We love our kids and we know they have good and bad days. What we have to do for them on these bad days is give them guidance and keep the boundaries constant.
Rudeness in children should be addressed with reason, immediacy, and steadfast consistency. They act out to test the boundaries you have set in order to see if you will push back. If you don’t they can loose the sense that someone cares about what they do, which may have negative physical and psychological outcomes.
This may seem to some like riding the child and not letting them explore the boundaries. Yet, this is not the case. The boundaries you have put in place have to be held fast in order for children to feel secure enough to settle into their role. They don’t want you changing the rules on them when they have their guard down. They want strong delineations of acceptable and unacceptable behavior and feel uneasy if they are not found.
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Take Immediate Action
As a martial arts instructor of children and a father of four, I deal with everything from impulse control issues to rudeness when a child feels unsure about his or her own safety or surroundings. When incidents occur, I have to address it in the moment so that the limits of acceptable actions are upheld for the child.
Once in a class, a 4 year old little boy had a foam piece of blocking equipment in his hand. He decided that it had spontaneously transformed into a light saber and began to swing it at a nearby storm trooper (a 4 year old little girl, who was not amused) sound effects and all.
Within half a swing I took the foam stick from his hand leaving him gaping and frustrated. He obviously almost had that villain of the Empire handled. I continued with the lesson as if nothing had occurred and after a few minutes returned the blocker to him. He immediately began to swing it again, and I snatched it a second time.
The next time I handed him the blocker, he returned to his place in line and happily joined in with the rest of the group. No words were needed, just immediacy and consistency. If I would have waited until he had 3 chances and 3 ignored ‘talking to’ sessions, the little girl would have been in tears and the boy would have learned nothing.
In an article on the American Psychological Association’s website apa.org, psychologists doing research on rudeness in the workplace found negative health and psychological effects directly related to incivility. It is something that can affect the person being uncivil as well as the target.
The results from this set of studies concludes that these negative effects can be eliminated and incivility reduced by proper setting of expectations and boundaries. The important thing to note here for a parent is if rudeness goes on unchecked, it can gradually deteriorate the psychological and physical health of the child and others around them.
This is another reason this must be checked in its first stages of outward occurrence. If left unchecked the behaviors will become more extreme and ingrained in the child’s mind. The long term effects demand that incivility in children be dealt with by parents at a young age so that it won’t become a much larger and costly problem in the future.
Because children of most ages have shorter attention spans and are more easily distracted, they tend to think along those patterns. This is intensified when they don’t want to listen to or do something. If you are explaining something about their behavior it is highly likely that they are not listening and just waiting for you to stop talking.
While you are talking they feel as if the action is going unpunished. Talking to them, even sternly is not actually a consequence and it shouldn’t be used as one. Just like writing out their ABC’s as a consequence enforces dislike for writing as a pleasurable activity, lecturing them can do the same for having a conversation with you.
We want our kids to enjoy talking with us and lectures and raised voices change what should be comforting and reassuring to uneasy and awkward. Talking to explain what happened should be after the fact once the consequences have been handed down and the situation is coming to a close. They can get an explanation if you as the parent choose. It should just come after the rude behavior has been dealt with.
Giving chances or warnings is even more problematic in the same way. If a consequence does not follow immediately when they try to step outside of their acceptable roles, this signals to at least their subconscious that sometimes this can be tolerated. They didn’t get punished. The more times that happens, the more the line between good and bad behavior is erased and replaced with large ‘grey areas’.
Warnings are not something I deal with much, but I do on a case by case basis take into account a child’s legitimate mistakes, environment, and the influences of other students. When I am ‘warning’ a student, and this goes for my own children for decades with great results, I am merely reminding them of the boundaries, where they are and holding them responsible for controlling their behavior from that point forward.
Case in point, a little girl recently, we will call her Claudette, decided that the best place to listen to a safety lesson was from under a nearby chair. The kids had a rowdy start and were just now calm. I reminded her class had started and it was time to come out. I saw within seconds that usually sweet girl stick her tongue out at me behind testing eyes with no intention of moving.
I walked over and just as I got to her she exclaimed, “I’m sowwy. I will sit with Beth now.“
We can’t let the change of direction of a child’s will devolve into a warning. I told her to sit with the rest of the children and she became openly defiant and rude. I am the adult and teacher, she crossed the line. That had consequences. These don’t change due to remorse or attempts to evade them with apologies.
I led her over to a spot away from the others and she was not able to return for a few minutes. We continued on with our exciting drill and when I came back to Claudette she was a bit shaken up. To help her understand I asked her two simple questions.
“Are we supposed to stick out tongues and sit under chairs?” I asked. (I pointed her back to the original issue.)
Claudette shook her head looking at the floor. (She remembered and understood what she had done was not allowed.)
“Are you going to do that again?” I asked again. (After the consequences, I asked for a change in her will.)
She shook her head, said ‘sowwy‘, and I lead her back to the group. (She agreed and she learned what she needed to from that boundary test. The Karate teacher does care what she does and she is safe.)
In under a minute she was laughing and playing with the rest of the kids. Do you think Claudette did it again? The answer is no. She had a great, well mannered class and bounced away afterward. She didn’t need or want chances. They would have frustrated her need for security.
Don’t Ignore Rudeness
Along these same lines, if you ignore the disrespect totally it is like combining the first two into one ‘get out of jail free’ card. The last message you want to send to a child testing boundaries and looking for reassurance that you are interested in their actions is, “I don’t care.”
That is what you are telling a child if you ignore rude behavior. They are looking for affirmation that what they do matters to you. They are also mimicking what they see others do to see if it fits within the boundaries of acceptable behavior for them. If you ignore rudeness, then you are either telling them you are not interested in them or that the behavior is acceptable.
I know some say that this is giving them attention or control when the issue is small and they will up the frequency to retain it. That is simply not the case. Attempting to monopolize your time or attention is a completely separate issue with its own set of consequences. It should be treated as such and the consequences added to the list.
In the next section I will go over consequences, but for here just keep in mind that they are small and given out like water when you first are getting control of a child’s behavior. Once you have done the work, and it can be considerable over a few weeks of calling them on all of their incivility and other tests of your position, you will have to do less and less.
Trust me, there will come a time when all it takes is a look and a slight shake of your head to change behavior if you put in the right and consistent work now. If you ignore any of their infractions, you are telling them it is not important or allowed. Then they will take the next step and push further. They will do this until they find the line. They want and need the boundary to feel secure.
You also don’t have to stop what you are doing completely. Sometimes it will be a slight hiccup in the flow of things, and others may take thirty seconds or so. This should be as non-emotional and as matter of fact as possible. “You did (insert infraction here) and now (insert consequence here) happens.” Then continue.
This also means you have to know what they care about, what they like. They have to like what is taken away or dislike what they must do. They will be quick with the “I don’t care” if you haven’t set that boundary and if a consequence doesn’t hit them in a desired area in some way. If they do say that, it is again a separate issue, with its own consequence.
So, in the last section you may have been thinking, “How can you have so many layers of consequences? You don’t know my child. They won’t be eating for days, will live in time out, and so on.” That will not happen, firstly because that is abuse, and secondly because of proportionality of consequences.
Let’s center here on rudeness since that is the main topic. What would be an appropriate consequence for rudeness? Well, first we have to have thought well in advance about the child we are talking about, decided on action plans that matter to that child in the event of disobedience, and all of this would be tempered by the environment and time. One more thing to note is that it has to be dealt with in very small amounts.
First, let’s look at the child’s understanding and personality. In an article published in the journal Paediatrics & Child Health found on the website of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health states that consequences should be, “developmentally and temperamentally appropriate“.
A good way to ensure that you stay within those loose definitions is to give small consequences that stack with each occurrence of the offence. This way you can appeal to a child’s sense of self preservation in the face of mounting results of their actions. This works much better than causing despair at a single mountain sized consequence that may seem impossible to scale.
Even if the child is strong willed by nature, knowing their desires, and stacking small increments of time away from things that fulfill those desires can slowly turn their attention away from testing the boundary and toward preserving their interests. They may try to circumvent the process with a tantrum, especially if it has worked before. But that is a separate issue with its own set of consequences.
Then there is the time and place to consider. A ‘time out’ for instance works in a home, school, or preschool. But what if you are on a trip in a car. The consequence for rudeness can’t wait three hours until you get to grandma’s. The time out option has to be changed to no game, movie, etc. There could be time limiting issues as well that would change the consequence to something being taken or withheld.
Now lets talk about intensity and duration. I believe this is the key to any good discipline plan. If a child is rude for instance at home. Time outs or loss of a favorite thing, activity etc. should last for no more than a couple of minutes. I usually go with 2 to 3 minutes. This way you can slowly add 1 minute increments until compliance. If you jump to three days from the start, they will possibly give up on the whole thing and ignore your attempt.
What is important is short duration, knowing the child, and prepared and immediate actions upon disrespectful tones, words, or looks from the child. They really do want you to stop them, no matter what the say or how they say it.
Stoicism Is Your Friend
Let’s face it. Rudeness can only mean a few things. The child doesn’t care about your humanity, which may mean psychiatric help from a professional. The child doesn’t respect you for a myriad of possible reasons, which can be fixed in large part by standing up for your role as parent when they are rude. Or, it could be they desperately want your attention, and aren’t able to distinguish between the good and bad versions.
Two of the three, excluding the one in immediate need of professional evaluation, are based around your reaction to their attempts at defiance. There is a simple way to take the control out of the hands of the child when these instances occur.
Your emotions must stay in check and most importantly off of your face. When you send them to time out, it is matter of fact, without emotion, you are unaffected. This thing happened, so now this thing happens. Simple.
I have even said, “I hate that you made that choice. This is what happens when you do.“
This is not uncaring or unfeeling. You are just unaffected and taking away their sense of control over you. They have none unless you give it to them. You love them and want the best for them, and they feel best when you are in control.
They get scared and loose control without the boundaries only you can set. You will even see it in a child acting out in a strong manner. They will seem a bit frantic and only gain a bit of control when you focus on them. At that point, good vs bad attention is inconsequential them. They want any kind to feel that they matter.
The best and easiest way for you keep or regain control of a situation is to keep your emotions in check. I show empathy for their plight, and even sometimes it cracks me up. The messes they get themselves into are sometimes funny. They can’t really reason things out all the time. But, it doesn’t change the results or the consequences coming their way.
“I hate it for you buddy.” I say. “Think next time so I don’t have to take this away. This is a cool thing-a-ma-bob. You can have it back in a minute if you are listening.”
Now they have a plan, are not overwhelmed with an impossible mountain in front of them, and they know you care. They feel safe and can self-regulate, with practice of course.
In the article cited above from the NCBI website ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, we saw the importance of ‘developmental and temperamental sensitivity’. Another of their recommendations that I have seen to be a foundational element of any discipline system is consistency. Without it the child will not know if this is the time his or her actions will matter. Their default position usually will be to assume they won’t and then roll the dice.
If you waver enough, it is confusing and unfair. It is hard enough to go through life with an underdeveloped brain like kids have to do. If you keep changing the rules on them as they continually fight emotional overload and impulse control, it can be hard for them to regulate. They need consistent rules and effort on your part to maintain that order.
This brings us to the effort it takes to keep up this consistency they need. It is actually simple. It doesn’t matter how tired, sick, or stressed you are. Stand up or walk over and address it. When I teach classes, I have to be the same as I was the last class. They don’t care if my Jeep is in the shop, its tax season, and my head is killing me. They want the same person that showed up last time. It is the same with all kids, even with their parents.
Kids can get pretty intuitive. They can figure out if you are going to react or not if they have tried the same thing before. Their will tells them they want you not to react, but they need you to do it. If they are being rude, go into even scripted mode and repeat the same thing and consequences you did last time. If you have worked it out beforehand and are matter-of-fact about it, you will be surprised how systematized it can be.
Reasoning with a child that is being rude should be done from the position of your role as the parent guiding a child. You are helping them to make rational choices based on reality and not feelings that may have taken them over such as fear, anger, or resentment. Reasoning transcends these emotions and a child can be helped to see the proper way to make choices.
To be clear, this should be a short teaching moment that helps the child reassess their behavior. Anything long or overly explanatory can be seen as justifying your position and leaving leeway for arguments. Your role as the parent is to instruct and their role as the child is to learn from you. There should be no debate. If questioning of your authority or reasoning occurs, that is a separate incident and should incur a separate set of consequences.
Kids know what good and bad behaviors are, but in specific ways depending on their ages. At younger ages, more effort is needed to get the boundaries established and corrected when trespassed. This is not about justifying your purposes for making the boundaries. It has to do with their understanding of good and bad independent of the other concept. Their reasoning capabilities may be an issue.
In a study published in the journal Psychological Reports by researchers from Saint Mary’s University and Dalhousie University, data showed that children averaging around the age of 8 years old could articulate the concepts of bad in a fully developed way.
Reasoning before this age becomes harder, but not impossible. When explaining a bad behavior to a child below the age of 8, it should also be compared with an opposite good behavior in order for them to completely understand. Grasping them independently of one another can be difficult.
If you are trying to reason with them only from the vantage point that something is bad, it is harder for them to follow. It may lead to them simply waiting out your explanation without trying to comprehend. In turn, you may see this as defiance and the teachable moment may slip away.
You are trying to accomplish two things. First, to teach your child how to overcome emotions that can hinder reasoning. Two, how to actually reason through a situation instead of simply reacting without consideration. You are teaching, modeling, and correcting. You are a parenting master to your Little Ninja now.
The Rude Takeaway Part 1…
So, in this first installment I tried to lay the groundwork for a way an experienced martial artist and father of four handles rude behavior. Most of these were about action. Some were about mindset, but the theme here was doing something about the issues. Ignoring, giving up, or wondering why it all happens become counter-productive.
What children need and ultimately want is to know you care. You know you do, but how do they know it? Yes, you can say it all you want, but until you put forth the effort to help them control their impulses and emotions they can’t see it. Children need help in these areas and they need it from you. They want to see it. They need your effort.
In the next article I have 8 more just as potent strategies for dealing with a rude child, along with studies and examples of how I use the principles. I hope these have helped and you will read on in the next part.