Tools for Your 13-Year-Old


Disrespect  for Your 13-Year-Old

Listen to an audio file of this tool.

Now Is the Right Time!

Children/Teens ages 11-14 are working on understanding rules and applying them in various situations. They are seeking independence and will naturally test limits and break rules. In addition, when they feel powerless and angry, they can lash out in ways that show disrespect for others. Though this is a normal part of their development and necessary for their learning, it can anger or worry a caring parent. You can transform these moments into vital opportunities to teach children and teens alternatives that are healthy and respectful.

As a parent or someone in a parenting role, you can choose to be purposeful and deliberate about the ways you respond when you feel your child/teen has shown disrespect through words or actions. Commonly, disrespect can happen when there is a power struggle. Your child/teen may lash out with words when they feel powerless as an attempt to gain power. It’s critical that you offer ways your child/teen can gain power while channeling hurt or angry feelings in ways that do no harm and demonstrate respect. In fact, learning how to respond to anger in constructive ways requires all five social and emotional skills including self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. Your reaction to your child/teen can help teach them constructive, healthy ways to seek and gain power and respond to others respectfully when they are feeling angry or upset.

Seeking power is a normal human need. All children, teens, and adults require a sense of control over their lives. Yet, children/teens may often feel they lack control over their circumstances leading to frustration. One essential role parents or those in a parenting role can play is to educate their child/teen on positive ways to seek and use power. Yet, when children/teens are disrespectful, it can offend or hurt personally. Parents often need to deal with their own upset feelings, calming down before responding, so that they react in ways that take advantage of the teachable opportunity.

Some parents feel that if they do not impose punishments, their child will not understand that their behavior is inappropriate. In fact, when a child/teen is punished, they often feel scared, humiliated, and hurt. This overwhelming sense of fear or hurt impacts their relationship with you while also failing to teach them the appropriate behavior. In fact, your child’s/teen’s sense of injustice and anger may increase along with power struggles or revenge behaviors. Most importantly, your child/teen is likely to miss the lesson you want to emphasize entirely and feel unsafe.

Children/Teens ages 11-14 are exercising and developing self-control, a fundamental ingredient of self-discipline. Self-discipline is required for managing angry impulses that can erupt into disrespectful words and actions. In addition, they are working to empathize with others — to view thoughts and feelings from another person’s perspective. Empathy is also an essential ingredient of self-discipline. Children/Teens need to learn that their actions have an impact on others around them, including you. This is developed over time and requires a lot of practice.

Research confirms that when children/teens learn to manage their feelings, they are better able to manage their behavior, problem solve, and focus their attention.1 This directly impacts their school success and ability to follow rules. Children/Teens need the guidance and support of caring adults to learn these skills.

Disrespect is challenging for many parents.2 Approaching challenging, power-seeking words and actions as teachable moments that grow your child’s/teen’s skills can be transformational in your relationship. The steps below include specific, practical strategies along with effective conversation starters.

Why Transform Disrespect?

When your eleven-year-old yells she hates you when frustrated with your “No” response or your thirteen-year-old intentionally creates a mess of your stuff when angry, these situations are opportunities to transform disrespect.

Today, in the short term, transforming disrespect into learning how to use power and channel anger in healthy ways can create

  • a sense of confidence that you can help your child/teen regain calm and focus,
  • a greater understanding in you of the connection between your child’s/teen’s feelings and their behaviors,
  • trust in each other that you have the competence to manage your intense feelings, and
  • a growing understanding of rules and expectations.

Tomorrow, in the long term, transforming disrespect helps your child/teen

  • build skills in self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationships, and responsible decision making;
  • learn independence and self-sufficiency; and
  • build assertive communication to express needs and boundaries, critical for keeping them safe and ready to deal with a variety of relationships.

Five Steps for Transforming Disrespect Download a summary of the 5 steps

This five-step process helps you transform disrespect in your child or teen. The same process can be used to address other parenting issues as well (learn more about the process).

Tip

These steps are done best when you and your child/teen are not tired or in a rush.

Tip

Intentional communication and a healthy parenting relationship support these steps.

Step 1. Get Your Child/Teen Thinking by Getting Their Input

“Too many children who have problems with behavior also have problems with accurately labeling their feelings.” – Maurice Elias

A child’s/teen’s behaviors are often influenced by their feelings. Feelings are spontaneous reactions to people, places, and experiences. Feelings are not right or wrong, but what your child/teen does with their feelings may be appropriate or inappropriate.

You can help your child/teeen start understanding their feelings by asking open-ended questions. In gaining input:

  • You can transform an unsafe or inappropriate behavior into a teachable moment by uncovering your child’s/teen’s feelings.
  • You can better understand why your child/teen is behaving in a certain way.
  • You can begin to teach your child/teen how to understand their own feelings, which will help them manage their own behaviors.
  • You can grow their self-control, social awareness, and problem-solving skills.

Actions

Children/teens ages 11-14 are still learning to identify and understand their own feelings, other people’s feelings, and how their own actions affect others. They will need your support in figuring all this out. When both you and your child/teen are calm, reflect on your child’s/teen’s feelings so you can be prepared to help.

  • Ask yourself: “Does my child/teen have an unmet need? Are they hungry or tired?” They might need someone to listen or give them attention, some alone time, or some help so they can be successful at something they are trying to do.
  • Check on how you are feeling. If you are angry, frustrated, or overwhelmed, take a “parenting time out” and take several deep breaths (it really does help) or sit quietly for a few minutes. An upset parent can unwittingly fuel the flames of an angry child or teen who is engaging in a power struggle, so calming down first is necessary.
  • You can ask them about how they are feeling.
    • “I noticed your face got really red. So, when you said unkind things to your sister, were you feeling frustrated?”
    • “I saw your friend leave you after school to go hang out with someone else. I wonder if you are feeling sad?”
  • Use your best listening skills! Listen closely to what is most concerning to your child/teen without projecting your own thoughts, concerns, and feelings. It helps to use a paraphrasing technique to ensure you are fully understanding what your child/teen is communicating.
    • Paraphrasing is echoing back to the person a summary of what they’ve said to check how accurate your listening is and also to confirm to the speaker that you have heard them. It may seem awkward at first, but this step is an important way for you to check your own understanding while simultaneously teaching children/teens how to listen for comprehension. It might go something like this:
      • Child: “When my brother told me to get out of his room, I got so mad that I yelled and called him a name.”
      • Parent modeling paraphrasing: “So, I hear that when your brother told you he wanted you to leave his bedroom, you responded by yelling an insulting name at him.”
      • If you hear a subtext of feeling, as in this example, you can reflect back the feeling implied. Also, you can seek further clarification if it’s needed. Parent reflecting feeling: “I hear you were mad. Were your feelings hurt too when he told you to leave?”
  • Explore the mind-body connection. In calmer moments with your child/teen, ask, “How does your body feel now?” See how descriptively they can list their physical signs of wellbeing. Now ask, “How does your body feel when you are angry?” For every person, their physical experience will be different. Find out how your child/teen feels and make the connection between those symptoms and the normal feelings they are having.
Trap

Avoid letting the question turn into an accusation. Remember to stay calm and that the goal of the question is to help the child/teen uncover feelings.

Step 2. Teach New Skills by Interactive Modeling

The fundamental purpose of transforming disrespect is to grow new skills and behaviors to replace inappropriate ones. Learning new skills and behaviors requires modeling, practice, support, and recognition.

Learning how to understand your own feelings and behaviors when your child/teen behaves inappropriately is a great way to start. It will help you understand what they are learning to do. You might ask yourself:

  • “Do I get angry when they act in a certain way?”
  • “How do I respond to my anger?”
  • “How do I want my child/teen to respond when they feel angry?”

Learning about your child’s or teen’s developmental milestones can help you have reasonable expectations for your child/teen.

  • Eleven-year-olds may push boundaries and argue with you as they assert their independence. They may argue with friends as they worry more about being liked.
  • Twelve-year-olds may be edgy and moody or anger easily as they deal with increased stress from school, friends, and the perceived pressure of acting older.
  • Thirteen-year-olds can be highly sensitive as they work to define their independent identity while still being dependent. They may feel an even greater sense of peer pressure. Their many physical and mental changes can leave them feeling vulnerable and may show more challenging emotions as a result.
  • Fourteen-year-olds may act like they are invincible and like they know it “all.” They may get angry if they are embarrassed or rejected in front of peers and particularly in front of crushes. Social dynamics are of major concern.

Teaching is different than just telling. Teaching builds basic skills, grows problem-solving abilities, and sets your child/teen up for success. Teaching also involves modeling and practicing the positive behaviors you want to see, promoting skills, and preventing problems.2 There are two specific areas of focus required in order to transform disrespect. They are: (1) dealing with challenging feelings in healthy ways and (2) learning to constructively use and share power.

Trap

It can be easy for parents or those in a parenting role to immediately address the underlying feelings with a simple “No” or other way of shutting it down. Remember, all feelings are valid and need to be accepted. All reactions to feelings may not be acceptable. For example:

  • When a child/teen is angry, instead of saying, “You shouldn’t be mad,” shift to “I see you are angry; how can we help you feel better? What about taking some deep breaths?”
  • When a child/teen is frustrated, instead of saying, “Here, let me do it,” shift to “This can be hard. Do you want some help?”

Actions for Dealing With Challenging Feelings

  • At a calm time, ask “What helps you feel better when you’re sad, mad, or hurt?” Share ideas and practice them together like taking deep breaths, getting a drink of water, taking a walk, or asking for a hug.
  • Create a calm down space. During playtime or time without pressure, design a “safe base” or place where your child/teen decides they would like to go when they are upset to feel better. The only way this space serves as a tool for parents to promote their child’s/teen’s self-management skills is if they allow a child/teen to self-select the calm down space. You can and should practice using it and gently remind them of it when they are upset. “Would your calm down space help you feel better?” you might ask. But, if that space is ever used as a punishment or a directive — “Go to your calm down space!” –– the control lies in the parents and no longer in the child/teen, and the opportunity for skill building is lost.
  • Work on your family feelings vocabulary. Children/Teens ages 11-14 are still learning about identifying their own feelings especially when there is a difficult range or mix of emotions. Use feeling words for yourself and others in your family regularly. Do feelings check-ins when your family is together. Being able to identify feelings is the first step in successfully managing emotions.
  • Model assertive communication through “I-messages.” Here’s how: “I feel (insert feeling word) when you (name the words or actions that upset you) because (state the impact).” Here’s an example: “I feel sad when you say hurtful things to your brother. It hurts his feelings.” This helps you take responsibility for your feelings while avoiding blaming language like “You did…” (which closes down the mind and ears of the other). It helps communicate the problem constructively.
Tip

Create a signal you each can use when you or your child/teen or both are taken over with challenging feelings. You might say “I need a minute!” or “Code red!” Practice using it so that it becomes a habit that you take a pause when angry or upset before responding.

Actions for Using Power Constructively

  • Model words and actions that are respectful to them and others. Your child’s/teen’s first teacher of social and emotional skills is your own modeling of behaviors.
  • Teach your child/teen positive ways to seek control or power. How can they demonstrate responsibility by caring for their possessions or caring for a sibling? Each time your child/teen acts inappropriately, ask yourself what positive behavior you need to teach and practice that can replace the inappropriate behavior.
  • Teach your child or teen to repair harm. A critical step in teaching children/teens about managing anger and responding to others in respectful ways is learning how to repair harm when they’ve caused it. Harm could be physical, like breaking something, or emotional, like hurting someone’s feelings. Mistakes are a critical aspect of their social learning. Everyone has moments when they hurt another. But, it’s that next step that matters in repairing the relationship. Children/Teens will need your guidance and support in following through to mend broken things or relationships.
  • End the day with love. If a child/teen has acted disrespectfully during the day, they may end the day feeling bad about themselves. Children/Teens tie your love to their behavior. If you act proud of them, they feel loved. If you are disappointed or mad at them, they feel unloved. Be sure that you spend one-on-one time with your child/teen if they have had rough patches that day. This teaches them that they are loved no matter what choices they make. It encourages them to practice new ways of behaving.
Tip

Create a ritual of sharing words of love and care at bedtime. Consider that ending the day reflecting on how much you appreciate one another could just be the best way to send your child/teen off to sleep.

Step 3. Practice to Grow Skills and Develop Habits

Practice can take the form of pretend play, cooperatively completing the task together, or trying out a task with you as a coach and ready support. Practice is necessary for children/teens to internalize new skills. Practice makes vital new brain connections that strengthen each time your child/teen performs the new action.

Actions

  • Accept feelings. If you are going to help your child or teen manage their biggest feelings, it is important to acknowledge and accept their feelings — even ones you don’t like. When your child/teen is upset, consider your response. Instead of focusing on their actions or the problem, focus on their feelings FIRST. You could say, “I hear you’re upset. Would some quiet time in your calm down space help you feel better?” Then, focus on teaching and practicing better behavior.
  • Use “Show me…” statements. When a child/teen learns a new ability, they are eager to show it off! Give them that chance. Of course, with great power comes great responsibility. Say, “Show me how you can make a good choice when you approach your sister.” This practice will remind your child/teen to use their power wisely if they are tempted to misbehave to get their needs met.
  • Offer limited and authentic choices. Offering them a choice, even if small — “Do you want to do your homework sitting at the kitchen counter or at the dining room table?” — can return a sense of control to their lives. It also offers valuable practice in responsible decision making.
  • Share power through turn taking or cooperative decision making as a family.
  • Recognize effort by using “I notice…” statements like, “I notice how you used our ‘code red’ signal. It worked! That’s excellent!”
  • Practice deep breathing. Because deep breathing is such a simple way to assist your child/teen anytime, anywhere, it’s important to get plenty of practice so that it becomes easy to use when needed. Here are some enjoyable ways to practice together!
    • Blowing Out Birthday Candles Breathing. You can pretend you are blowing out candles on a birthday cake. Just the image in your head of a birthday cake brings about happy thoughts. And, in order to blow out a number of small flames, you have to take in deep breaths.
    • Ocean Breathing. Practice making the noise of the sea waves while breathing deeply from your diaphragm. Close your eyes with your child/teen and imagine that your anger is a fiery flame waiting on a sandy shore. And, as you breathe life into the ocean waves, they grow closer and closer to the flame to extinguish it.
  • Follow through on repairing harm. When your child/teen has caused harm, they need your guidance, encouragement, and support in following through to repair it. They may need you to be by their side through that process, and that’s okay! They are learning the invaluable skill of responsible decision making.
  • Include reflection on the day in your bedtime routine. You might ask, “What happened today that made you happy?” or “What were the best moments in your day?” You should answer the questions as well. Children/Teens may not have the chance to reflect on what’s good and abundant in their lives throughout the day (and may in fact get plenty of negative messaging through social media or peer critics), yet grateful thoughts are a central contributor to happiness and wellbeing. They realize they are not powerless but actually quite powerful.

Step 4. Support Your Child/Teen’s Development and Success

At this point, you’ve taught your child/teen some new strategies. You’ve practiced together. Now, you can offer support when it’s needed by reteaching, monitoring, coaching, and, when appropriate, applying logical consequences. Parents naturally offer support as they see their child/teen fumble with a situation in which they need help. This is no different.

Actions

  • Ask key questions to support their skills. For example, “You have a lot of work left to do today on your project. Do you remember what you can do if you start feeling frustrated?”
  • Learn about development. Each new age and stage will present differing challenges and along with them, stress, frustration, and anger.
  • Promote an “I can” belief. Children/Teens need to hear that you believe in their ability to learn anything with time and hard work.
  • Foster friendships. Close friends can be an invaluable source of empathy and support for your child/teen. They also offer an opportunity to practice sharing power, negotiate roles, and work through conflict.
  • Stay engaged. Working together on ideas for trying out new and different coping strategies can help offer additional support and motivation for your child/teen when tough issues arise.
  • Reflect on the real world, natural consequences of disrespectful behaviors. Discuss what alternative choices people have instead that show respect and do no harm.

Learning new behaviors to replace inappropriate behaviors takes time. Children/Teens ages 11-14 will likely not do it right the first time (or even the second or third!). That’s OK. What’s important is that you transform disrespectful words and actions by understanding feelings, teaching new healthy coping strategies and ways of managing difficult feelings, and practicing sharing power and taking responsibility all the while maintaining a healthy, supportive, loving relationship. Your trusting relationship with your child/teen is what is most important.

Step 5. Recognize Effort and Quality to Foster Motivation

No matter how old your child/teen is, your praise and encouragement are their sweetest reward.

If your child/teen is working to grow their skills — even in small ways — it will be worth your while to recognize it. Your recognition can go a long way in promoting positive behaviors and helping your child/teen manage their feelings. Your recognition also promotes safe, secure, and nurturing relationships — a foundation for strong communication and a healthy relationship with you as they grow.

You can recognize your child’s/teen’s efforts with praise, high fives, and hugs. Praise is most effective when you name the specific behavior of which you want to see more. For example, “You asked for help before getting frustrated — love seeing that!” or “You picked up your game when it was time — I appreciate that!”

Avoid bribes. A bribe is a promise for a behavior, while praise is special attention after the behavior. While bribes may work in the short term, praise grows lasting motivation for good behavior and effort. For example, instead of saying “If you don’t argue with your sister, you’ll get extra game time” (which is a bribe), try recognizing the behavior after. “You were helpful in the store today. I really appreciate that!”

Actions

  • Recognize and call out when it is going well. It may seem obvious, but it’s easy not to notice when all is moving along smoothly. When children/teens are using the self-management tools you’ve taught them, a short, specific call out is all that’s needed. “I noticed when you got frustrated with your homework, you moved away and took some deep breaths. Yes! Excellent.”
  • Recognize small steps along the way. Don’t wait for the big accomplishments. Remember that your recognition can work as a tool to promote more positive behaviors. Find small ways your child/teen is making an effort and let them know you see them.
  • Build celebrations into your routine. Promote joy and happiness by laughing, singing, dancing, hugging, and snuggling to appreciate one another.

Closing

Engaging in these five steps is an investment that builds your skills as an effective parent to use on many other issues and builds important skills that will last a lifetime for your child/teen. Throughout this tool, there are opportunities for children/teens to become more self-aware, to deepen their social awareness, to exercise their self-management skills, to work on their relationship skills, and to demonstrate and practice responsible decision making.

References

[1] National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2004). Children’s Emotional Development Is Built into the Architecture of Their Brains: Working Paper No. 2. http://www.developingchild.net
[2] Elias, M. J., Tobias, S. E., Friedlander, B. S., & Goleman, D. (2000). Emotionally Intelligent Parenting: How to Raise a Self-Disciplined, Responsible, Socially Skilled Child. Harmony.
Recommended Citation: Center for Health and Safety Culture. (2021). Disrespect. Ages 11-14. Retrieved from https://www.ParentingMontana.org.
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