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  • Writer's pictureRaelene Ostberg, M.Ed.

Effective Discipline Techniques for Dealing with Disrespect

Updated: Jan 30

There are many reasons why children are disrespectful (Part 1) and there are also different caregiving styles that increase or decrease disrespectful behavior (Part 2). Young children are learning to navigate the world around them and the variety of cultural expectations they experience in different settings. One thing is certain, what you do will make a difference! How adults handle disrespectful behavior now will ensure it is diminished in the future.

The reality is, humans are just that...human. We all make mistakes.

When did you learn to…

  • Listen and follow other people’s directions?

  • To wait for long periods of time…. For something you really want?

  • Resolve differences and conflicts in a positive and productive way?

  • Speak up for yourself in a respectful way (in a way the other person feels is respectful?)

  • Identify how you are feeling, why you are feeling that way, and then how to express your intense feelings appropriately?

….consistently, all the time? Note: I am still working on all of these!

In this BIG Nugget (HUGE!), we look at effective discipline (what it is and is not) and a three-step process on addressing disrespect. Watch the video or read the short article below. Also, check out the FREEBIE below to start teaching children the expectations in your environment and how to recognize and helpful ways to address disrespectful behavior.

First off, let's consider....

Effective Discipline is NOT

  1. Punishment– chastisement, retribution, reprimand

  2. Regulation– order, control, obedience, authority

  3. Restraint– control, regulation, strictness

These types of discipline can actually increase disrespect over time (as described in Part 2).

Effective discipline IS

  • Instructing – prepare, train

  • Assisting – promote, reinforce

  • Training – guide, educate

  • Coaching – prepare, tutor

  • Teaching – explain, show, demonstrate

The focus on these helpful areas builds your relationship with the child and keeps the child open to your redirection.

If constructive guidance includes educating, preparing, reinforcing, demonstrating, and teaching... It helps to ask

"What do children need to learn in order to have respectful behavior?"

Well, research indicates once children learn your rules and cultural-specific expectations, they behave better. But, it also helps to have higher level thinking skills needed to self-regulate, including empathy, flexible thinking, working memory, and impulse control. Once established, these skills help a child behavior respectfully and avoid rude reactions when feeling intensely.

The reality is, children are always learning. So, when considering your response to disrespect, first ask yourself,

"What am I teaching?"

Three Helpful Steps to Deal with Disrespect

1) Teach respect. At this point in the nugget video, there are several ideas.

This video shows a wonderful teaching strategy in action. The activity explores what are "Stop" behaviors that are deemed disrespectful and what are "Go" behaviors that are okay to use when frustrated, sad, angry, etc.

Download this FREE Stop-Go tool, pick up some popsicle sticks, and try this activity this week! Remember to make it fun - and watch children preschool-age and older learn to identify not only what behaviors are not appropriate, but which are!

When doing this activity with 4-5 year olds, it was interesting for me to test their knowledge and thinking around this topic. I could literally see the struggle to get the nuances of acceptable choices for dealing with difficult situations. For example, when given the scenario, "A friend tries to take your toy and you say, 'STOP THAT'... is that a stop or a go?" Most said, "STOP!" They seemed relieved to hear they can use assertive behavior when someone else is stepping over their boundaries. With reinforcement, and teaching these lessons over time, preschoolers can learn the language and behaviors needed to set limits with others in a respectful way. What a life skill!

For more information on upcoming webinars and on-demand courses, check out

2) Address disrespect.

Over time, this helpful process will teach children what they need to learn while modeling and demonstrating a respectful way to respond when others are disrespectful to you.

A. Show your disapproval in kind, simple and clear ways, such as prompting with a nonverbal message.

B. Link their behavior to the result it brings

"I am finishing telling Miss Melissa a story and you jumped in with loud words. That feels frustrating for me."

“You just yelled, ‘YOUR NOT THE BOSS OF ME!’ ...

This is NOT okay. I feel angry about this.”

"You said, 'You can't play with us. We don't like you.'

Mary's face looks so sad. I feel sorry Mary's feelings are hurt."

C. Help the child learn what they CAN DO with a verbal prompt. (There is no way to train humans not to get angry. It happens. So, we need to focus on what they can do when feeling strong emotions.)

  • The child who interrupts – How can they get your attention and find the break in the conversation when they need you? Can they touch your arm? Say “Excuse me”? Other ideas? You might say, "Please say 'Excuse me' and I will be with you shortly." The calmer and more patient you come across, the easier it will be for the child to hear your message.

  • Angry "Your not the boss of me!" - Can the child say, "I am frustrated. Can I choose?" "I really want to. Please consider this." Can they say, “I am mad!” or "I don't like that!" Or, another respectful statement?

  • Instead of “'You can't play with us. We don't like you." could the child say "Can we play later? Or, "We just need five more minutes to finish our game please."

It is not always easy to find which words to prompt. So, imagine if you are three with much less life experience to draw on!

What about when this does not seem to work? At this point in the video, I give three additional examples of effective discipline strategies that you can use when these are not working. These include ideas for using logical consequences that will work well and promote respect, giving breaks to a child or a toy they have, and even ignoring some behaviors.

3. One of the most important steps is to circle back around. I remember wanting to just move on and forget about difficult moments with my daughters. But, in order to prevent future outbreaks of rude behavior, it is important to discuss the behavior with the child at a later time, when everyone is calm. Explore ways to help the child atone and encourage the child to make amends. Brainstorm a list together and follow-through. Can the child write an apology, do a task to help the person in some way, or maybe explore ways to show respect in specific ways in the future?

When disrespectful behavior continues and frustration mounts, remember - young children have a LOT to learn. Most adults do not have perfectly respectful behavior at all times - especially when stressed, overwhelmed, hungry, or experiencing fatigue. After all, what respect looks like and what is considered rude is different, even between neighbors. It helps to step back and ask - What I could do to help prepare, guide and teach what they need to learn? How can I have patience, kindness, and show the child what I am looking for? Your example will make a difference over time.

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For more information on upcoming webinars and on-demand courses, check out

Additional Resources:

Logical Consequences article, and includes the ideas behind making amends -

In this video by Dr. Becky Bailey, you can learn more about using logical consequences effectively. I appreciate how, even when sticking to a limit, her example is compassionate and kind.

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