What do you do when a child is disrespectful in public? How do you respond appropriately while maintaining your authority and self-respect? Below is a real-life story from this past Friday. It’s longer than usual, but worth reading.
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When Your Child Is Disrespectful
Many months ago, we were asked to conduct seven presentations at the Nashville Homeschool Convention. We had been warned in several states that these Nashville people were hardcore. “Don’t be surprised,” people said ominously, “if no one shows up at your sessions or they walk out in protest because they just want to beat their kids into submission.”
So obviously Casey and I couldn’t wait for this past weekend When 200 people showed up for the first session, we thought they had come to stage a protest!
I delivered a tough message. In order to change your home life, Moms and Dads, you must grow up and learn to control your anxiety, perfectionism, and need to please everyone. How can you expect your kids to control themselves…if you cannot control yourself? What you believe and say means nothing…if what you do contradicts it.
I asked families who wanted to break generational patterns of yelling to boldly commit to listening to the CDs for the next three months as a family. To draw a line in the sand and instead of just hoping for change, take concrete action steps to change behavior patterns that are killing relationships. Yes, our CDs require an investment. But it’s no more than a flatscreen, a couple therapy appointments or more than we spend on Starbucks or fast food over the course of three months. Once you and your children learn self-control, it lasts a lifetime.
We thought perhaps a handful of families would be receptive given what we’ve been told. So I left Casey to run the booth while I spoke to parents. After the third session, I had a little line forming behind me as I spoke with a Mom. All of a sudden, Casey came barging into the scene. Uh oh. I’d seen those eyes before. Intense. On fire. Face flush. Hair line sweaty. I could tell by his body posture this wasn’t going to be pretty.
“Where are the car keys, Dad?” he demanded.
I excused myself from my conversation and asked Casey how I could help.
He was clearly flustered. “Why didn’t you answer any of my texts?”
“I was talking to parents.”
“Well,” he barked, “I’m swamped at the booth and out of CDs.” As he rushed off, he said, “You need to answer my texts and I need you at the booth NOW.”
What was going through my mind then? The same thing as any parent. His tone was demanding and disrespectful. It put me on the defensive. Now I’m standing in front of these parents looking to me for help, so that twinge of embarrassment comes up. After all, I’m the parenting expert and my child is speaking this way?! So what should I do?
I wanted to dress him down right there. After all, I am oppositional myself and I don’t allow kids to be demanding. I had every right as the parent to snap back at him in that stern, disapproving manner, “Casey. That tone is unacceptable and you will not talk to me that way. I want an apology right now.” But that doesn’t make it right.
So I didn’t (this time!). I had been teaching this all morning so it was top of mind. Instead, I replied in an understanding tone, “Hey Casey, I appreciate you working so hard. I’ll be right there.”
I excused myself from the line of parents. 40 seconds later, I received it. A text. From Casey. “Dad, I’m sorry for my tone. I shouldn’t have done that.” Bingo!
Let’s break this down:
(1) Casey was “on fire” emotionally. I cannot control how he is feeling. But I can control how I respond. And my response is either going to pour fuel on the fire or calm the situation.
(2) Why is this so hard? Because we get anxious when we hear disrespect. We don’t want to be embarrassed. But embarrassment is your issue. You are allowing the opinions of a stranger to dictate how you interact with your child. So you snap back, inflame the situation and trigger a worse response. And everyone says things they don’t mean. That’s already happened in your home this week, hasn’t it?
(3) I have to be the grown up and not make everything about me. When I step out of my anxiety (how is this affecting ME?) and instead walk in my child’s (or spouse’s) shoes (why is HE upset?), then I see with clarity. How many fights occur because we assume the worst about others’ intentions, but the best about our own?
Oh, my son is overwhelmed. He wants to provide the best customer service possible (because that’s what I have instilled in him) and now he’s had to leave parents alone at the booth. So he’s frustrated. Does that excuse his disrespectful tone or make it right? No. But it provides an opportunity for ME to break the cycle.
(4) Everything in me wanted to snap right back at Casey that afternoon. I could feel it rolling off my tongue as I jabbed the dagger into him at that moment. Honestly, though, did I need to point out how bad his tone sounded? What immaturity is that inside of us that wants to wag our tongues like a 4-year-old and say, “You know what? If you’re going to talk to me like that, then I’m not taking you to dinner tonight…”
(5) There’s no need to point that out. He knows it’s wrong. We’re at a stalemate here. Who’s going to respond next? See, as adults, we expect the 6 or 16-year-old to break the cycle and calm down…because the 40-year-old can’t. But that’s when we need to humble ourselves and lead our kids to a calm place. How?
(6) Practice the power of acknowledgement. “I appreciate you working so hard.” That simple statement made him feel understood. It was the humble response. Isn’t that how YOU want to be acknowledged when YOU are in a foul mood? Otherwise, I am left to acknowledge, “You’re being a jerk. You just wait til later.” Tell me which is better.
(7) I could have demanded a forced apology. “Apologize to me right now!” Instead, I got contrition. When I broke the emotional cycle, it enabled Casey to acknowledge his disrespectful tone and send the apology on his own, 40 seconds later.
(8) After dinner Friday night, we used this as an opportunity to practice what we could do differently next time. We role played how to handle frustration next time.
(9) In the moment, can you break the cycle and de-escalate the situation? Can your spouse? Or do you find yourself yelling, snapping and lecturing? If this was easy, you wouldn’t be reading this. The reason we are so adamant about listening together to the strategies is so this remains top of mind, renews your mind and becomes more natural. If you cannot control yourself, your kids will not respect you.
(10) So I’ll make you the same offer I made those families. If you make the investment and commit to making these changes, I will walk you through this for the next year. Get the CDs. Listen as a family. Email me with questions. And let’s make this the day when you get back control of your home and yourself. Ready?
If you need personal or financial help, be bold and contact Brett. He’s the nicest guy on the planet. Seriously. Email Brett@CelebrateCalm.com or call Brett at 888-506-1871. Say, “I need help” and we’ll connect you with the right resources.