Disrespectful kids: what’s a parent to do?

Most parents struggle at times with encouraging respectful communication in kids. At times I’ve assigned sentences about respect as a consequence for rudeness and fighting. But I’ve not been sure it does anything but aggravate a kid more. Recently I came up with a way to modify the writing assignment in a way that encourages kids to think through problem interactions and plan for a more constructive response in the future.

Here’s what I did. On a note card I wrote three fill-in sentences.

1. I felt ____(emotion)_________ when _____(brief description of event)________.

2. I handled it by ________________.

3. A better way to handle it would be to __________________.


On a separate piece of paper, the child writes out the complete sentence, filled in with a description of the events. For example:

1. I felt angry when my sister wanted to borrow my scotch tape and I didn’t want to share.
2. I handled it by pulling all the tape off the roll so she couldn’t use it.
3. A better way to handle it would be to give her one or two pieces, and ask mom for more tape if she needs more.

Writing sentences is not any kid’s favorite thing to do. Sometimes I have to help kids brainstorm better solutions than the one they first suggest. But when they come read their sentences to me, they have a chance to respectfully share what caused their frustration in the first place, along with telling me what action would be a better option for the future. This has helped my kids feel less frustrated, and more ‘heard’. And it gives me hope that eventually the proper response will be the first one that comes to mind instead of the last.

I’m not saying this is THE solution for arguments and disrespect. But so far is it looking like a promising addition to my mom-arsenal.

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  1. I love this suggestion! I have been so frustrated with the way siblings have been treating each other and this is a great tool to use to get them to THINK about it all. I’m adding this to my parenting toolbox. Thanks so much for sharing!

    (Long time lurker, first time commenter…:)

  2. What a great solution! Anything to add to the mum-arsenal is welcome. Thanks for the idea 🙂

  3. As the oldest of 4 sisters, I can totally relate to the “pulling all the tape off the roll so she couldn’t use it.”

    I know the point of this post is a teachable moment, but I’m grinning like a nutcase for reading that.

  4. That is a wonderful idea……..but I have twin boys almost 4 years ago and they don’t write just yet. Any suggestions? This is a common problem in our home. Blessings!

    • You could have them draw pictures to each of the questions. It worked for us when our kids were pre writers.

  5. That would be “almost 4 years old”

  6. Great idea! I think I’d encounter some resistance because my youngest daughter resists almost all writing assignments, but it’s still a good idea to get her on track!

    I find when kids do have to write something out they think more deeply about it. And having them put down on paper the incorrect way they handled it helps them to see it in more black and white, rather than trying to justify it!

    Sheila from To Love, Honor and Vacuum

  7. I love this suggestion!! Thank you for sharing it.

  8. Oh THANK YOU!!! While my girl is a bit young to write, I can certainly use these questions to make her think about her reactions!!! If you’ve got any more of these up your sleeve, please do share! Disrespect is so hard to overcome.

  9. I love this idea. Chico’s not to where he can write sentences yet, but I’m going to use this as a script for discussion with him when he needs a reminder to be respectful and kind.


    I bought ‘Family Feasts’ at Sam’s today. Q was quite amused when I spied it and squealed “I read her blog!”

  10. Great idea…thanks!

  11. We are big fans of “writing lines” around here. It can often be hard to phrase their lines positively though (I will tell the truth vs. I will not lie). This makes them come up with the positive response (rather than me). I will definitely be using this suggestion!

  12. What a great idea! It makes them think through what they have done, and they can see how ineffective their first solution is, and also think through a better way to handle it next time. I will definately try this out, and with 3 teenagers in the house, I will probably get my opportunity before the day is over. Thanks!

  13. This is great Mary. I’m going to give it a try. We’ve been having some really yucky disrespect between the kids. This is a great way to not only get them to focus on the issue, but how to properly solve it. Thanks!

  14. Any ideas for teaching to children who don’t know how to read or write? Like a 4 year old boy who acts like a sassy teenager? Please?

  15. I have tried this in verbal form- I will have my boys 7 and 9 try it in writing while in their quiet corner.

  16. this is a great exercise! I will give it a try! my daughter seems to be going through a spell of rudeness that I’ve been having trouble knowing how to handle it!

  17. Great idea! Thank you for posting that!

  18. Thanks for the idea!

  19. Love it. I kinda like acting like the teacher of a prairie one-room schoolhouse. For a time, I had one son read selections from William Bennett’s Book of Virtues and give me reports.

  20. I love this idea! I will try it with my oldest.

    When my girls fight, I have them go to their room that they share. They have to work it out by writing or drawing a picture about something they enjoy about the other sister. When I come upstairs, I always find them sitting side by side sharing and working on their papers together.

  21. I love this suggestion, I am totally going to try it. I would also like to plug the book- Siblings Without Rivalry, by Adele Faber. I have found this book to be really helpful when dealing with slibling issues.

  22. I wanted you to know that I tried this with my daughter who is 11 and a few days ago we had another instance which landed her in her room for awhile. When she came out she sat at the table and said, “I lost my temper because….I handled it by….I could have handled it better by….” Yup, she just said it all (filling in the reasons of course I just left that out)! Thanks so much!

  23. I have a 13 to be and a 15 to be. The 13 year-old is a girl. If I’d ask her to write something like this, she would either say, “did you say something?”, or “did you say something which is important to me?”, or she’ll just simply laugh about it and walk away. She would ignore me when I speak. Do you have any suggestion to correct an adolescent like this?

    • I’d think of something that IS important to her, such as being driven to a friend’s house or the mall. Next time she expects you to do something like that for her, ‘say, sure, honey, as soon as you get those sentences written to make up for being rude the other day.’ And hold her to it. Basically nothing good should happen for a kid who disses mom.