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When Teenage or Grown Children Disrespect You

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Three Pointers for How to Manage the Disrespect:

First – Respect your Child and Listen –

Children on the verge of adulthood can be a challenge for most parents. Where there was once a sweet compliant child is now a raging or recalcitrant young person. Advice on how to cope with this ranges from severe punitive measures to blatant ignoring it. With such divergent answers, how do you know what to do with your disrespectful kids? I this article, I give you three sure fire ways to handle the disrespect, (Hint, it doesn’t involve either of the above). 

It’s a horrible feeling when your (almost) grown daughter or son speaks to you with vulgar language, a raised or nasty tone, or worse outright verbal abuse, but demanding respect or punishing doesn’t work. The difficult truth is children learn respect from you.  Ordering or demanding anything form anyone is disrespecting them (unless your in a job where the person is getting paid to compensate for being ordered around). While we have to resort to this with young children it’s because they lack reasoning capabilities. With older children, you have to start helping them home their cognitive and emotional skills by asking questions instead of demanding. Instead, tell your child you’ve noticed he’s been yelling a lot and what does he think that’s about and how does he think it is affecting your relationship with him. He may be stunned into silence or say he doesn’t know or care, he just wants his way.  If this is the case then got to the second pointer. However, if he says “I know, I’ve been thinking about it and I hate that I do that and I’m sorry.” This is a very mature and appropriate response brings you closer together that you would have missed had you simply barked an order or demand. 

By taking the time to ask you are showing an interest in his reasoning skills, his thought processes and well…him!  This is showing respect of him at the same time you are giving him a template of what to do when the shoe is on the other foot. Do you want him demanding respect or ordering his wife around one day when she says something disrespectful or do you want him to inquire as to what’s going on with her? Similarly, beware of the times you might be showing disrespect to him or others without awareness.  Do you tend to interrupt or talk over people, go “off” or into long speeches when someone ask for something that seems outlandish to you, do you mock or talk badly about people behind their backs? If so, this may be unwittingly fueling his disrespect. Being careful to respect him and others especially when you disagree can show your grown child the proper way.

Second- Respect Yourself and Talk

Respect yourself enough to let your grown daughter know how you feel about the disrespect.  By doing this at a time when things are calm, then you are showing respect for yourself, you deserve to be heard and if she’s in a foul mood then that won’t happen. When you don’t speak up for yourself out of lack of respect or self-esteem or a thought that it is a phase that will blow over, you are essentially ignoring the situation which is a form of abandonment. There is a lesson for your child to learn here and it’s your job as a parent to teach it.  As in the scenario above, do you want her ignoring a future husband who is disrespecting her? Or do you want her to speak her mind?

By telling your daughter how and why it hurts when she disrespects you and is damaging your relationship. Then give her a chance to tell you her thoughts and feelings.  If she does not respond then simply thank her for listening and remove yourself. You words will be in her mind and she’ll be thinking about them even if she wasn’t able or willing to discuss it further with you.  The bigger picture is that you’ve now given her the best template for how to behave should someone disrespect her in the future. Fighting fire with fire or ignoring the problem are just going to worsen the situation.

Three-Respect Each other and Compromise

Once you’ve carefully listened to your child’s thoughts and feelings and stated yours, the respectful thing to do is compromise. If two of your friends couldn’t agree, chances are you’d advise two friends to “give and take.” But so many parents don’t use the most normal social norms when it comes to their children. If you want to nurture a lifelong relationship with your child then you have to come to terms with your roles as “boss and underling” with your young child is long gone.  Your child is going to be much more happy and successful if they learn to give and take but they aren’t going to learn it if you don’t teach it to him while he’s still under your roof. You can propose a compromise first such as giving a warning when you feel your son’s tone or words are verging on disrespect so he has a chance to turn it around. Then see if your son has a suggestion to compromise. He may propose a way that works better for him. The key here is to be honest with each other about what will work knowing that neither of you is likely to get it entirely “your way.” The larger picture is your making a plan together, which brings you a lot closer, with which he is more likely to comply,  than a demand or order. 

There is a question we ask in mental health when working with people on their relationships: Do you want to be right or do you want a relationship?  Do you really want to have an argument about whether what she said was actually disrespectful? How do you resolve that anyway? Is there a judge that is going to swoop in and declare the “winner” of that senseless argument? Instead of resorting to the temptful line: I’m the parent and I say so! Think instead of the opportunity to show respect and work with your grown child on a compromise which will increase your closeness and give him or her the templates for how to show and ask for respect in your, and all their future, relationships. 

To your emotional health, 

Dr. Laura Dabney

If this article speaks to you and you’d like additional personal guidance please call 757-340-8800 to make an appointment with Dr. Laura Dabney now. 

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