Disrespectful Children

Here’s a letter from an Aussie mum who is at her wit’s end with her disrespectful little one.

Today I have come to the end of my rope with my little boy Joshua. He is 3 years old. My current problem is his attitude towards me at times. My husband & I try to bring him up in the proper sense, we do not allow him to participate in violent games or to watch violent or disrespecting tv/video. Just within the last couple of minutes, he had broken his lego digger, that I had just spent an hour fixing. I was not angry, I just asked for the pieces, and proceeded out to the kitchen to fix it again. He then stormed out screaming at me that he hated me and that I should just go away. I am heart broken. He is even now standing at the office door saying he doesn’t like me. I have no idea what to do. Everyone around is saying it’s just a tantrum & to take no notice. But I notice that he is throwing a tantrum, but his words are hateful. I have explained on heaps of occasions that his words hurt me, but every time he does not agree with my discipline these words sprout from his lips. I’m out of idea’s on how to correct him.

Could it be that one of the biggest persuasions from having another child be a parents’ own children? Perhaps. We want to respond with three things that we’ve found doesn’t work (but they’re conventional wisdom), and then three things we’ve found to work wonders.

Here’s what doesn’t seem to work, no matter how many modern psychologists claim it to do so.

  1. Timeouts. The only timeout that will work for this Aussie mum is a timeout for herself! The idea that a timeout will give a child time to rationally think through his behavior is ridiculous. Instead, the child stews, usually growing more angry.
  2. Overreactions. How to respond to disrespect? More disrespect by overreacting, hitting, yelling, etc. seldom do the trick. Even the shrink-approved timeout by grabbing the child by the arm and throwing him in the corner is overreaction. Calm responses are always the key. Note the emphasis: always. If you are calm in your reaction, you’ve accomplished half of the feat of correction.
  3. Enabling. We catch ourselves more often than not enabling our children’s rotten behavior. Classic example: the 1-year-old screaming for milk. If you give him the milk, you’ve just reinforced the screaming. It’s tough to tell from this Aussie mum’s example, but it sounds like the Lego building was somehow reinforcing the rotten behavior.

Okay, those are some ideas for you of what not to do. What about positive reinforcers? Here are a few.

  1. Prioritize the Problem. The Aussie mum’s example is a good one in prioritizing. Which is more important here? The Lego project or the disrespect? In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to focus on the Lego project. Who cares about the Legos (or the mum’s feelings): the boy’s outrage is what is crucially important. Put the Lego set down and move in for a deeper analysis of the problem. In fact, stop everything. Ignoring the problem (funny how that was her friends’ advice) is not a solution.
  2. Discover the Problem. Once you’ve got your priorities straight, you’ll be able to focus on the problem. Joshua is clearly trying to manipulate Mum. It isn’t the Legos, nor is it Mum’s hurt feelings. Put all these aside and focus on the problem: Joshua is using a disrespectful tantrum to get something. It’s tough to tell what it is in this example, but a parent asking the right question, “What does he want?” usually brings correct answers.
  3. Practice the Solution. We cover this idea in two chapters in our book, Love in the House. Whatever the desired behavior, play it out as a game. If, say, picking up the Legos is the issue, practice picking up the Legos. Seriously: “Hey Joshua, we’re going to practice picking up the Legos!” Dump out a dozen Legos, and pick them up together. It may feel weird at first, but they catch on great. Our book goes into more detail with the examples of sitting quiet in church, going to bed when told, and behaving in the supermarket.

We’ve literally had parents claim these ideas were life savers for their family. If you struggle like this Aussie mum struggles, you have got to get our book. We want your family to be filled with love and joy! Hence the title, Love in the House.

About Chris & Wendy Jeub

The Jeub Family live in Monument, Colorado. They encourage couples to love God and love one another, building an atmosphere of love in their homes.

  • Sarah L

    I’d always been against time outs for exactly the reasons you are. However, we have found them to be helpful, NOT as discipline, but as a chance to calm down before discipline would be needed. If we see one of our children (not the 11 month old, obviously, but the almost 3 year old or the 6 year old) becoming angry or upset/unsettled, we ask them to sit down for a time out. We use the “minutes per year of age” rule and that seems to allow them enough time. The 6 year old is calm and collected after his 6 minutes. The almost 3 year old usually is just distracted enough that she forgets what the problem was to begin with. When the time out is over, we give hugs and kisses, along with a reminder of what good behavior looks like, and send them back to what they were doing before. This may not work for everyone, but it has saved countless times of unnecessary discipline in our home.

    • Anonymous

      Good point, Sarah. Perhaps we are painting a broad brush by saying all timeouts are ridiculous. We should have clarified: “Time outs as punishment.” We have sent children (usually older ones) to their rooms to cool off. Younger ones to the couch to sit for a while. Follow up with hugs, kisses, etc. always follow. Time outs as punishment (or serving some sort of sentence) hardly does much good.

      • Sarah L

        Completely agree!

  • Janetkiessling

    Very good insight!!! :) We use the ‘cooling off’ time out here, too! It’ for sort of both parents & kids!! Aussie mum probably needs the your book – ๐Ÿ˜‰ I meant that in a very loving way, too – by the way!

  • tereza

    I am reading a book called “hold on to your kids. ” and the author talks about things that are finally coming to light dealing with my children’s behavior. One sentence that has captivated my thoughts in the last couple of days reads like this “Don’t focus on the behavior but on the relationship.” A lot of times as parents we are so focused on our children’s behavior that we forsake the relationship. Think the prodigal son. How did the Father act in that parable? What was more important to Him the son’s behavior or the son coming home? The relationship or the wasted fortune? The reunion or the drunkenness and other sins? I know… it’s way contrary to our common sense but that is our God. :)

  • Debi

    I so agree with your article. I worked as a waitress before I was married – and my experiences with unruly kids in public ALMOST persuaded me to forgo motherhood and skip out altogether. So glad God’s word ‘trumps’ experiential knowledge!