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What to Do About Disrespectful Kids

Tips on how to handle disrespectful kids.

Tips on how to handle disrespectful kids.

One of the most difficult typical issues (not heart defects, FASD or hearing loss) we have dealt with in our parenting has been disrespect in the early teen and tween years. Our sweet, polite (even compliant) children suddenly become completely unpredictable. Much like Good Cop in the LEGO Movie, our children go from sweet and thoughtful to yelling, stomping and crying with seemingly little or no provocation.

And then they switch back to a sweet child who needs reassurance.

Dealing with this behavior is hard. (Probably mostly because I was such a smart alec as a teen and know full-well I deserve this.)

This disrespectful behavior seems to creep into our family around age ten. By eleven we are dealing with full-blown snark and sarcasm. (Seriously, where do the kids get this stuff?) I’d love to blame it on public school, but my homeschoolers have gone through it just as bad.

What we have tried:

Removing priveledges

Early bedtime

Extra jobs

What has worked:





No, that’s not a typo. The reality is nothing has been particularly helpful (more on that in a moment).

I want to to make one distinction here, I am talking about tweens and young teens, not preschoolers or kids under ten or so. With younger children, we attempt to nip any rude or disrespectful behavior in the bud. This is part of teaching children what is appropriate and what is acceptable.  What I am referring to is the arguing and disrespect that comes as children grow and mature. This sudden disrespectful behavior in our home has been accompanied by moods swings, tears, and limit-testing. Basically, it is arriving with the onset of puberty.

Since we have raised five children from birth to adulthood so far, this isn’t our first rodeo and I am beginning to see a pattern. In our experience, the storm eventually passes. We have always been on the stricter side of parenting, firm believers in routine, bedtimes, and rewards and punishments. What we have observed is, every single one of our children goes through this phase, and so far every single one of them has outgrown it. By the time our adult children were fourteen or fifteen, these outbursts were gone. We didn’t always agree on things, but the eye-rolling, foot-stomping and door-slamming disappeared and we had our respectful kids back.

The most helpful thing we’ve found so far is to allow them to grow up, let their hormones settle down and focus on our relationship in the meantime.

My new method? Love my children.

That’s right I am:

Focusing more on loving my children and less on controlling their behavior. 

Building them up and having more positive interactions during the good times.

I am giving more hugs, saying I love you more.

I am making sure I send the message that my love is not dependent on their behavior.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not ignoring the behavior. If a child is rude to me, I call them on it (gently). If they are obnoxious, I may very well give them a small job to do or remove a privilege. What has happened is, I have changed my attitude. I am aware that their hormones are raging out of control (think of how you feel with PMS) and their bodies are changing fast in ways that are often confusing. They are simply irrational, inconsistent creatures at this age.  Most of the time I remind myself of an important parenting truth: we don’t negotiate with terrorists.*

In the meantime, I give extra hugs. Extra love. I let the child know I love them. We keep our rules and boundaries the same.

This time around I know we have laid a solid foundation and taught them about appropriate actions and behavior. This time around I am confident my children will return to rational behavior as soon as their bodies and minds stop growing at such a rapid pace. In the meantime, I am drinking gallons of coffee and taking many, many deep, calming breaths.

We don't negotiate with unicorns


* Turns out my children were offended by this. Now we say, “We don’t negotiate with unicorns”.

In fact, I designed and wear a shirt that says just that. I wore it to a disciplinary meeting with my children’s school principal. He found it both amusing and accurate. In fact, according to my child, he even quoted me on it later. You can buy your own “We don’t negotiate with unicorns” shirt (or coffee mug, notebook, etc) in my Redbubble shop

Your welcome.


  1. Katie

    I love this!! This anchors the kids with confidence that you will always be there and you love them. I am watching for tips on how to love teens through that rocky time in their life! I went to a conference on parents being the primary spiritual influence in the life of children. They modeled how to bless your kids with God’s word. You touch their shoulders and look them in the eye saying “You, (name) are special. You are created by God! Your mother and father love you very much! May you have peace, hope, and joy today!” (Or pray a scripture over them. ) The moms started texting blessings to their teens and it was powerful!

    • Renee

      I love the idea of the mom texting her teens (though mine don’t text). I think of showing the stability of God’s love…thankfully He doesn’t reject me when I am truly awful…

  2. One More Than Six

    I totally agree. Sometimes as Moms we can get so frustrated by our child’s behavior that we forget to love them despite of it. Great post! I actually wrote something similar to this last week ( from a Mom’s perspective on their troublemaker kid. At the end of the day, we just have to love them harder and pray over them often!!

    • Renee

      Thanks for sharing your post! It was very encouraging to me and I am glad to know that I am not alone in this struggle.

  3. Melpub

    This is great–also one has to gear up and remember to love the kid when he or she is really being awful. I just this minute, trying to finish writing this, yelled at my impossible daughter. Who, is, most of the time, sweet. But I like How To Talk So Teens Will Listen And LIsten So Teens Will Talk.

    • Renee

      Yes…and I think the mood swings are what clued me into it being normal, not a sign of teen rebellion and future jail time. Their hormones and bodies really are out of control!

      • Rosie

        Ah, yes, future jail time. May have crossed my mind once or twice, as well. My husband has asked me more than once, “think he is bipolar?” Nope, just plain old hormones and growing up. Can’t blame adhd or trauma or LD this time. 😀

  4. Michele @ Family, Faith and Fridays

    Struggling with this with our 9 year old. After three pretty compliant kiddos you would think I would have figured it out. NOPE! Every child is different, right?

  5. Renee

    Yes, every child is different…we parents need to band together in the trenches and support one another. Also, our kids are not this way to others…this is behavior taking place in our house, not with teachers, grandparents, etc.

  6. Mominator

    I always counsel moms with kids this age about a little know medical condition called RCI- rectal, cranium inversion. Their heads are so far up their backsides all they see is themselves;-)

    While I’m joking it’s kind of true. From a physiological standpoint, a tween, early teenager’s brain is developing faster than any other time in their life except for the 1st year of life. That’s a lot of changing going on with the addition of hormones.It’s understandable that a tween or teen would be a little self focused. There’s a bunch going on! The good news is that while it makes for some super tense family times, it’s a super important developmental step towards adulthood. They go from a black and white, face value type of thinking to a more analytical evaluation. They see the inconsistencies of life that they missed before. Sometimes the frustration, fear of rejection, being overwhelmed at raging physical changes and confusion with social expectations comes out in anger and depression. The great thing is that while trying for all involved it has been my experience that this is a time of great spiritual awakening as well. Kids really start to understand in a deep, mature way our need for a Savior.

    I’ve also seen that at times of great, emotional upheaval that extravagant love is the only things that helps. Thank you for writing such a great example of how to love tweens/teens with this love.

  7. Nana Jo

    This is such a powerful and insightful piece of writing. I went through the same thing with my three children (now in their thirties and all happy, compassionate, successful adults with their own families). They were all different in the intensity and length of their struggles while learning to navigate a world where the values often conflicted with the ones we were trying to instill.

    I agree with you. I came to learn to let go of trying to control every aspect of their lives and behavior. I learned to validate their feelings in a loving way even though the most important rules didn’t essentially change. I learned to be more tolerant of individuality and opinions. I learned to be a more flexible, loving person …and in all this my husband and I were a team.

    I know now that all the groundwork you put in when kids are small …every ounce of blood, sweat and tears …of love and prayer ….of developing your family values and ethics ….are always there in the core of who they are as they grow and struggle. Even when it seems like you have failed at times, the essence, the underlying structure, the core bonds of connection and belief are still there, and in time, will become evident once more.

    And one more thing ….humour …something I can tell you have in abundance ….is a powerful tool, too!

  8. Crystal in Lynden

    YES, thank you for reassuring me this is a phase! I just got one through 11-13 and I have another one starting up.
    Thank you for addressing this issue with reason and grace. Seriously, I was not happy about jumping back into this phase with my 11 year old. It really comes out in homeschooling. Really ruins the homeschool vibe around the house.
    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

    • Renee

      You are welcome! I am only surviving many days by reminding myself that we have been through this before…

  9. Peg

    As a mother of (only) five children, now all grown, we had our share of rolling eyes, stamping of feet and slamming of doors. What saved us sometimes was when we would be where other adults were and someone would almost always come up and tell us how wonderful (name of child) was. I figured if they were behaving out in public, we doing O.K.

  10. Julie

    Amen. I really appreciate the perspective that while you don’t ignore disrespectful behavior, you can just ride it out a bit. I remember someone comparing family life to river rafting, and the adolescent years were the rapids. It’s all exciting and swirly and a bit out of control… and that’s when you just KEEP EVERYONE IN THE BOAT. Do the fine tuning in the calmer stretches of water 😀

  11. Mom x 8

    Thank you for this! I just thought my 10 year old hated me, but then she’d turn sweet again… I have two older girls, but they were much more passively aggressive…

  12. Anna

    I use that same phrase…. I won’t negotiate with terrorists. And I’m so with you. Preserve the relationship. Feed them, give them a nap, and give them grace to grow.

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