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10 Tips On How to Deal With a Defiant and Disrespectful Child

Defiant and disrespectful behavior in children often stems from their underdeveloped emotional regulation and problem-solving skills. This conduct also indicates a weak bond between parent and child. Knowing the causes and intentions of the behavior can help parents teach children respect.

How to deal with a defiant and disrespectful child

Here are 10 tips on handling a defiant and disrespectful child.

1. Identify your goal

Different parents have different objectives. Many parents’ primary goal is to address and stop disrespectful behavior. In that case, setting firm boundaries by making it clear that the behavior is unacceptable and giving a negative consequence to deter future occurrence is a common practice. This approach is recommended by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Although this method provides immediate behavior correction, it is not recommended because it does not address the underlying root cause. 

However, if the child’s defiant behavior is putting themselves or others in immediate danger, parents should take steps to stop the activity right away.

On the other hand, if your goal extends to nurturing long-term character development in your child, then the first step is to stay calm, not get upset, and continue to the next steps. 

The strategy here emphasizes developing your child’s emotional regulation, empathy, and conflict-resolution skills. While it may not yield immediate results in curbing defiant and disrespectful behavior, it can effectively address these issues over the long term.

defiant disrespectful girl yelling

2. Acknowledge and find out your child’s intention

Children often don’t intend to be defiant or disrespectful. Their actions might stem from emotions or desires. They might think, “I’m shouting because I’m upset you took my iPad away,” or “I’m resisting because I want to do this, even though you disagree.”

To discern if your child’s actions are deliberately disrespectful, acknowledge their feelings, describe the effects of their words, and ask them about their intention.

“I get that you’re upset. What you said was hurtful and disrespectful. Was that your intention, or did it come out differently than you meant?”

3. Understand the underlying reason

After knowing the intention, find out why by asking probing questions.

“Are you angry because you just wanted a little snack before dinner? You were starving, but I didn’t let you, right?”

Or, “Are you angry because I always ignore what you need?”

Or, “Are you being rude because you felt hurt that I took your iPad away?”

Children act disrespectfully for various reasons. Different reasons need different solutions. 

For instance, if a child acts out due to anger or frustration, they must learn emotional regulation, healthier emotional expressions, and negotiation skills. If a child’s behavior is aimed at hurting you, examine the dynamics of your relationship.

Asking children directly aids in teaching them to express their emotions and difficulties more constructively. A study from 2012 indicates that enhanced communication abilities can assist children in learning how to regulate their emotions.​1​

4. Own your part of the problem

Intentionally disrespectful behavior often stems from interactions on both sides. In any relationship, including that between parent and child, both parties play a role in shaping the dynamic. Reflect on your contributions to the current situation.

Consider the difference between traditional ‘parent logic’ and more relational ‘people logic.’

Parent logic might dictate: “I can raise my voice or be stern with you, but you must always show me respect.” On the other hand, people logic is based on mutual respect and communication: “I aim to foster a positive relationship with you. I’ll communicate calmly and won’t resort to punishment hastily. If limits are crossed, we’ll discuss it and seek solutions together. Restrictions, if necessary, will be a last resort after collaborative problem-solving.”

This perspective shift recognizes that children, like all people, respond better to respect and understanding. Reflect on which approach you’ve been using and how it might be influencing your relationship with your child. Sometimes, reassessing and adjusting our approach can make a significant difference in resolving conflicts and nurturing a healthier, more respectful relationship.

5. Teach emotional regulation

Some children show rude behavior not out of defiance but due to their innate inability to regulate emotions effectively. Emotional regulation is not a born skill; it must be learned and developed over time with parental guidance.

You can teach children how to regulate through a process called co-regulation. In co-regulation, you first recognize your child’s emotions and teach your child to name them. Guide your child in calming down by using techniques like deep breathing. Help your child learn by empathizing with and reflecting on their intense emotions.

6. Work on your own emotional regulation

You must be calm to help your child deal with problems without resorting to rude remarks. If you are very upset when your child seems defiant and disrespectful, understand the root of these intense reactions. 

Ask yourself why this behavior is so triggering for you. Could it be linked to your own experiences as a child, where you perhaps didn’t receive the same level of respect and patience that you strive to offer now? 

Reflecting on these questions can help you address your emotional responses and create a more understanding and empathetic environment for your child. 

Emotions are contagious.​2​

You set a positive example of emotional regulation and foster a supportive space for dealing with challenges.

7. Teach respectful emotional expression

When all the dust has settled, and everyone is calm, you can work on teaching them the correct behavior.

We can teach children appropriate ways to express their emotions instead of only telling them what behavior we find unacceptable. Those who use acceptance as a coping mechanism have a better tolerance for emotional distress​6​.

Come up with several ways they can use the next time they encounter such issues.

For instance, “Let me give you an example of what some children would do in this situation…” 

Then practice! Ask them to practice by saying it out loud to help them commit it to memory.

8. Teach problem-solving and be open to negotiation

Encourage your child to think critically to tackle the issue when there is a disagreement. That means you must be open to negotiation rather than insisting on “parent logic.”  The “my way or the highway” approach will not help children become respectful.

By allowing room for negotiation, you teach children valuable conflict-resolution skills. It also teaches children the importance of compromise and taking perspectives.

9. Catch them being good

Catching kids being good can motivate respectful behavior and reduce behavioral issues. Reward positive efforts using positive reinforcement.

Be observant and find opportunities throughout the day to give your child positive attention. Praise them when it happens.

For example, “Thank you for waiting for dinner patiently,” or “I appreciate you being so polite when asking me to make you a sandwich.”

Remind your child to use coping techniques they have learned when you see signs of disrespect or anger.

10. Be Patient

Be patient with your child because, like any new skill, controlling one’s temper takes time and practice.

Good discipline involves using reasoning and creating an environment of calm and respect.

Bad discipline uses harsh punishment, ridicule, and verbal attacks on the child.

To raise a respectful and conscientious person, they must develop respect for others and themselves. When we genuinely show care, kindness, and respect to our children, they will eventually learn how to treat others right.

What causes a child to be disrespectful?

Lack of emotional intelligence and emotional regulation cause a child to be disrespectful. Young children, in particular, are still learning the concept of respect. Their natural bluntness and lack of social niceties, which adults often interpret as disrespect, are simply due to their limited understanding.

As children grow older, some still exhibit disrespectful behavior due to insufficient regulating skills. When faced with anger and frustration, these children do not have the skills to manage their feelings effectively. Their immediate response is to verbally attack the person they perceive as the source of their discomfort. 

How to teach a child respect

To teach a child respect, call out and explain when the child shows disrespectful behavior. Teach the child alternative ways to express their feelings and meet their needs. Co-regulate with the child to help them develop self-regulation techniques. Finally, model respectful behavior by the child with mutual respect.

What are the consequences for a disrespectful child?

The natural reactions of parental disapproval work best in disciplining a disrespectful child. A 2012 study published in the Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review showed that negative non-verbal responses showing disapproval, such as a stern stare and crossed arms, effectively stopped undesired behavior.​3​ This natural consequence is likely to work if the parent has a good relationship with their child.

How to deal with disrespectful adult children?

To deal with disrespectful adult children, here are 5 tips.

  1. Take a deep breath: Avoid being triggered or reactive. Otherwise, it will escalate into a shouting match.
  2. Call out their disrespectful behavior: Name the specific behavior respectfully and articulate how it makes you feel. 
  3. Discuss the issue: Calmly ask for their perspectives and reasons for being disrespectful.
  4. Self-reflect: Reflect on your behavior and your treatment of your child to determine if you have treated your child with respect and taught your child the importance of it.
  5. Make amends or stop contact:  If, upon reflection, you realize that your past behavior towards your child lacked respect, offer a sincere apology. Conversely, if you have consistently treated your child with respect and care, yet they continue to show disrespectful behavior, it may be necessary to establish firm boundaries and limit contact for the sake of your own mental well-being.

How to deal with someone’s rude child

To deal with someone’s rude child, set an example, and positively influence their behavior by responding with kindness and respect. A rude child may lack positive role models in their life. Demonstrate how to interact respectfully, using polite language, and showing empathy.


  1. 1.
    Roben CKP, Cole PM, Armstrong LM. Longitudinal Relations Among Language Skills, Anger Expression, and Regulatory Strategies in Early Childhood. Child Development. Published online December 20, 2012:891-905. doi:10.1111/cdev.12027
  2. 2.
    Hatfield E, Cacioppo JT, Rapson RL. Emotional Contagion. Curr Dir Psychol Sci. Published online June 1993:96-100. doi:10.1111/1467-8721.ep10770953
  3. 3.
    Owen DJ, Slep AMS, Heyman RE. The Effect of Praise, Positive Nonverbal Response, Reprimand, and Negative Nonverbal Response on Child Compliance: A Systematic Review. Clin Child Fam Psychol Rev. Published online August 24, 2012:364-385. doi:10.1007/s10567-012-0120-0


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