May 30, 2007

Children "Disrespecting" Parents

Letter from a Concerned Father

Hi Mac,

I thinking of buying you DVD “Parenting with Dignity”, but I have an issue right now and I would like to get you advice if I may.

I have a 12 yrs old son that has a great talent with music especially with all kinds of drums, also, he is learning the guitar.

My son has been very disrespectful with mom and dad and we tolled him that if he continues disrespecting us we will take the guitar a way and the drums will come next.

Well he disrespect mom and we took the guitar away. Now I do not know if this is a good thing we as parents are doing. What do you think we should do and how should we resolve or approach it. We are going to talk this weekend and I would appreciate if I can get some advice so I can have a better solution to implement.

Concerned Father

An Answer from Mac

Dear Father,

You are doing a wonderful thing in seeking advice and help with raising your son! Few parents have all of the answers when their children are born! The only way to get better at anything is to seek and ask for the help you need. Your son is lucky to have you for a dad. As long as you keep asking you will find the help you so desire.

Specific Help

Now for some specific help with your problem with your son:

Define Terms

You say he is “disrespecting his mother and father”. I have no idea what that means and imagine that your son does not either. The term “disrespect” is so overused in our society today that nobody really knows what it means… but people fight over that word daily. That term can mean anything from swearing to making faces or gestures. From your letter I have no idea what you mean. I doubt that your son knows what you mean either. If you wish to communicate with your son, you must be precise. Define the terms you are using for him.

Telling a Child What They Did Wrong is NO HELP!

And now we get to the real core issue, even if your definition is precise… that definition still is of no help to your son! It does not teach him one thing about the behavior that you want him to use!

Can you tell me what you want him TO DO? You tell me what he is doing wrong in very general terms like “being disrespectful”. But you say nothing to me about what it is that you want him to do. If you cannot tell me what you want him TO DO, I doubt that your son knows what you want him TO DO! The first thing that you and your wife must do is to sit down and define precisely what you want your son to do when he speaks to either of you. If you want him to speak differently to his mother that he speaks to you then you must explain those differences. Most important, you must explain to your son WHY he should choose to do as you are instructing.

Rule number #1 in our Parenting with Dignity curriculum states that “Parents must end any criticism with a positive statement of the expected behavior.” Put in very simple terms, “you must tell your child exactly what it is that you want him TO DO, in behavioral terms that he understands!” Tell him what you want! You have not told me what it is that you want your son to do so I will have a hard time structuring your actions.

Next, can you tell me what taking the guitar or drums away from your son will teach him about respect? What do guitars and drums have to do with respect? How do you propose that taking away something that he is good at will make him good at something else? I know that is a technique that many parents employ but just look at how well it is working for them.

Taking the drums away from your son does not help him to know what behaviors you want him to use. Only you can teach him that. About all that taking the drums away form him will do is make him mad and give him reason to not respect you. As long as he has you to blame he does not have to deal with his own behavior!

Let me put it this way… you contacted me for advice about how to deal with your son’s behavior. How well would it have worked if I just wrote back to you that I was going to take away your TV until you raised him correctly? …and that was all that I said to you.

How well would that work? Not very well, right? You are looking for instruction about what TO DO to elicit the proper behavior from your son. Telling you that what you are doing is wrong and then removing privileges does not teach you what to do. Are you getting the picture? You need specific instructions about the positive actions to take… and so does your son!

What your son needs is instruction in how you wish him to speak to his mother. That instruction must include very complete and detailed descriptions of the desired tone of voice and the desired word selection. Your son needs you to explain what body language and facial expressions he should use when speaking to his parents. About the only way that you can teach facial expression is to demonstrate to him exactly what you want him to look like when he speaks to the two you parents.

You should also explain how he should make his decisions about how he treats other people in general. Your son needs instruction about how to act. He needs to know that people who act and speak respectfully are treated in a much better manner by others than people who are surly and nasty. He does not need to have you withholding things from him that he does well. Just about all that will do for you is to build resentment in your son!

Once you have explained to him how it is that you expect him to act and speak when he talks to you then you must let your actions do your teaching! Once he has demonstrated to you that he understands how you expect him to act and speak to you, you must never, ever respond to any words he uses that are not expressed in precisely the expected manner. I hate to tell you this but you have taught him to talk in the manner that he does right now! If he speaks in a rude manner to his mother and it gets your attention and gets you to react ot him, that disrespectful manner of speaking has just worked for him. He has learned precisely how to control you! He can make you jump and shout by just talking in a rude manner to his mother! E will never know what he is trying to do by his current “disrespectful” behavior but we do not need to.

You must demonstrate to your son that people who speak in that manner are not listened to in your home. Do not tell him… show him! Let your actions speak. Disrespectful comments are simply ignored by you and his mother.

Then the inute that he speaks in the desired manner, give him your undivided and cheerful attention. Let your actions do the teaching.

If your son is at the dinner table and he starts to speak in a disrespectful (whatever you define that to be) manner, get up and leave the room. If he is in the living room and he does it again, turn off the TV and leave the room. If he asks you to do something in a disrespectful manner, just ignore him. Let your actions speak for you. As long as he insists in speaking in a manner other than the one that you have explained to him, let him see that all it gets for him is that others ignore everything that he says.

Keep your anger out of the equation. Do not get angry and do not lecture. Absolutely do not try to teach him during the time that he is acting in the undesired manner. If you feel that he is not understanding what you mean, wait until some time when he is calm and you are calm and explain to him again how you want him to act. Write it down and give it to him. Have him repeat back to you what you expect of him. Keep explaining it to him until he does as you have instructed.


Anonymous said...

I'm a 13-year-old, and even I think this is a good solution

Anonymous said...

My wife found this article and we have decided to follow this with our straight-A's son. He is wonderful in all ways except for this 'disrespect' thing. He treats us like we are at his beck and call, catering to his wishes, driving him around and doing simple chores for him. In return, he thinks all he has to do is deliver an academically brilliant performance.

We will post a follow-up on how this goes. In fact, we have even forwarded the link to him (15 years old) and told him to expect this.

Anonymous said...

This is good advise. I had been trying to figure out why nothing I said, while repremanding my son, was communicating the respectful treatment I desired. This has given me a better strategy for communication.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but you are very rude. The way you talked to this Father basically was stating that he knows nothing and is stupid. Your advice is good but you need to learn to chill out and just ask nicely " what is he doing that is disrespecting you and your wife?" Not " I don't know what you mean by disrespecting and that Im not helping someone that wont even tell you the problem." Obviously when he says that the child is disrespecting it means that the child throws fits, screams at his parents, say no when they ask him to do something and so on. Before you give advice learn the terms of parenting. And i see that comments can't be posted before you approve, and that is because of comments like mine.

Mac said...

Dear Anonymous,

I am sorry that you think that I am rude; but that is your privilege. That being said, if you will read what I wrote I simply said that I sincerely doubted that his son had understood what the father had said.

one of the biggest problems that parents have when they talk to their children is that they use terms that the children do not understand. During my years of teaching I sat in on thousands of teacher conferences where the adults told the children that they were disrespectful or that they had bad attitudes. When I asked the kids if they knew what the adults were talking about most said they did not have a clue.

All that I was suggesting to this father is that he go back and attempt to describe what he wanted his son TO DO in words that the child could understand. Most children will try to do as they are asked to do if they honestly understand and also see the benefit in doing as they are asked.

You say "Obviously when he says that the child is disrespecting it means that the child throws fits, screams at his parents, say no when they ask him to do something and so on." Jumping to conclusions like that is what gets most parents, parent advisors, teachers, etc. into hot water. The father does not say that the boy throws fits, screams, or says no. YOU jumped to that conclusion. I will not make that mistake of jumping to conclusions.

However, the most important concept that you are missing in my article and my specific advice to this father is that he is not explaining to the child the specific behaviorally described behavior that he wishes that the child will use next time.

If you will read my book Parenting with Dignity or go to our website to Rule number #1 in our Parenting with Dignity curriculum (just click on the link in my original Blog) you will find our Rule number 1 states that very clearly. Then the PwD course spends the next two hours discussing with parents how they go about deciding precisely what it is that they want their children TO DO!

As for your next comment, I publish all comments made to this Blog; yours included.... unless they contain blatant spam or are profane! I doubt seriously that you would want me to publish links to hate groups and pornography without first monitoring what people are attempting to publish on this Blog.

Finally, I would like to let you know that since that very concerned father wrote to me and I gave him my heartfelt answer, we have been in contact numerous times. He is experiencing great success with his son being respectful and willingly helpful around the home. He has a very workable agreement with his son to always define all terms and when one or the other uses a term that the other does not understand, they have agreed to ask for clarification. In doing this they always communicate clearly. My advice is working for him. Sorry it does not work for you.


Mac Bledsoe

Mac said...

To the anonymous that said his wife "found this article",

Children respond to the environment that they live in. I hate to tell you this but your son is only responding to the environment that you have established for him. He is obviously a smart young man and he has figured out what works with his parents.

Teach him HOW to treat you differently and he will... especially if it works the best to get what he wants form you!


Mac Bledsoe

sharon said...

Hi, Mac!

I just returned from dropping my 6 y/0 triplets off at school - the first day after Christmas break. It was Hell trying to load them into the van, especially my little scamp who is disrespectful to me. I returned home in tears trying to figure out how to deal with this problem and nip it in the bud, since he has just developed this nasty habit. It was like a lightbulb went off in my head when you talked about not responding to his negativity and only responding when he interacted with me in a positive way. Very Pavlovian! Why didn't I think of that?!? Thanks SO MUCH for your advice!

God bless,

Sharon Carey