"I don't have to always do what you say, Amma," my five-year-old son snapped when I told him to switch off the TV.
I wasn't expecting that - at least not for a few more years.
"Don't talk to me like that," I warned him.
"You're a bad Amma," he sneered.
"How dare you talk to me like that?" I yelled back.
The argument went on for a few more minutes.
I couldn't understand my son's sudden change in behavior. Was it a sign that I wasn't teaching him the right values and morals? Finding no answer to my question, and feeling confused and worried, I scheduled an appointment with my child's class teacher.
The teacher assured me that there is nothing wrong with my son. She told me that he is learning to ask questions and test boundaries, which is a normal part of growing up. She asked me to continue reinforcing good behaviour at home.
As children grow up, they begin to develop their own identities and test the limits. And, sometimes, they go overboard with it. However, as a parent, it is your responsibility to teach your child acceptable behaviours. When your child begins to display behaviour or attitude that is unacceptable, it is best to nip this practise in the bud. But, do you know how to handle your disrespectful child?
Here's are a few tips to help you:
Don't take it personally: Most children behave in a disrespectful manner when they are angry. During such times, your child may think of you as a threat and her mind is busy working on how to counter the threat (which is you). Therefore, neither will your child be able to think in a rational manner nor listen to the voice of reason. Remind yourself of this fact and stay calm. For, responding harshly to your child's unacceptable ways will make her act more defiantly, and you'll most likely end up in a catch-22 situation.
Empathise with your child: There are several factors that can make a child misbehave and show disrespect. For example, hunger, changes in routine, and an inability to express thoughts or feelings.
So, empathise with your child. Once, he has calmed down, talk to him to find out what is causing him to act inappropriately. It will make your child feel heard and understood.
Tell your child how his words and actions have hurt your feelings. While talking to your child, it is always a good idea to get down to his eye level. So, sit on the floor or a chair to establish eye contact before you begin the conversation.
Set ground rules: When there are rules for children to follow, it becomes easier for them to adhere to acceptable behaviour. So, get together and brainstorm about the rules that your child should follow. For example, no hitting or name-calling, no TV after 8 pm, gadget time of no more than one hour, so on. Along with framing such rules, also set consequences for breaking them. You can also include your child in this exercise.
Give choices: Offering choices is a win-win for both you and your child - your child feels that he has control over the outcome while you get what you want. By giving choices and listening to what your child has to say, you make him feel that you're both part of one team.
As a result, your child will become more cooperative. However, while offering choices to your child, make sure that these are all age-appropriate.
Teach with natural consequences: When your child ignores your requests or warnings, it may be time to allow her to deal with the natural consequences of her actions. For example, you find that your child is working with paint while dressed in her school uniform. You ask her to change her dress but she ignores your request.
After some time, she comes running to you saying, "Mamma, I have spilt paint on my dress. What should I do?" You may be tempted to say, "Didn't I ask you to change earlier?" But, stay calm, take stock of the situation with your child and suggest what she can do.
Allowing your child to face the natural consequences can help her understand the outcome of her actions.
Redirect your child: Instead of scolding your child or yelling at him, try a diversion. For instance, suppose that your child continues to play outside even after the agreed time limit. Ask him why he is doing so. Then, redirect your child by asking him if he is up for playing a board game. You can also try cracking a joke - humour is a handy tool to diffuse a tense situation.
Model appropriate behaviour: This is the golden rule for encouraging good behaviour. Remember, your child is always learning by observing you. So, if you're rude and hurtful to those around you, your child will follow your lead. Pay attention to your own behaviour and always treat everyone, including your child, the way you'd like to be treated.
Your child's disrespectful behaviour is neither a sign of bad parenting nor does it indicate that she is a spoilt child. It only means that your child needs your help. So, be persistent and patient. And soon that attitude or behaviour will become a thing of the past. However, if you think that you are not able to help your child change, it is a good idea to seek the help of a specialist.
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