A Disrespectful Child: The Pressure of Silence
Parent Question: “My 5 yr. old is talking back and has disrespectful behavior. Recently it has escalated to swearing, we don’t know where he is getting it from.”
Answer: This is a very common problem at this age. The developmental stage he is in motivates him to find ways to be big and powerful. That’s why superheroes are such a big hit at this age.
He probably heard a friend or a child in school swear or act disrespectfully, and then saw the reaction the child got from the adults. When a parent corrects a child, the parent focuses all of their attention on the child. Since children have immature ways of looking at things, they can easily misinterpret and misunderstand the full focus a parent uses when correcting behavior and decide, “Wow, I have mom’s full attention, so I guess misbehaving is a great way to get her attention.” The full explanation for this phenomenon will appear again and again in this blog as I answer questions.
After this 5 yr. old saw how the adults reacted, he unconsciously decided to try the same thing to see what your reaction would be.
Why would he do this?
Each time a child completes a new developmental stage, he feels like a brand new person with a fresh new perspective. His unconscious motivates him to do something he knows he’s not supposed to do so he can find out if his parents, and the rules, are the same today as they were yesterday, before he gained his new “older” way of seeing how the world works.
This new perspective, the “older” way of looking at the world, is the result of rapid brain development after the developmental phase is complete. Finding out that his parents, and the rules are the same from day-to-day regardless of how much he changes, gives him a sense of safety during a time of tremendous internal growth and change.
This sequence of events, after each developmental stage, teaches him that he can count on his parents to be a stable force in his life, even when he grows and changes. Knowing his parents will always hold the boundary and adhere to the rules becomes invaluable to him as his life experiences become more and more complex.
Does this mean his behavior is bad? Does this mean you should yell and punish him? Does this mean you shouldn’t correct his behavior or show him that swearing is not allowed? Heavens no!
So what should you do? I suggest you remain calm, and simply stand beside him as you firmly say, “Try again!” Then say nothing more. Of course the first few times you say “Try Again” you’ll need to first explain the concept to him. You do that by saying, “When I say ‘try again’ I am asking you to stop and think about what you just said, and say it again without using swear words or being disrespectful.” The parent needs to remain silent until the child rephrases what he said. Let the pressure of silence work for you. It shows the child you mean business and stops you from yelling.
After hearing that explanation a few times you’ll be able to simple say, “Try Again” and he’ll understand what you mean. If he is swearing at school, well, that’s another question for another day.
The words “Try again” are like a do over, a reset button showing a child there will be no talking until you realize what you’ve done or said and either rephrase your statement or repair the situation. This method works well with any age group, and is especially valuable with tweens and teens!
*If you like what you read here, download two free chapters of Proactive Parenting’s book, Stop Reacting and Start Responding at http://proactiveparenting.net/about-the-book/