Has your child ever rolled his eyes while you were talking? Or shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘I know, know… yadda yadda yadda.’ Do you sometimes feel that they’re too ‘casual’ with you, and talk to you more like you’re a friend than a parent?
Many of grew up with—and rebelled against—the rule, ‘Children should be seen and not heard.’ We vowed to cultivate a healthy, open relationship with our own kids, and encourage them to share their ideas and articulate their needs. But we also want to avoid raising (to be frank) rude brats. Here’s the secret to drawing the line.
1. Stand your ground.
When you feel your child has said or done something very rude, don’t let it pass. Your child may think this behavior is okay, and do it again and again. Eventually this will hurt not just your family relationship, but the relationships he forms outside the home. Would you like his teacher to brand him as ‘the difficult student’ or his friends to avoid him because ‘he’s mean?’ Just think of the jerk in your class who thought that making fun of other people was funny.
2. Watch your own family communication patterns.
You may tell your child to be polite, but take an honest look at what he sees or hears inside the home. Do you and your husband snap at each other? Do you snicker about the neighbors? What about the way you speak to the waitress?
Set a good example. And this includes, of course, the way you talk to your child. If you yell at him, he’ll yell at others. If you roll his eyes or make sarcastic comments when he talks to you, he’ll do it too.
3. Screen the TV shows.
Young kids don’t realize that what’s funny on TV isn’t funny in real life. They’re not yet able to grasp social context—and so, if they see you laugh out loud while watching ‘House’ they’ll think that hey, that must be a cool way to talk to others.
So, watch the shows when your child’s not around, and screen what he watches too. A surprising amount of cartoons have very adult jokes and shades of sarcasm. In fact, a lot of the mannerisms and one-liners that totally irritate you were probably picked up from TV. Where else would he see them?
4. Check if he’s acting up to get your attention.
Your child may be being rude to you because it’s the only time you actually listen to him! It’s pretty normal for adults to listen half-distractedly. ‘That’s nice, dear!’ or ‘Yeah, yeah… uh huh… hey, why don’t you watch TV? I’m doing something.’ But whoa, he does this little eyeroll, and you’re on his case! In a weird way your child may prefer the ‘negative’ attention (lecturing, etc.) to no attention at all.
It’s important to have quality time and regular family bonding. Also, show your child that you care about what he thinks, and value his feelings and emotions. For example, if he’s usually polite but spent the whole day ‘acting up’ see it as a silent cue for help. ‘I don’t like the way you talked to me right now. What’s wrong? Is something bothering you? Tell me about your day.’ Build proper communication and you can correct rudeness but still make your child feel that he can tell you anything.
5. Encourage honesty, but value the manner it is said.
You can teach your child to be honest and yet still demand proper manners and respect. Let’s say he says, ‘I’m tired. This is boring! I want to go home NOW!’ Don’t just tell him to shush up. Say, firmly and clearly, ‘I don’t like your tone of voice. Say it again, nicely. ‘Mama, I’m tired. May we go home?” Tell him to repeat that and then, in an equally nice but firm voice, address the need. ‘I just need 15 minutes to finish what I’m doing, then we will go home.’
In this way, you show your child that it’s okay to open up, but people who love and respect each other treat each other (and talk to each other) in a kind and caring way.
6. Explain what rudeness does to other people.
Most children don’t want to be mean or rude. They just don’t realize that language, tone and facial expression can hurt other people’s feelings. Explain this to him. You can even stand in front of a mirror and show what facial expressions look like to others, and how they can be interpreted. ‘When you cross your arms like this, you look like you’re not listening. It makes me hurt. How would you feel if I didn’t listen to you?’
7. Praise him when he’s polite.
Don’t just correct negative behavior; praise and reinforce positive behavior. ‘I really liked the way you said ‘Excuse me’ while I was talking to somebody in the store. That was very polite.’