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5 Effective Ways To Respond To Disrespectful Teens

In the previous two articles on parenting a disrespectful teen, we examined what causes disrespectful behavior and negative attitudes in our kids and addressed what parenting strategies don’t work with them. If you haven’t yet read those articles, you can read more about the causes of disrespectful behavior HERE and the strategies that don’t work HERE

Now, it’s time to focus on what strategies DO work with our kids when dealing with their disrespect and defiance. Learning the most effective ways to respond to your child will diminish the negative behavior and bring about positive changes. These parenting techniques will also build a more trusting relationship with your tween or teen and allow you to help them develop important life skills they will need to be healthy, successful, and responsible adults.

Here are 5 effective ways to respond to disrespectful teens.

Be Curious About the Need Underneath the Disrespect

The question for parents is not so much, “How do I make you stop?” 

The more important question is, “What are you telling me right now – about what you think, what you feel, and what you need?” 

All behavior is driven by a need, and if we can look at their behavior with curiosity (And I KNOW how hard this can sometimes be!), we can discover the blind spots that can reveal the need.

Dr. Ross Greene, a clinical psychologist, has worked with children and families for over 30 years. In his book “The Explosive Child,” he shares the following:

“Challenging behaviors can be summarized in one sentence: 

“Behaviorally challenging kids are challenging because they’re lacking the skills to not be challenging.”

So when your kid acts rude, disrespectful, and defiant, your first questions to ask yourself are these:

“What might I need to understand about my kid?”

“How do I respond in ways that support and equip my tween/teen to develop the skills that they need in light of who they are and the unique needs they have?”

They may be disrespectful because…

They don’t have the skills to articulate what they need.

Here are some examples:

You fight over homework constantly:

  • They may have difficulty staying focused 
  • They don’t think yet about cause and effect
  • Or they may have a learning difference and need to be evaluated.
  • They may get easily overwhelmed. 

They may fight to go to school:  

It may be that they struggle with anxiety and lack the social skills to know how to enter groups, fit in, or connect with people.

They seek attention in inappropriate ways. 

They need positive attention and must learn to seek attention in appropriate ways. They may have difficulty understanding how their behavior is perceived or impacts others.

When you understand how lacking skills or needing attention can be the underlying reason for disrespectful attitudes and behaviors, you can take the behavior less personally and respond with greater compassion. This doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences – clear boundaries are still important. The focus should be on addressing the underlying need and teaching them better ways to communicate or cope.

Rather than focusing on the behavior, you can begin to address the need underlying the behavior and be proactive in how to best support them.

Become Aware of Your Patterns in the “Disrespect Dance”

We all have our own coping mechanisms, often learned from our families, that influence how we react to our children’s emotions. 

We often get stuck in patterns with our tweens and teens that fuel the arguing and disrespect. If we want to change things, we need to recognize our patterns of responding to our kids and how we manage and express our own emotions. 

Here’s how to break the cycle: 

Self-reflection is key. 

Take time for honest introspection. Ask yourself:

  • What are my emotional triggers? What situations or behaviors from your child typically cause you to react strongly?
  • What are my go-to responses? Do you tend to get critical, withdraw, or become overly controlling?
  • How might these responses be impacting your kid?

Identify your patterns. 

Look for recurring themes in your interactions. For example, do arguments often escalate because you both raise your voices?

Consider the needs behind your patterns. 

Perhaps your need for control stems from a fear of your child making mistakes, or maybe your critical nature stems from a desire for them to succeed.

If you’re too strict or controlling, you may need to become more tuned in to emotions, step back, listen, and validate more.

  • If you micromanage, you may need to back it off.
  • Or maybe you lack limits and want your kids to be happy and close to you, and they need limits and boundaries. 
  • If you’re a perfectionist, you may be critical and judgmental, and your kid may think, “Why even try?”

As a parent, it’s important you take a step back and evaluate your part in this repetitive dance with your kid. Ask yourself this question with honest introspection:  

“What might I be doing to fuel the disrespectful behavior, the arguments, and the disconnection with my kid?”

Reframe Anger: It’s Not the Enemy

Many of us view anger as a bad emotion. We might think that anger is one feeling to avoid at all costs. Anger might have been scary in our own childhoods, and for some, it wasn’t allowed to be expressed at all.

But anger is a critical emotion that gives us important information. Often, disrespectful behavior is misdirected anger that stems from deep hurt or sadness. 

The problem isn’t the anger itself but how we express it. Yelling, name-calling, or slamming doors are unhealthy ways to communicate anger. The issue is that many of us haven’t learned how to process our anger and talk about what is really going on and what we actually need. Learning how to communicate our needs effectively builds deeper intimacy and connection.

Anger is a signal. Anger alerts us when we need to address something that is bothering us. It can be a sign of hurt, sadness, frustration, or a need for boundaries. When kids express disrespect, anger could be bubbling over from a deeper issue.

If we are to help our kids deal with their disrespectful attitudes and behavior we need to allow them to express their anger and to get to what might be going on underneath the surface.

Ways you can help your tween or teen navigate anger:

(The ANGER ICEBERG is an AWESOME TOOL you can use with your kids! You Can Download The Anger Iceberg HERE)

How to get underneath the ICEBERG.

Be curious. 

Are they feeling anxious about something? 

Are they afraid of missing out? 

Are they overwhelmed? 

Are they needing space? 

Are they having friendship struggles? 

Are they used to getting their way? 

You don’t need to know the answer, but be curious about what might be underneath their anger.

What you can say

You might say, “You sound really upset. Can you tell me what’s going on?”

“I hear that you’re mad. I think I understand why you feel that way. Can you tell me more about it?” 

“Thank you so much for telling me how you’re feeling.”

Model dealing with anger responsibly. 

This is when we want to let our kids borrow our prefrontal cortex! (Read this post to understand more!)

When things are escalating, there are 2 ways we can deal with the behavior:

  1. Join them in the fight- active amygdalas can stir up other amygdalas!
  2. Smother the flames with some pre-frontal cortex: Stay calm and use self-control.

How do you do this?

Take a deep breath. Don’t immediately respond. Slow things down. Don’t allow them to take you off course. Hold steady. Wait for them to catch up.

You might say something like…

“I want to hear what you have to say – I can tell it’s important to you. Can you speak to me calmly?” 

It doesn’t mean accepting disrespect or agreeing to whatever they want. It means being the one to gently lead them out of the mess and into a space that’s calm, loving, and clear of noise. 

**In order to help our kids learn how to express their emotions responsibly, we must listen to what they are saying even if they aren’t saying it the way we’d like them to.**

Instead, when they’re upset, use reflective listening with empathy and validate their feelings:

  • “It sounds like you’re feeling angry at me.”
  • “I know you don’t like it when I take your cell phone at night, and if I were you, I’m sure I wouldn’t like it either.”

Guide them in clearly communicating their feelings, wants, and needs.

Here are some things you might say:

“What’s happening right now?”

“Can you tell me calmly what’s going on?”

“What is it you want me to understand?”

When you give space to your tween or teen’s anger over time, they often will get to the bottom of what is really going on.

Emotions are essential to effective communication.

When you do this, you are modeling to your tween or teen, which will help them to develop empathy and identify and manage their emotions. This is ongoing for both us and our kids.

Remember, they need outlets to express their emotions appropriately (and we do, too)

  • If your child is sad, allow them to cry until they’re done (this may come in waves). 
  • If they’re angry, allow them to express their anger by using words, jumping, squeezing a pillow, or in another non-destructive way.
  • I know parents who have a punching bag in the basement. We have a wiffle bat.

Be open to trying different things. But avoid shutting them down.

Deal with Disrespect Responsibly By Having Healthy Rules and Limits

Identify the challenging behavior.  First, answer these questions:

  • Where do you need to address challenging behaviors and attitudes and problem-solve before the “next time” arises?
  • What can you let go of? What needs to be addressed?
  • Is this a relationship issue?

Respect Yourself by Setting Boundaries

  • Give a clear message about what behavior is not OK—“I won’t engage when you’re yelling, disrespectful, or name-calling.” 
  • “When you calm down, we can talk about it, and I’m open to hearing your perspective.”
  • Tell them there will be consequences for specific behaviors: “When you start speaking disrespectfully to me, we will leave the mall.” 

Pick a good time to sit down and discuss what’s happening and the issue you’d like to address. 

Here are the essential components you want to consider during this conversation with your kid.

  • Talk about what you’re noticing is becoming an issue. 
  • Listen to what they have to say. 
  • Help them get in touch with what they want. When we are entangled in critical, blaming, or angry thoughts, it is difficult to establish a healthy internal environment for ourselves.
  • Share your thoughts and avoid being defensive or reactive and what you want. 
  • Let your child have their say. Be open to hearing your child’s point of view. It’s always best to give our kids a chance to be heard and understood. 
  • When they’re done, you can talk.
  • Be open about your feelings. This can help your child to understand why you want him to do or not to do something. For example, you might say, “I feel worried about your safety when I don’t know where you are.”
  • Keep it simple. Less is more.
  • Explain your view simply and briefly, making it clear that your main concern is for your child’s well-being.

I know this is a ton of information for you to process and implement when you are confronted with disrespect and defiance. I don’t want you to feel overwhelmed, so make these changes one step at a time. Come back to read these effective ways to respond to disrespectful teens as much as you need, to refresh yourself and remember, none of us are perfect! We are all learning and growing as parents, and you are going in the right direction because you love your kids and want the best for them. 

This season of parenting is HARD for us all, so don’t ever feel like you’re alone. The progress we are all working on takes time and a lot of hard work. So make sure you take care of YOU and be patient with yourself in this process. Because you are reading this, I want you to know that you are doing an AMAZING job and want to learn, grow, and support your kid well. They are blessed to have you.


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