Why is my child angry and disrespectful?
There are two parts to this question – “why is your child angry” and “why is your child disrespectful”.
The second question is easier to answer than the first.
Anger can impact judgment and the perception of who is responsible for the negative events. When a child is angry, there is a sense of certainty that you are in the wrong1 and that perception makes it hard for them to show respect.
In addition, children’s emotional regulating skills are still under development. So it is very difficult for an angry child to act respectfully.
Adults can find handling their children’s anger puzzling, draining, and stressful.
When we were kids, we were taught that being angry was bad, and we were often punished or yelled at for expressing anger.
We were never taught how to deal with or express our anger properly. As a result, we often get angry ourselves when we are confronted with a child’s anger.
On top of that, the disrespect shown by kids at times like this makes it even more difficult for us to control our own emotions.
Now that we know where the disrespect comes from, let’s find out how we can deal with the angry child behavior using a science-based approach.
How to deal with an angry, disrespectful child
1. Do not become angry
Disrespectful child behavior may trigger your own anger.
You may feel like punishing your child or yelling, “How dare you talk to me that way!”
Using disrespectful responses to teach respect rarely works. Rude adults can escalate matters just as well as rude kids can.
You need to be a good role model. Show kids how to stay composed and respectful even in a distressful situation.
When a child is angry, he or she is experiencing big emotions. If you become angry at being disrespected, you ignore the feelings of your child while demanding that they attend to yours.
Children who can’t control their anger need our help to do so. Focus on that rather than our own anger. Doing what’s best for our children is part of good parenting. Putting our own interests ahead of the kids’ is not.
If you cannot stay calm in difficult situations like this, how can you expect a child with a developing brain and less emotional regulation skills to do so?
Also, emotions are contagious2. Your anger will fuel your child’s anger.
So, first and foremost, stay calm.
Parents play crucial roles in teaching their kids how to cope with challenges.
Take a slow, deep, and mindful breath if you have trouble maintaining calm. Clear your mind and focus on helping your child learn to deal with their anger first.
You can always come back and teach them about respect when the storm has passed and everyone is calm.
2. Make sure everyone is safe
In the event of extreme anger, out-of-control children may end up hurting others or themselves.
If your child is showing physical aggression, make sure they are in a safe area and others, especially other kids, are kept at a distance.
If your child is throwing things or hitting others, you will need to get physical control of them, for their safety as well as others.
Simply hug them tight and say, “I’m sorry. You probably don’t want a hug right now, but I need to keep you and other people safe and help you calm down. Now let’s work on it together. Take a slow, deep breath…”
3. Do not punish
To discipline a child is to teach. It is unnecessary to punish a child to achieve that, nor is it an effective way.
Punishment does not teach your child how to control their anger, and it creates a rupture in your parent-child relationship. It can only make things worse.
Physical punishment like spanking is especially harmful to a child’s development.
Spanking is not only proven to be ineffective at improving a child’s behavior, but it is also linked to 13 adverse outcomes, including aggression, mental health problems, impaired cognitive ability, and substance abuse3.
Some parents insist that punishment is necessary to teach kids about the consequences when a child is defiant and disrespectful.
There are mountains of research studies proving that teaching works better than punishing when disciplining kids4.
If a parent knows about this but is still adamant about using punishment, there may be deeper issues. Are they really punishing to teach or to pay back for the anger the child has caused?
4. Acknowledge your child’s anger
Acknowledging your child’s anger means recognizing that your child has feelings, even if it’s one you don’t like. It is also about letting your child accept their own feelings.
Research shows that validating emotions is a better coping strategy than trying to suppress them5. Those who use acceptance as a coping mechanism have a better tolerance for emotional distress6.
To acknowledge your child’s anger, you can simply describe their feelings. “You are feeling very angry. It’s like I don’t care about your feelings.”
When acknowledging, one common mistake is to judge it or try to change it afterward. For instance, “You are feeling furious. It’s like I don’t care about your feelings, but that’s not true because… “
“But” is horrible.
Don’t add a “But…”.
Feelings are neither right nor wrong. If you try to change them or defend yourself, it’s still about you and you’re not respecting their feelings.
Oftentimes, children are angry not because they don’t get what they want, but because they don’t feel heard. By making it about what you think, you are not really acknowledging their feelings.
So, simply describe how they feel and leave it at that.
5. Ask questions to understand the source of anger
Find out the cause of anger issues in your child.
Sometimes, it’s a little thing that doesn’t go as planned. Sometimes, it is long-term pent-up anger caused by a strained parent-child relationship. Ask probing questions calmly to determine the cause.
“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?”
When you ask questions, you teach your child to name and describe what they are experiencing so that they learn how to tell you instead of using rude and disrespectful behavior or making snide comments to get their point across.
Children can improve their emotional regulation by learning communication skills7. They will also learn an acceptable way to express their feelings and be heard.
There are other reasons why a child is angry. They may be using anger to avoid painful emotions such as feelings of failure, low self-esteem, loneliness, or anxiety. You can only find out by asking.
Continue probing gently to learn why they are so upset.
6. Offer help
Help them find an alternative solution if the anger stems from an unmet need.
If your kid is angry that they can’t have candy before dinner when they are hungry, suggest munching on crackers while they wait.
As much as possible, let your child choose. Of course, make sure the options are the ones you will allow when your child chooses either.
Anger that stems from a strained relationship between you and your child may need more work.
Offer to talk more with them and learn to listen to their needs rather than rejecting them outright. Work on repairing and building a healthy parent-child relationship.
Help your kid develop a secure attachment by being a responsive parent.
Securely attached kids are better at regulating negative emotions8 and generally have better outcomes in life.
7. Teach emotional regulation skills
Offer to help your child by teaching them how to regulate their emotions.
Experiencing anger hurts, but when a person is experiencing intense emotions, letting go is difficult. Teach your child how to cope before it happens again.
Taking a deep, slow breath or counting backward from 10 is the easiest and most effective.
Talking about how they feel instead of exploding in outbursts is another viable way to deal with their anger.
Helping a child learn self-regulation will prevent them from becoming angry teenagers down the road.
8. Teach how to express objections respectfully
When all the dust has settled and everyone is calm, you can work on teaching them the correct behavior.
We cannot merely tell children what behavior we find unacceptable. We must also teach them appropriate ways to express their objection.
Come up with several ways they can use the next time they encounter such issues.
“Let me give you an example of what some children would do in this situation…”
Then practice! Simply saying, ‘Next time do this, not that” is not enough.
Ask them to practice by saying it out loud to help them commit it to memory.
9. Catch them being good
One of the best ways to motivate respectful behavior and reduce behavioral issues is to catch kids being good.
Reward positive efforts using positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement, when done right, is a very powerful disciplinary tool that can help stop bad behavior in children.
Be observant and you will find many opportunities throughout the day to give your child positive attention.
Praise them when it happens, “Thank you for waiting for dinner patiently. After soccer practice, you must be hungry”, or “I appreciate you being so polite when asking me to make you a sandwich.”
In addition, remind them to use the coping techniques they have learned when you see signs of disrespect or anger.
10. Be Patient
Be patient with your child. 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 need to develop not only respect for others but also respect for themselves.
It may take years of patient practice, but when we genuinely show care, kindness, and respect, they will eventually learn how to treat others right.
For more on how to teach kids respect, check out this article: What Is Respect – 6 Highly Effective Ways To Teach Kids Respect
Final Thoughts On Angry Disrespectful Kids
Being able to recognize one’s emotions and regulate them properly is a learned skill that children are not born with.
Having a child who shows disrespectful behavior doesn’t automatically mean you are a bad parent.
Being an effective parent also doesn’t mean having perfect children.
It means you are doing the best you can to connect with them and help your child grow into a healthy, well-adjusted, and thriving person.
Also See: Parenting
- 1.Lerner JS, Keltner D. Beyond valence: Toward a model of emotion-specific influences on judgement and choice. Cognition & Emotion. Published online July 2000:473-493. doi:10.1080/026999300402763
- 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.Gershoff ET, Grogan-Kaylor A. Spanking and child outcomes: Old controversies and new meta-analyses. Journal of Family Psychology. Published online 2016:453-469. doi:10.1037/fam0000191
- 4.Krevans J, Gibbs JC. Parents’ Use of Inductive Discipline: Relations to Children’s Empathy and Prosocial Behavior. Child Development. Published online December 1996:3263. doi:10.2307/1131778
- 5.Alberts HJEM, Schneider F, Martijn C. Dealing efficiently with emotions: Acceptance-based coping with negative emotions requires fewer resources than suppression. Cognition & Emotion. Published online August 2012:863-870. doi:10.1080/02699931.2011.625402
- 6.Hofmann SG, Heering S, Sawyer AT, Asnaani A. How to handle anxiety: The effects of reappraisal, acceptance, and suppression strategies on anxious arousal. Behaviour Research and Therapy. Published online May 2009:389-394. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2009.02.010
- 7.Roben CKP, Cole PM, Armstrong LM. Longitudinal Relations Among Language Skills, Anger Expression, and Regulatory Strategies in Early Childhood. Child Dev. Published online December 20, 2012:891-905. doi:10.1111/cdev.12027
- 8.Brumariu LE. Parent-Child Attachment and Emotion Regulation. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development. Published online June 2015:31-45. doi:10.1002/cad.20098