One morning when our son was six, he thrust his glass at me and said, “Milk!” This would have been cause for praise if he were a little one learning to talk, but at six, he could certainly do better than that. Rather than launching into a long lecture about that not being a respectful way to ask for something he wanted, I smiled and said in a light tone, “Try that again with respect.”
He lowered his glass and said, “Mommy, may I please have more milk?”
I answered, “Sure! Great job asking with respect!”
He smiled, clearly pleased he had done a good job.
That ended quite nicely, but many of our interactions do not. If this conversation had come to a stalemate, or if a control battle was clearly beginning, I might have offered choices as compromises. Sometimes we must set the bar low and then move it up as a child is able to regulate his emotions and actions.
Hands down, the tool I use most frequently is the simple script, “Try that again with respect.” Then I stop talking and wait. Often my child will rephrase their request in a way that shows respect.
Let me show you step-by-step how I would handle this on a good day with one of my children. Suppose my son has just commanded me to help him with his chore.
I start by saying lightly, “Let’s try that again with respect.”
If he crosses his arms, furrows his brow, and continues being disrespectful, I move to the next step. I move closer and get down to his eye level. I touch his cheek and say, “Respect with your face.” I touch his arms and say, “Respect with your body.” I touch my lips (or his) and say, “Respect with your words.”
I give him a moment to process, and then I might touch his cheek, arm, and lips again without using words. Remember, we are almost always inclined to use too many words, and dysregulated kids can’t process them.
If the disrespect continues, I will likely tell him to sit in the “think it over” spot (or if necessary, pick him up and carry him), which is typically the big chair near the kitchen. I tell him that when he is ready to make things right with me, he needs to say, “Ready, Mom,” and I’ll be right there to talk with him and help him.
If I’m being a really phenomenal parent, once he has settled down and is ready to be respectful, I give him a redo by returning to the original spot and having him ask me again with respect. Sometimes I manage to do this, but other times we move on because I have lots of kids and life keeps moving. I simply don’t take the time I should. Still, a redo is powerful. If you are in a time of intense training, make it a priority.
Find time during your week to teach the concept of showing respect. Practice with your child during a calm, connected time, and then say, “Let’s try that again with respect” when the occasion calls for it.
The above excerpt is from The Connected Parent, a groundbreaking book by Lisa Qualls and Dr. Karyn Purvis about how to parent kids with backgrounds of abuse or trauma, though the phenomenal parenting advice applies to all families.
Lisa Qualls is the mother of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. She is the creator of the One Thankful Mom blog and a popular speaker at events for adoptive and foster parents. She mentors and encourages moms and dads using the methods developed by child expert Dr. Karyn Purvis.