My daughter is almost 9 and is constantly disrespectful to me and to others. How should I deal with it?
MOLLY: This is a question from a mom in Wisconsin and she added that she knows that she should look for the root of the matter but she is not even sure her daughter knows WHY she is so disrespectful.
Dr. Susan Rutherford (MOM): The first thing this mom might want to do is to point out to her daughter each time she acts disrespectfully. The way to do this is to ask the child, “Did you hear yourself? Did you hear what you just said?”
Asking her to reflect on her words will engage her in the process of recognizing how she comes across when she speaks to other people. Because as the mom says, she may not even know why she acts this way. Maybe it started so long ago that it’s now a habit for her.
So we have to engage the girl on a conscious level to help her see that she talks the way she does. Every time she talks in a disrespectful way, the mom should repeat to her, “Did you hear yourself and what you said?”
That’s the first step; for a behavior to change, first there must be conscious recognition of the behavior.
The next step is to show her how her behavior looks and feels to other people. The mom might say: “This is what it sounds like when you are disrespectful to me,” and then role-play the example. Hopefully, she’ll hear what her words sound like to somebody else’s ears.
MOLLY: I’ve actually done that with my 6-year old and imitated her but in a a funny way. She starts cracking up and laughing but also gets the message.
MOM: Yeah, because kids are smart. At this point the mom should say, “Okay, now that you hear yourself and you can see that it’s really not nice to talk to people that way, let’s make a chart together where we can mark down every time you say something disrespectful.”
I know that this is the opposite of what I usually encourage people to do, which is more positive reinforcement rather than negative consequences, but in this case the child needs to see how often she does this because she doesn’t notice when she does it.
It’s always worth a try to talk to someone about why they behave in such a way, but chances are this child doesn’t know why she does it and it has become a thoughtless habit.
MOLLY: What we do with my older child (she’s six) is that I give one warning about a behavior that needs to change, and then the second time she does the offending behavior there’s some sort of repercussion.
MOM: Exactly. The overriding message is that it’s not okay to talk to people disrespectfully, and if she does continue to talk to people like that they won’t want to be around her. We are sure that is not what she is intending when she speaks that way. We all want to be able to make and keep good friends.
MOLLY: It sounds like this mom needs to get the daughter on board with the idea that she needs to change her behavior in the first place?
MOM: That’s right: you can’t change someone’s behavior for them, they have to make the change inside of themselves.
Parents need to work together with their children when it comes to making behavioral changes and the first step is to help the child see and recognize what she’s doing by engaging what we call in psychology her observing ego. That’s the part of ourselves that sees ourselves and what we’re doing.
It often requires outside help to raise our awareness from the sub-conscious to the conscious mind. Parents offer this assistance to their children as part of our basic child-rearing responsibilities.