonna be okay. There, like my struggle immediately went away and you might look at that and say, well, she lost that battle and the kids won it, and really in my big picture goals having a vision for a kind, helpful, sweet child those goals were being met. That shoe thing was really about me having my own conditions that needed to be met in order for me to feel like I was okay. 


So I guess what I’m trying to say is that sometimes we need to meet our kids in the middle and there are some situations where you just can’t budge right, like not hitting someone or your teenager driving the car at the speed limit, or you may have some things that are just gonna be worth your struggle with them because it’s a safety issue. So number seven I think I can’t remember what number we’re on I think we need to really be thinking of connection at the top of our mind, one of the biggest things we miss in our parenting is that there’s actually more for us to do in our parenting that happens outside of these kind of outbursts and tantrums and disrespectful behavior. More we can do before it happens to lay the groundwork for the relationship and then, after the disrespectful behavior, to better understand it and plan for it next time. So once kids’ brains have calmed down and they’re not in that fight or flight mode, that’s the time when we’re able to say hey, earlier tonight I noticed you got really up for it. 


You got really upset when I asked you to put your toys away. Can you tell me what made you the most frustrated and do you know why I like to ask you to clean up the toys? Let’s talk about that. I’d love to share that with you. Now you’re gonna say it in your way. That sounds a little sanitized, I understand that. But having that conversation with your kids where you’re able to say I get it, that was hard, let’s figure out how you were feeling so I can understand it too, that helps the kids understand it themselves and be able to talk about that with you and you can actually get some more teaching and training done after the fact, when they’re calmer and it can be a really sweet experience and connecting and communicating with them. 


And you might need to apologize a little bit, not minimizing your parenting responsibility, but to be able to say when you got really upset, you know, I think I even got frustrated. Could you tell? When I got frustrated, my voice got a little bit loud. I’m working on that too, because all of us have to work on that and let’s work on that together. How can we come up with some other ways to handle these feelings? When you see what’s for dinner and you really don’t like it, what else could you say and how could we work on that together? So I’m not saying you should give in and make a whole different dinner for that child. Maybe they still need to eat what’s offered. Is there a way they can express their thoughts and feelings about it that is more respectful? And maybe you can come to some agreement of how your child can deal with eating something they don’t like. Maybe have a few bites or request to have more of something else. 


Remember, what we’re teaching here is the process of handling their difficult feelings or their frustrations. We want them to be able to practice how to talk about things that they don’t like, instead of just get them to not say certain things. Once again, our goal is not to get a child to do exactly what we want them to do as much as I promise you. I want that too, but that’s not our role as a parent. Our job is to help them learn these skills, even if it takes us a long time. Even if it takes them a long time is a better way for me to say it. 


So their response might not be as quick and organized as yours, but yours needs to be, because you get centered and maintain safety and lead them through this. Kids do really well when they get to be part of the solution, especially when they feel your love and respect and understanding for them as they struggle. Well, this is a pretty quick overview with the general framework and I know each and every situation can feel totally unique and your child might not respond as quickly or seamlessly as you want, but the steps are solid. You can’t go wrong by staying in the leadership position and staying connected and curious with your child as you work out the challenges they bring. Thank you for your listening here today. I support you in the powerful work you’re doing. I look forward to talking with you all next week. Take care. 


Transcribed by https://podium.page

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