Don’t you dare talk to me that way!
When a child is being verbally disrespectful, or as we called it in our home, “emotionally biting” someone, a parent instantly becomes very annoyed and (s)he yells right back! Most parents who are having loud, ugly words screamed at them would react that way. The question all parents want to know is, “What can I do instead of yelling?”
First, let me say that I firmly believe that parents should not be disrespected, or have to endure any kind of emotional rudeness, but it does happen. Once it happens a parent usually feels like there’s only one thing they can do to stop it, yell and punish!
I want to offer another way, one that not only stops the rude and disrespectful behavior in its tracks, but also teaches.
What Causes Disrespectful Behavior?
Remember when your baby’s cry was her only form of communication? Believe it or not rude, disrespectful behavior is also form of communication. Verbal disrespect and rude words are a volatile expression of feelings that haven’t (otherwise) been verbalized. The feelings need to be released or all sorts of things may happen.
When a child is screaming horrible things at you, the first thing you need to be aware of is your desire to scream, “Don’t you dare talk to me that way!” or “Who do you think you are?’ or “You’re g-r-o-u-n-d-e-d!”
I’m not going to lie; it’s hard, and it’s normal to want to retaliate. But screaming and punishing in response doesn’t address or resolve the original feelings that caused your child to be disrespectful. They don’t teach a child how to manage the intense tidal wave he or she is feeling. Punishing her makes her swallow her intense emotions, and will only cause those same feelings to erupt again in a different form.
How to Stop Kids from Being Disrespectful
Parents tend to think children get angry on purpose. Your child doesn’t know how she got so mad. Her anger is a mystery to her. It’s also a cry for help. To a child, being really mad feels scary, like she’s out of control and her feelings have a life of their own. When you say, “Stop it now,” she thinks, Okay, but how do I hold this tidal wave of feelings back? Please show me, don’t punish me.”
Parents need to accept that intense feelings are part of growing up. You [the parent] are their safe place; you need to teach your child how to deal with volatile feelings by doing it yourself. How? By showing her something other than reacting, retaliating and screaming at her.
1. First, stop it from escalating.
Imagine for a moment that you and your child are standing opposite each other. Stretched between you is a rope. As your child yells, she pulls on the rope sending a tidal wave of emotion traveling across the rope hitting you on the other end. Now, covered in imaginary emotional goo, you pull on the rope, sending your retaliation and yelling back toward your child. This illustrates the emotional tug of war that happens when a child uses back talk and a parent yells to try and stop it. You can see that the situation instantly becomes circular, it repeats and repeats until … well, you know what happens next.
In order for a parent to teach a child how to handle their tidal wave of intense emotions, the parent has to disengage and drop the rope, thereby stopping the tug of war, before any talking or resolution can begin.
This is the crucial turning point. Dropping the imaginary emotional rope stops things from continuing to escalate, and begins turning things toward resolution.
2. Stand fast until you get to the “crucial turning point.”
Your child will try to get you to reengage in the emotional tug of war. She’ll scream mean words at you and she’ll be rude. Stay silent. Do not reengage; do not pick up the imaginary rope!
Soon, your child will realize that the fact that you’re not engaging, means she was out of line. That’s the moment when you take further action.
3. Calmly reengage your child.
You might say, “When you get this upset, you need to calm down first, hit something, and release your anger (though exercise, or whatever the rule is in your house) before talking to me.”
Once your child has released the anger, invite her to talk: “Now please begin with an apology and let’s talk about your feelings calmly.”
By dropping the rope and stopping the emotional tug of war, you’re able to get to the crucial turning point and turn things toward resolution instead of keeping the “war” going by yelling and punishment.
Sharon Silver is the author Stop Reacting and Start Responding: 108 Ways to Transform Behavior into Learning Moments, and Why Do I Yell and What Can I Do Instead? webinar. She is the founder of Proactive Parenting dot net.
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