Here is a sneak peak at my upcoming column in the March/April issue of Southern Families Magazine. I don’t know how much editing the column will undergo for publication, but here is my original, based on a question submitted from a parent through the Parenting 101 page on WAFB’s website. Thanks to this mom for allowing me to share the basics of her situation and my response, so others can learn how to better address a very common parenting challenge.
“I have a very “outgoing” 5 year old in Kindergarten. She is aware of the rules at school, and does her work with excellent marks. The problem is she won’t stop talking in class, and sometimes sasses the teacher when she tries to correct her. I really just need help in the respect area of authority it seems.”
First of all, believe me – you are not alone! The bad news is you are raising your daughter in a culture that largely tolerates behavior you and her teachers recognize to be disrespectful. The good news is you have already recognized it while she is only 5 years old. You can now steer her to the right path for a lifetime of respectfulness – which will almost certainly bring her greater peace, enjoyment, and success along the way.
The first key to putting an end to your daughter’s sassy ways is communicating with authority that you will no longer tolerate disrespect from her. From now on you will expect her to be respectful to all adults and authorities in her life. There is a huge difference between wishing she will change and expecting her to be respectful. Expecting her to be respectful means speaking to her (and even looking at her) with a clear, consistent message that you are in charge – not her, and that you WILL NOT TOLERATE disrespect from her. It also means truly believing she will respond correctly now, not skeptically hoping she might change some day.
You may be surprised how dramatically she responds to your newfound authority, but this will likely not provide the total solution. You will have to back up your authority with swift consequences that provide the painful lessons she needs to mend her ways. I recommend asking her teacher for regular feedback before you begin this plan, explaining to the teacher your resolve to correct your child’s disrespectful habits. This will help ensure she is not simply changing at home, while getting away with disrespect elsewhere. Don’t ask for much time from her teacher, just a simple statement of her behavior and attitude for the day/week. As to the specifics of the consequences, there is no set formula for the perfect consequence. The most effective forms of correction vary by children’s personalities and experiences. Just be sure you:
1. Choose something you believe will really cause her to feel a reasonable measure of “suffering.” I don’t mean harm, but leaving her feeling she has lost or endured something enough to make a real impression on her. It could be missing playtime with friends, losing a favorite toy for a day or two, losing screen time (TV, computer, etc.) for a day, or anything else that will really dethrone your little princess and put her back in her rightful place.
2. Enforce the consequence you have chosen. If you allow yourself to “give in,” all bets are off and she will certainly continue in her misbehavior.
3. Be ready to increase the painful consequences if she argues with you, defies you, or flippantly dismisses you.
4. For best results, don’t simply enforce your plan of correction in the really “big” situations. She needs a consistent message that respect is the norm, and even “minor” disrespect is no longer tolerated. Smaller situations call for smaller consequences, but still should be addressed consistently. For example, I recently took my four year old out to lunch and decided to treat us both to a cookie. One cookie at this restaurant is big enough to split, and I chose a sugar cookie, knowing his favorite is chocolate chip. When offered the cookie, he began to whine and fuss that it wasn’t chocolate. It wasn’t really a big problem, but I did not like his disrespectful, ungrateful tone, and I certainly didn’t want to give in to his demand and put him in charge. I calmly told him this was the only cookie I was buying, and if he calmed down and spoke respectfully, he could have some – otherwise he would get no cookie. He calmed down in a few seconds, enjoyed half the cookie, and thanked me for it.
For more on correcting disrespectful behavior, I recommend reading “ScreamFree Parenting” by Hal Edward Runkel and any of John Rosemond’s excellent books on parenting. I am currently reading Rosemond’s recently released “Parenting By The Book.” It is fantastic, particularly for parents of a Christian faith. I have recently begun writing my first book, and hope to have it published early next year. You will also find more helpful suggestions in my recent post, “Responsible Children” on www.hopeforyourfamily.com.