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My child is mean and disrespectful to me. How can I change his behavior?

April 25, 2014

By YOU Program Facilitator

A boy angrily faces the camera.

Question: When my son gets angry about something, he takes it out on me by calling me vulgar names and insulting my life choices. He does this in public and at home. How can I help him change his behavior and see how inappropriately he is behaving?

Answer: This is a very difficult situation for any parent to deal with. It can be emotionally difficult and potentially embarrassing when it happens in public. Start with these suggestions to change your son’s behavior.

  • Establish boundaries. As soon as you notice this negative behavior repeating, set limits with your child. Calmly tell him that you will not respond to that behavior and you will wait until he calms down. The sooner you establish these boundaries, the sooner your son has the opportunity to change his behavior.
  • Stay consistent. Enforce your rules regularly, especially when it comes to punishments. Your child is more likely to repeat negative behaviors if he can get away with them on occasion. Don’t give in just because he’s causing a scene—hold your ground.
  • Explain your stance. Once your son calms down, you can talk to him about why his behavior was inappropriate. Try putting it in perspective by asking him how he would feel if someone called him those names. Ask him why he was so angry. These conversations may provide insight into why he is behaving that way.

These suggestions are good places to start with your son. However, the behavior you describe could be a symptom of a bigger issue. Speak to his physician about the behavior. He or she may refer you to a child therapist who can assist your efforts with your son and determine if another diagnosis is necessary.

For more information on establishing boundaries and consistent discipline, see pages 56 and 75 in Through Elementary and Middle School, one of the books in the YOU: Your Child's First Teacher 3-book set.

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