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  • Writer's pictureRaelene Ostberg, M.Ed.

Disrespectful Children - Where do they COME FROM? And, what can we do about it?!

Updated: Jan 30

"Today's children are more disrespectful than before."

This comment is very powerful and bold statement... However, it is becoming more and more common to hear. What do you think about it? Do you agree?

This Naptime Nugget kicks off a 3-session series that talks all about respect. Check out the videos from Naptime Nugget #53, 54, and 55 (links below). Or, read this quick article to gain insight into what might breed disrespect in our youngsters and what we can do to help reduce disrespect in our early childhood care settings.

Disrespectful Children - Where do they COME FROM

Throughout this blog post and video, we explore the state of kids and disrespect today and what might be the fuel driving this.

While scrolling through Facebook I saw a physician who had said "kids today are more disrespectful than ever". He also stated that, in over his 30 years of practice, he has never seen so much disrespect. He tells the story of a child who is around 10-years-old, looking at a tablet, in the doctor's office. When the mom tries to tell the doctor about what has been going on the child interrupts and says "Shut your mouth mom you don't know anything." Can you imagine that happening to you? Has it happened to you?

When this happens we might be caught off guard and think it's not normal behavior and is indicative of these current times. But, when you actually look back into history, kids have regularly been perceived as 'rambunctious' or 'out of control,' even back in the 1600s. So, we can't simply blame the way the kids are raised today. It has to somehow be connected to other factors and, quite possibly, how children (and humans) are wired.

The reality is, there are many different factors that may cause them to be more disrespectful:

  • Media. It is no secret that kids today, in general, are exposed to more media than ever before. How much, and what kinds of media they are exposed to, will play a major roll in their behavior. Watch some of the popular shows and you well observe the uncanny amount of disrespectful, sarcastic, and "snarky" behavior you see youth exhibit toward adults and each other. Often, adults are portrayed as out of touch and bumbling.

  • Stress. When I was a child, we spent hours running and playing in the neighborhood. Today, over-scheduling is a huge issue. When too busy, we can become overwhelmed and stressed - exhibiting stress behaviors such as lashing out and shutting down. Trying to navigate and understand the world around you is stressful enough, let alone for a child. When you add on trying to learn in school, sports, and other activities to the mix it can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming.

  • Control. A major reason our youth talk back and show disrespect is not having enough power and control. Even a one-year old can be heard insisting, "ME DO IT!" As kids reach the age of three and older, they need to be able to start making choices for themselves rather than just being told what to do. This could be something as simple as choosing what they are going to wear for the day. If adults continue to insist, nag, and control young children, resistance and push back are sure to rise up. Yet, children lack the skills to assert themselves with respectful words. So, you will hear, "Your not the boss of me!", and "I don't like you!" which can actually translate to, "I need more control! Let me have a say! Stop bossing me around!"

So...the question is, how can we help teach children the line between disrespect and having an independent voice? How can we teach our youth to tell the difference between asserting oneself and bull-dosing others?

The trick? Teach teach teach. What do child psychologists do to help children learn skills, reduce anxiety, and work through life's troubles? READ! Play! Explore! Reading books is a great "hands off" way to teach young children respect, and how to stand up for themselves strongly, firmly, and respectfully.

  • Use this free tool we developed for you to teach about respect! "Respect Check". Brainstorm a list of which behaviors fall into "okay", "warning... starting to feel disrespectful", and "UH OH! Time to rephrase!" Introduce this tool when the children 3-years-old and older when they are calm. Discuss which behaviors you have noticed feel disrespectful versus respectful. Which behaviors fall under the red, yellow, and green zones?

Use Puppets to demonstrate and judge respect/disrespect together! It is helpful to talk about this concept outside of the moment when a child is calm. You could even use a puppet and play again, "STOP" or "GO!". Show the puppet doing different behaviors such as taking a toy, yelling, or interrupting. As the children watch, they can call out if this behavior is "disrespectful" ( a STOP!) or respectful (a GO!)

  • Read books that teach children to be assertive yet respectful. This article has a great list of books. It is a wonderful way (and children will not even realize the great things they are learning!)

  • Tune into your own "respect meter" and redirect. Imagine you are talking to a friend, and a three-year-old comes up to you and pulls your face away. Instead of letting them grab your attention or scolding them, try and say "Hum.... was that respectful? That falls in the disrespect zone. How can you do that again so it won't be disrespectful? Maybe you could touch my arm and wait for me to finish..." What if a child says "NO! I don't want to!"? You can respond with "I can feel my disrespect meter is getting testy right now! How can you say that in a more respectful way? How about, 'I would like to choose.'"

  • "Catch" respectful behavior! As humans, our brain has learned to keep ourselves safe by continually scanning for threats. But, this focus on negative behavior can actually breed more negative behavior! (After all, our attention is the biggest gift we give youngsters.) So, instead, be on the lookout for respectful behavior. If you hear a child say to their friend "Can I have a turn?," this is a great opportunity excitedly jump in, "Wow, did you hear that, that sounded really respectful. HURRAY for respect!" This way, over time, children will start to get to know what the word really means and that respectful behaviors really matter to you.

These five simple strategies will help children understand the difference between the behaviors that are okay or not in your setting. It will help children recognize and stand up for themselves, when needed. Remember not to squash their desire to speak up for themselves! This is something you will want to encourage today, and tomorrow, so we can develop a kind and respectful world for us all to live in.

Additional Resources:

Want to learn more? View Part Two of Three: Naptime Nugget #54: Caregiving that Gets the Respect You Deserve

Part Three of Three: Naptime Nugget #55 - Effective Discipline Techniques for Dealing with Disrespect

We all can admit, children have been disrespectful for centuries! If adults want to change this, it will take working with children in respectful ways. It is not always easy, especially if YOU were not the recipient of respectful caregiving. But, we can all work to be our best and set to children up to learn this critical life skill.

Thank you for all you do to raise respectful, kind, compassionate, and loving humans. Don't forget to subscribe to the Blog to get updates when new blogs come out! Also, "Follow" our Youtube Channel to catch NEW videos when they come out!

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