“But she’s just so rude to me! I never would have spoken to my parents that way!”
-Most parents that call for parenting help
When you imagine having children, I’m sure it does not cross your mind that they will become furious with you, and say incredibly hateful things to you. Those moments surprise us, feel like a punch to the gut, and can throw us for a loop. Rudeness from a child has the potential to trigger Every. Single. Feeling.
Here’s what I know for sure: Punishing and consequences do not change this behavior. And, in fact, they often lead to bigger arguments and more rudeness. It might make us feel better in the moment, because we’re getting revenge, but I’m guessing that seeking revenge is not in your family’s value system. And it often does not feel good in the long term.
So what do you do?!
It’s time for a little reflection:
- When your child is mean to you, what thoughts and feelings come up for you?
- How do those thoughts and feelings impact the way you respond?
- Do you think that your response is teaching kindness?
- How did you learn to speak kindly to others?
- Think of a person who almost always speaks with kindness. What are they like? What do they sound like? What makes you feel like they are a kind person to talk to?
- When your child is mean to you, what story do you tell yourself about who you are and who your child is? What do you tell yourself about what sort of life they’ll live? What sort of adult do you think they’ll turn into?
Why is this important? Because when we’re in a relationship with someone, we have to be aware of our own feelings. What pushes your buttons? What do we find triggering? It is not our children’s responsibility to tip-toe around us to avoid triggering us. It is our responsibility to figure out how to remain calm in the face of meanness, and model kindness back to our children.
When children are disrespectful, they are using that rudeness to solve a problem and meet a need. Shocking, right?! It would be SO much easier if they used more appropriate strategies to meet their needs. Strategies that felt a little more palatable to us, like asking for help or asking for a hug. But that is often too difficult for kids to do when they’re upset.
So what can you do?
- Be honest but not blaming. “I don’t like to hear people speak to each other that way.”
- Look for ways to reconnect. Play is an amazing way to do this. Touch and humor are a great way in, and laughter helps to release the tension.
- Solve the problem together. “Let’s go find that book together!” Or “Let’s sweep up this spilled cereal! Do you want to sweep? Or hold the dust pan?”
- If these attempts are met with more rudeness, it’s okay to set a limit. Does this mean it’s your turn to start yelling? No. Get down on your child’s level, make eye contact, and say “I feel hurt when you talk to me like that. Let’s sit together for a minute. What’s up?”
Still getting sass?
Keep trying. “I can see that something is really upsetting you. I want to understand what’s going on.”
Setting a limit in this quiet way can take the air out of the verbal aggression. And getting close and asking your child to stop, without making threats, will help your child feel safe. Before long, your child will be smiling and joking and bouncing on the sofa.
Oh wait! One final meltdown! But this time you’re seeing tears or rage.
Believe it or not… this is progress. When your child feels connected, they have space for their real feelings to surface. And, often, after this meltdown, you’ll see calm. Why? Because they’ve been able to express their feelings in the presence of a safe and loving person. Rub their back, offer a hug, and say things like “It’s so hard. I can see that.”
There will be calm after the storm. You will know that your child has released their anxiety or anger because the tears will stop, and your child’s eyes will not be rolling. You’ll see your child comply with your original (simple) request as if it was their idea. They’re giving you a new clue about their feelings. But this time it’s gratitude. They’re going to cooperate and show you that they can meet your expectations without rudeness. They’re grateful for your calm presence.