Professor's House

Don’t Talk to Me Like That – Correcting Bad Behavior

Have you ever watched an episode of such reality shows like Toddlers and Tiaras or Supper Nanny? If so, then you have probably sat back on your living room couch wondering how in the world the parents allow their children to talk to them in such disrespectful and disparaging ways.

Truth is that parents expect some disrespect from their children. We have all heard about those pesky teen years full of eye rolls, headshakes, and blasphemous accusations from our children about how unfair we are, and how awful we are at being parents. Yet, today it seems that children are becoming more brazen than ever, younger than ever. Chances are your 5-year-old shows you more disrespect at times than you did to your parents when you were 16! And sometimes, you are probably caught in the fragile of predicament of looking at your child and saying, ‘Don’t talk to me like that!’ Then after punishment and/or timeouts, you sit there thinking, Did she really just say that? Out loud? Are you kidding me, she’s only 6!

And then your thoughts resort to wondering what you have done wrong, and what you will be facing when your child gets older if he or she is already talking to you like a thug.

First of all, don’t despair. Children today are exposed to language that is much more undesirable from the television and radio than they ever were years ago. As kids, you were likely watching Leave it to Beaver, while your child might be watching shows like Spongebob or Fairly Oddparents. And according to Nickelodeon Network, the average age of the kids watching such feisty programs as I-Carly and Victorious is 8 years old. Many of these ‘children’s  shows are actually inappropriate and targeted to a teenage audience. Many of the themes seem to show such drastic independence of children from parentals, and even feature a great many skits of teens berating, making fun of, and being disrespectful towards adults in the shows such as teachers or other parents. Certainly, most of it is pretty benign.

However, enter your young child into the mix and they will begin parroting the things that they hear and say. And if your child has older brothers and sisters, chances are they will develop ugly ‘lip service’ much earlier in life.

So what should you do? Behavior experts agree that being firm and telling your child that they cannot talk to you in that manner is essential. The first time it happens, you should say sternly, ‘Don’t talk to me like that!’ And since your child is young, you should make them understand that talking badly to adults, even you is hurtful and rude. Try to show them that it made you feel unloved, and be extremely firm in the fact that your child WILL respect you. This way you set a precedence of firm boundaries very early in their life.

When it happens again, which it will there has to be a consequence. If your child is being demanding towards you, barking out orders, acting entitled, being rude and otherwise falling into the ‘little brat’ category you have to apply a consequence and an explanation of why the behavior is not going to work. The worst thing that you can do is give in, or otherwise make excuses for the behavior. Lots of parents will say things like, ‘she is just so tired because she missed her nap,’ or ‘she has eaten too much candy today,’ or even, ‘she has a lot going on in her life right now,’ as ways to excuse the linguistic outburst. Big mistake. Firstly, no other venue in your child’s life and no other adult besides you will make these excuses. And secondly, it removes your child of being capable of having self-control. Additionally, you should be very clear-cut with your child, especially while they are young about the behaviors that will and won’t be accepted. You can even make a chart to help them if necessary.

Your best defense however is never allowing the behavior to work for your child. Children figure out at an early age that even negative attention, gained by doing something they know they aren’t supposed to do, is better than no attention at all. If you have noticed that your child has been especially mouthy and demanding lately try to take an earnest look at how they might be feeling left out of in need of attention. And then, make no efforts to coddle or give attention when they are acting in a way you don’t want, but rather when they act in the ways you do want. Its pretty simple psychology. It has to be more productive for your child to act as expected, and be respectful than it is when they act otherwise.

Often, the case with young children who seem mouthier than expected for their age, they are simply saying or repeating things, they have heard, without truly understanding what these things mean. Take the time to explain what the words mean, and tell them how words or behaviors make others feel. This way you can help your child to not just be aware, but conscious and compassionate of others along the way, developing empathy.

You have to realize of course, that parenting is a patchwork quilt of unexpected moments where you child will simply shock the heck out of you by doing and saying certain things. Setting limits when they are young, and definitely keeping a firm boundary between acceptable and unacceptable behavior are extremely important. Remember to be consistent with your punishment, to enforce the ideals of consequence and to never reward behavior that you don’t want to see again.

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