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Teaching Children to Respect Authority


I had to laugh at an email I received over the weekend. It’s from a blog network wanting to add me, and the message was very flattering. Especially this line: “This can help further establish you as an authority on raising a child.


I’m so far from an authority on child-rearing. In fact, because I know so very little on the topic, I’m coming to you with a question today.

How do you teach a child to respect authority?

I have a child (who will remain unnamed) who thinks they are every adult’s peer, despite their small stature and low number of years. They talk back, throw out orders, contradict, argue, and play my husband and I against each other (though it has never succeeded). Those who hear or see it now thinks it’s so funny. I say, give it a year or two. The charm and humor will disappear into an obnoxious, annoying, rebellious, totally out-of-line and out-of-control child.

I feel like I’m hitting my head on a concrete wall with this child. We’ve been having them stop and re-state what they said in a respectful way (which sometimes means just saying, “Yes, mom” instead of whatever argument they have for doing their own thing) for what seems like forever, but disrespectful words and defiance is very much still the default. To  me, it doesn’t seem like we’ve made any progress in teaching respect and respectful speech.

As parents, it’s our responsibility to equip our children to function well in the world. I see this weakness in my child, and frankly, I’m discouraged. With a mouth like this, this child is utterly ill-equipped to respond to teachers, bosses, and other authorities. Somehow, we must help them learn to control their tongue and listen to others. But how?

Do you have any suggestions? Is this something we just have to keep after for as long as it takes, even if that’s years, or are there other ways we can try to get through?


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  1. I cannot WAIT to hear the suggestions on this one! I have one of these little people as well, but she is 10 and I am worried about where we are headed! Need to get it under control immediately.

  2. Tara Meghan says:

    This is the most difficult question ever posed to mankind. I have been banging my head against my own walls, wailing…”HOW do I teach my children RESPECT?” Obviously, by showing it to them. But how does one show respect to children who are disrespecting all and everyone around them? I don’t knowwwww……

    My major tactic, of late, has been responding with patience when they do it to me, and shutting them down (politely but firmly) when they do it to other people. That way, it’s never a creation of a fight, or getting my back up in an interaction, it’s just pointing out the behaviour as unacceptable, and making it more about how we treat other people, as opposed to what I think is due to me (which turns into a dominance dog-fight, at my house!). The upside is that my husband quickly noticed what I was doing and has started sticking up for me when the kids are being exceptionally rude. But then, my kids are only 3 and 4. So we’ll see how it goes when they are older.

    • I totally get the dominance dog-fight. It’s really difficult to respond patiently consistently, but I think you’re on to something.

  3. We have one of those as well (he is on the debate team in high school now).. I have to confess that I was the same way. I encourage you to set the bar high for respecting elders. We have had to be EXTREMELY consistent in insisting that this child rephrase things, etc just like you mentioned for his entire fourteen years.

    That all being said, this same “weakness” is also one of his biggest strengths. He is very verbally articulate and polite. Teachers love him because he engages in the conversations in the classroom and he is a great witness for Jesus because he is not shy to say what is on his mind.

    I don’t have all the answers but try to focus on the positive aspects of this personality trait while continuing to insist on respect.

    • Thank you for that perspective — it isn’t necessarily a weakness as long as you develop the wisdom to know when to speak up.

  4. I know some behavior mod from being a teacher – but I can’t share parenting advice – not being a parent. I only had the kids for 6 hours a day. I am not going to pretend to be an expert – nor even play one on t.v. A never married man, answering this question? I’ll leave it to the experts. Because you Joy, and all the other mom’s commenting here – no matter how you feel about it – are experts in way I can never be. You are heroes.

    God Bless

  5. Still not sure why you’re so quick to shoot down my shock collar idea…

  6. Joy, we have an exact replica of that child you described! It seems like we have tried everything….was so anxious to read the advice here. Hoping it improves soon. One thing I have been stressing lately is that when he argues with me when I tell him something (usually the answer to a question, his or his brother’s) I tell him that arguing with me in such an “ugly” voice is the same as calling Mommy a liar. Then I ask him if he would ever do that and the answer has always been “I wouldn’t call you a liar Mommy” and even though it still is happening some, it seems to have lessened and he seems to understand why he should be apologizing and changing behavior 🙂 Anything that works send my way!!

  7. ::hugs::

    Both my husband and myself treated our parents this way, and I cringe now when my kids treat me this way because I now understand the grief that I put my parents through!

    The hard part is that sometimes, especially when parents are hurt / irritated with this behavior is that it’s easy to assign motives. Be very careful to address behavior, and perhaps ask what heart motivation is – “what do you really mean? is something bothering you?” but do not assume that they’re intentionally trying to pick a fight.

    Do not tolerate yelling, bad language, or comebacks under breath.

    Encourage good thinking skills and . Kids who have this propensity would make great lawyers, advocates for those who have been abused… and other professions where people need to be fearless and think well on their feet.

    Praise instances where they have spoken kindly, especially when the situation encouraged someone or was helpful — underscoring the importance of words and how they can give life or take it away.

    Minister to their heart.. whatever is in their heart will come out in their speech and actions. Sometimes kids need a little extra love. They need attention, but don’t know how to get it. They subconsciously think, “if I do ____ , will my parents still love me?” Even as grownups, sometimes when we feel the world is against us or that it’s tough to make sense of things, we lash out. We all need to be reminded of the gospel… that we are loved and forgiven… moms and dads included. If we are forgiven of so much, how do we treat others? Even when we’re mistreated?

    Praise obedience. The Lord says, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Focus on obedience rather than the _feeling_ of being respected.

    Work on memorizing verses about how God would have us think and behave… things we should think on (Phil 4), Let no unwholesome word come from our mouths… verses about the tongue, etc.

    Also… examining your own heart as a parent is crucial. Many times our demand for respect only pushes our children further away. This article was a big help to me as a parent : http://www.peacemaker.net/site/c.aqKFLTOBIpH/b.1172255/apps/s/content.asp?ct=1460037

    I also highly recommend the book, “Age of Opportunity” by Paul Tripp 🙂

    Much love,


  8. one way to ‘show respect’ to ankle biters, is to acknowledge their anger/frustration and then say something like ‘my ears can’t hear too well when you speak like that, can you say it differently?’

    Is it possible to see the ‘attitude’ arising and redirect or even name the feeling you see emerging, and ask how he/she thinks it would be wise to go on?

    (sorry I am drawing a blank on the children’s ages, may have more ideas)

  9. I like that way of approaching tone of voice and word choice, Beverley.

    Sometimes I can see it coming, but other times it comes out of nowhere — this one likes to pick fights and antagonize siblings for fun.


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