Get Respect from Disrespectful Son

Parenting can be one of the most stressful jobs you ever have. If you constantly deal with a bossy, whiny, demanding, disrespectful child who also has melt downs at the drop of a hat (among other bad behaviors), your life may feel like a living hell. You are not alone! This mother’s situation and question may be all too familiar to you.  You may want to try out the ideas and suggestions in the answer provided.

Parenting Question:

woman-frustrated-sadI am sorry about how this may sound, but my eight-year-old son is ruining my life. He is bossy, whiny, demanding, and disrespectful. This is despite years of my strictly enforcing our house rules of respect, proper conduct, and love. My husband and I are worn out and as our son gets older his bad behavior worsens.

My son has stolen money from my purse, habitually lies to us, whines and has melt downs. I know he can control himself because if he wants something he can be a perfect angel for weeks on end. Once he gets what he wants he reverts back. I am tired of being blackmailed into giving him things just so he will behave.

Help!!! Do you have any ideas??



Dear Kate,

There is a lot of stuff going on here and without a complete background history it may be difficult to tease out what the real issues are so I will attempt to tackle each of the “symptoms” you describe and offer some solutions for each one of those – my thoughts may not necessarily be a true representation of what is going on in your home.

“Bossy, whiny, demanding, disrespectful and has melt downs”: I am assuming whatever you are currently trying to curb these behaviors hasn’t worked for you so far. You mention “strictly enforcing house rules of respect, proper conduct and love” – I would encourage you to examine how you are strictly enforcing these values and evaluate whether or not you need to make some changes. Children often respond more to modeled behavior than what is preached to them. I have no idea how you relate to one another in your home, and I am not wanting to sound accusatory, but think about how you and your husband communicate – is it respectful? When your son is behaving in these ways how do you respond? Do you in turn treat him with respect by validating his feelings -not the same as agreeing with him (you don’t have to), but letting him know you understand how he feels? Or do you yell back at him and engage in conflict and make demands of him? Do you have enough respect for yourself to calmly tell him that you do not deserve to be spoken to that way and will not respond to his demands or whining but when he can speak to you in a respectful way, you are more than happy to have a conversation with him?

It’s a tricky thing when your child is behaving this way not to fall into the trap of feeding into the behavior. These types of negative behaviors are well known for pushing parent’s emotional buttons. Unfortunately, it is often how we react – usually by losing our cool and yelling threatening things like “stop that right now or you’ll lose computer for a week” or “don’t you speak to me that way, get in your room NOW, you’re grounded for a month” that reinforces disrespect. Negativity only begets negativity. And at the end of all the arguing, if you give into the demands the child has made or you don’t follow through on the threats you made, you have only taught him that he needs to whine and argue and boss you around for a certain period of time before he gets what he wants and that there is no consequence for his behavior.

I recently wrote an article dealing with the do’s and don’ts of teaching children Self Control – it may of interest to you.

“Stolen money from my purse”: stealing money can mean a lot of different things – the child is seeking attention because he “feels” unloved, the child is materialistic and takes money to buy things to fill an emotional void, the child is giving money to someone at school because he is being bullied, the child is taking money to buy drugs or alcohol, the child lacks self or impulse control because to an underlying mental health disorder. The first thing you need to do is try and understand the root of the problem. Why is he taking money? And I caution you – if you ask him he probably won’t know the answer. You need to discern what the reason is and work from there to correct the behavior.

You mentioned that you are tired of being blackmailed into giving your child things so he will behave. Rewards systems are a controversial subject. Many parents believe in their validity and use them from a very young age to get their children to cooperate and engage in desirable behaviors – usually because they see good results early on.

kids are worth itThere is one school of thought that thinks reward systems are a detriment to a child’s sense of self worth and only contribute to negative behaviors in the long run. The idea is that children who are used to receiving prizes or treats for “good” behavior become externally motivated and as they get older, they up the ante and only work or behave for mom and dad, if there is a reward involved: “What will you give me if I take the garbage out?” “I’ll only do that if you pay me.” When a child cannot always get what he wants he may resort to “stealing it” because without a reward, he doesn’t feel like he is a good enough person. The reward validates his worth.

Not everyone agrees with this theory- as I said it’s a controversial subject. If you want to read more on the detriments of rewards systems check out the following article by pediatrician B. Brazelton. Another parenting expert that has similar views is Barbara Coloroso – check out her book Kids are Worth it!

If your child does not get an allowance you might want to start doing that. Have a discussion about how much you and he thinks would be fair and what kinds of things he will use his money for. I would also encourage you to implement some parameters around the money – such as he needs to save a percentage, give a percentage away to charity and the rest he can spend on something of his choice. This way he learns to manage money and understand it’s value and it will also give him a sense of control. It may also help stop him from taking money out of your purse because he will now have his own. Do not use it as a disciplinary tool though, do not make it contingent on his behavior – “you won’t get your allowance this week if you don’t behave” – then it becomes the same as a reward system. And I wouldn’t suggest tying the allowance to his chores either. Everyone in a family needs to work together to make a household function. I don’t think anyone pays you for doing the laundry or making meals! If he would like to negotiate with you to make some extra money by picking up some additional chores – that’s entirely different.

You and your husband are dealing with a lot here. I wouldn’t suggest trying to tackle each issue simultaneously. Prioritize and start addressing one problem behavior at a time. You don’t want to overwhelm yourself and get discouraged when you are not seeing results right away. This is going to take some time and you and your husband will need some support – parenting classes are a good way to share experiences and learning’s from other parents who have similar challenges.

Answer by Dyan Eybergen, author of Out of the Mouths of Babes: Parenting from a Child’s Perspective. Dyan is a paediatric psychiatric nurse, has more than ten years experience working as a therapist and parent educator. Dyan and her family were guests on the cable television show “For Kids Sake”, along with parenting expert Barbara Coloroso.  Eybergen resides in St. Albert, Alberta, with her husband and three sons.


  1. Rebecca says:

    We went through this stage with our children- sassy, disrespectful behavior- it was a nightmare!

    However, they’ve grown up; my son is a father of a beautiful 4-month-old girl, and my daughter has twin girls- nearly two. That’s why I’m here; I want to learn about raising my grandchildren as I’m often their babysitter!

    Keep praying- your son will grow up and come to his senses!


    • I would highly (very highly) recommend “The Kazdin Method” — especially because your son can behave when it is worth it.

  2. I was extremely impressed by the answer from Dyan.

  3. I am in the same situation with my 3 children. I don’t know where exactly I dropped the ball but I really appreciate Dyan’s answer and some of the other reading that is being recommended.

    Thank you for this helpful site!!

  4. I was also extremely impressed by the answer. Very thorough AND practical. Sometimes these “expert” answers make you feel more guilty than better, but this one was GREAT!

  5. valerie says:

    Have you had a psychological assessment done yet? This may be helpful for you and also point out some suggestions that you haven’t thought of. Also, perhaps there is a mental health issue that needs attention. I’m surprised that no one suggested seeing a counselor. Many of the behaviors you ascribe to your son are “normal” at some time during a child’s life but so many constant problems indicate a more serious situation, I believe. There’s nothing wrong (and many times it’s the best thing to do) to seek outside, objective help. It’s ok to admit that you need help – it’s the courageous thing to do. Now is the time to get help before the teen years start! Best of luck to you.

  6. While Dyan’s answer was really quite good and pretty comprehensive, I think she left out something very important. That is, that these parents appear to have absolutely no relationship with this child. He receives little or no positive attention, so he is desperately grasping at anything so that he will at least get negative attention. There are several things the parents can do before seeking professional help for the child. (If they would be willing, however, I’d recommend professional help for the parents.)
    1. They need to start making consistent deposits in the child’s emotional bank account. Spend time with him one on one EVERY SINGLE WEEK, where each parent will have the child away from all distractions (cell phones off!). This doesn’t have to be a money spending situation. It could simply be a walk around the block or a tete-a-tete on a park bench. The parent should let the child talk, not instruct, and not react to what the child says except in the context of active listening: Hmmm, so you felt really angry, this sounds really hard for you.
    2. Catch him doing things right. Whenever he does ANYTHING good, or neutral, however minor, NOTICE IT!! And try your utmost not to notice the annoying things he does. I notice you spoke respectfully just now. I like that. You’re reading a book. Etc.
    Just these two things alone should effect a dramatic change IF the parents do it with kindness and love and without sarcasm and resentment. If they cannot, then the parents definitely need professional help.

    • Debbie S. says:

      I wholeheartedly agree with Kayla’s response and suggestions. I have two nephews that are completely out of control as they are screaming loud and clear for attention of any sort. I have raised two sons whereby I respect their voice, listen, interact, engage, and involve myself to them as the individuals they are. I thoroughly enjoy the company of my children and have never had the need to discipline them for misbehavior as their attentions and needs have been met through time spent together, in conversation and interaction. Harmony will exist in the home with children when they know that they exist in love and meaningful coexistence with their parents and respect is given in all directions by all.

      • Thank you Debbie for your forthright and eloquent response. It feels good to be agreed with by a Mom as sensitive and perceptive as you obviously are. I wish you lots of continued nachas from your children. I’m sure you’re there for your nephews as well. They’re lucky to have an aunt like you.

    • You have got to be kidding me!! Are you still going without a bra and smoking pot? Have you ever heard of the “strong-willed” child? Some children are leaders and some are followers by God’s design. I have never heard of a child who didn’t need some sort of discipline in their life. How else are they to learn the meaning of “consequences”?

      • I’m not sure you were responding to me, but I’ll reply anyway. I never said that there should be no discipline, but, my dear, ALL discipline is extremely unhealthy. I think you’ll agree if you reread the original question, where the mother actually states, “This is despite (!) years of my strictly enforcing our house rules of respect, proper conduct, and love.” Did you ever hear of ENFORCING house RULES of love?” If the child’s whole life is based on consequences, and even rules of love how can you expect him to have ANY respect for the two enforcers aka his parents?

    • I am so glad to hear you say this!
      I have 5.5 year old twins and they are as different as night and day. My little boy is easy going, loving and non-competitive. My daughter is a spitfire, loving one moment and yelling the next. She is impulsive and says and does whatever is on her mind and this spring she began yelling, calling me names and sticking out her tongue. Yes, the temptation to respond in kind is overwhelming, but as you said you are just modeling the exact behavior you are trying to eradicate. Completely at my wits end one day I said to her, “no matter what you do, or what you call me or how mad you try to make me, there is nothing you can do to make me not love you. I will always love you no matter what!” She immediately relaxed and got giggly; I was astonished!
      Soon after that I elicited the help of a parenting expert where I live and she suggested 20 minutes a DAY of one on one ‘special time’ with each child. This time is critical for a child to feel that they are loved. Even though we know we love our children, they don’t necessarily know this (which is a horrifying thought). It has made an amazing difference for us, because although I did spend lots of time with them, the key word there is ‘them’. We always did things together and never one on one, simply because it is very difficult with twins to separate them and give them individual attention (my husband works long hours and cannot help with this). However, they are now old enough that one can entertain themselves while I am having special time with the other. They both LOVE it and look forward to it, and it makes them each feel individually special and loved. If we miss it, they let me know! In fact if we are short of time I give each a five minute back rub at bedtime and it is amazing how much they love that and the attention from me.
      I do also believe in establishing consequences for inappropriate behavior, however, I have found that if they feel truly secure and loved having that time every day, we don’t have nearly as many problems. And I would much rather parent with methods based on love and respect than fear, anger and retribution.
      Thank you so much for your advice, it is a wonderful reminder!

      • I hope this was to me! It was just great! Yes, I also believe in consequences. I didn’t mention it in my response because the original Mom was, in my opinion, WAY over-consequencing.

  7. My son was a Dr Jeckyll & Mr Hyde – there seemed to be no ryhyme or reason as to when he was good and when he was out of control… by the time he was 6, I was seriously afraid him seriously hurting me when he got bigger than me! Then I discovered he had food sensitivities and then it was like clockwork – when he had an offending substance, he’d act out. There were other issues like very low executive function skills that made homework difficult, but when I followed the Feingold diet, I had my great kid who thanked me for helping him when he hit middle school! has more information. Not the easiest thing to do, but neither is fighting with your child day after day.

    • Virginia says:

      Is your son still on the Feingold diet? If not, when did you take him off and what foods does he still not eat?
      Thank you.

      • Virginia,

        He went on the diet at age 6 and I never took him “off,” rather, we transitioned him to self-monitoring at about 14. We found that when he hit puberty he had higher tolerances than he did when he was younger, as well as better self control due to emotional and developmental growth. Before Feingold we just weren’t reaching him to teach him – like a brain disconnect. He will be 21 next week and is no longer under my roof. I still think he is about 4 years delayed in maturity, but last summer told me he was going to get strict with the diet again because of problems he noticed that he knew would be helped if he was “clean.” What he keeps out of his diet is mainly the artificial colors and flavorings, specific preservatives BHT, BHA and TBHQ. These affect processed foods mostly, so it’s not the specific food, but the brand (Annies mac & cheese instead of Kraft) due to what the manufacturers put in – it’s cheaper for them to use artificial ingredients. The actual foods he was most affected those called “salicylates” – tomatoes, oranges, peaches, berries, cucumbers, to name a few, and they had a build-up effect – a little was okay, but a lot would rival the unnatural stuff in his awful behavior.

        Hope this helps! It wasn’t easy, but it really made a huge difference in my family’s life.

  8. I agree with Valerie (professional assessments are key – don’t go it alone) and have compassion for the parents. I have a “difficult” child. He is Asperger’s, ADD, etc., and I often wonder where is the joy – and I thank heaven it’s not worse.

    To the parents, keep trying no matter how exhausting (and it is). The best advice I have is to remember that an eight-year old is a work in progress. We may not enjoy the child we’re experiencing now, but taking positive actions offers hope for a better (if not stellar) future. My best to you.

  9. My ten year old has and does struggle with many of the same issues. I have found that more often than not it is directly tied to time watching TV. Anytime his bad behavior escalates the first thing we do is decrease TV time. Interestingly I have found that even TV that I previously thought was innocuous (Disney-Hannah Montana, Zach and Cody, Wizzards etc.) and is supposedly appropriate for his age is filled with disrespectful, rude, dishonest models. You might want to monitor his television time.

    • Amen to that! TV is telling our kids it’s funny to be disrespectful so they think they are just having fun when they talk like that! If it’s not funny, then why do we let them watch and learn it! There is very little on TV we can allow them to watch without perverting their minds and moral perspective of authority … even the basics of right and wrong! I found the same true with my 5 children. SInce they are still learning what is respectful, those shows confuse them… what is funny to adults because we wouldn’t dream of talking that way… they are taking in as examples. So we don’t watch them. We are unusually picky about what we watch and it makes for little TV time, so the kids choose carefully so as not to waste the little time they get to watch.
      Media cannot be responsible for what our kids are taught… media has no conscious or honor code and will corrupt them instead.

  10. Try reading “Have a new Kid by Friday”….it was very helpful and I still reference it when things get out of hand.

  11. I fully agree with Ann’s response. I have noticed this in my own children. We actually lock the Disney channel at our house and they have to ask permission to watch anything on that channel. Some of the programs are simply prohibited. I have found that when we turn the TV off by 10am our days are much more pleasant and their behavior is so much better toward me and each other.

  12. Hi,
    I have one highly spirited child and one child with a pretty easy going temperament. I have also been in the field of education for 14 years – working with children and families. Being a parent is the hardest job anyone will ever do in my opinion and there is a lot of nature versus nurture. My two kids are night and day and the same parenting techniques do not work for both. Having said that, I have read countless books and been to many professional development and parenting workshops. The best approach, for us, by far, has been Howard Glasser’s approach. It has been transformative for our family.

  13. Patty Lipinska says:

    I agree with Valerie, Please get a thorough pychiatric exam before the potentially dangerous teen years. Nutrition and food sensitivities also could be an issue. TV is pretty dreadful as well! Deserved compliments, and time one-on-one of course is necessary for every child. I definitly have compassion for these parents! Any siblings?

  14. Heather says:

    My children also have food sensitivities. Allergies do not always show up as we expect, but can be behavioral. I would recommend seeing a nutritionist and doing a chart of foods eaten and behavior that follows hours afterwards. My children respond horribly to artificial dyes (especially red 40), high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners. It can be one specific thing or many things in combination. Food is an easy thing to control and monitor for young children.

  15. Patty Lipinska says:

    I would like you to e-mail me re followup comments

  16. I was impressed by a number of the responces. I have learnt that as hard as it sometimes is we have to look at our own behaviors as parents to be able to handle our children. We need to remember that they are a smaller version of us.

  17. I agree with Dyan and also LUVVV what Kayla has said! So many times the good/neutral things are left unspoken. Why are we there to bust our child every time in the act of bad behavior, and then when they are playing sweetly, we say nothing? Positive affirmation can do so much good building a childs self esteem and making them feel significant which is more important than the average mommy and daddy realize. But isn’t that the main goal? Raising our children to feel good about themselves so they can go out into the world and be of value to society?
    My husband recently told me he heard a statistic on how much time a daddy spent with their kids one on one. Most men said 15 minutes/day. When observed and timed the actual average number came to 15 seconds! Turn your phones off, the TV, etc…and spend time with your child, that is your real job in life, right? Maybe you may start seeing some changes in the entire family dynamic.

    • Ohmigosh! I couldn’t have said it better myself! Thanks for the affirmation. Sometimes I feel like I’m- what do they call it?- whistling in the wind?

  18. I have a VERY strong-willed and energetic first born son who requires a lot of my attention. I have always given him a lot of time with me as well as praise (only when he does something well, but certainly not for everything) and he is one of the sweetest and loving kids I have ever known. He does need a lot of time to get his energy out throughout the day, but he has always been a great helper and is very sweet and loving.
    On the flip-side of this, he just became a big brother a few months ago and I was no longer able to give him as much attention as before because a newborn baby requires so much time and attention. Now, he is very excited to be a big brother and loves the baby very much, but I have noticed a huge difference in his behavior – especially on days when the baby needs more time than usual.
    Discipline and being strict didn’t really help get to the heart of the problem, but spending special time with him (even if just for a few minutes at a time throughout the day) made a tremendous difference.
    I always try to make each of my boys feel special and give them each special one on one time. There is no jealousy and as long as he knows they will each have personal time with both me and Daddy, then he doesn’t seem to mind when his brother sometimes needs a little extra time.
    He still has his moments, but that is usually my clue that I have not been spending enough special time with him. He will still get disciplined (usually a toy being taken away for the day, but sometimes as much as a spanking) but he will also get to talk about the behavior with me and get a big hug after the problem is resolved.

  19. I am concerned that the child’s heart is not addressed here. You definitily could have a new child by next week if you bribe him with rewards for good behavior or threaten with punishments for wrong behavior. But where does the heart come in, where do we address what is going on inside the child’s heart and try to, with God’s help, change that heart. We do not want to turn out greedy children who are only out for themselves, but loving, kind children. I have a five year old and a 10 month old and I will tell you some days I just want to give up, but then I remember my calling as a parent – To raise them up in the way they should go and when they are old they will not depart from it. Ladies this is not a quick fix – this is going to take years of diligent work on our part, not only loving our children and disciplining them but teaching them through every situation they go through and LISTENING to them. I would recommend a great book by Tedd Tripp – Shepherding Your Child’s Heart. May God Bless you all in your daily parenting!

    • YEs yes!!

      If the change doesn’t happen in the heart it won’t matter how much they show surface changes just to please us. What is in the heart is what will come out!! God’s Word and lots of prayer makes all the difference in the world!!! GIve it , and your child, to God….He can do all things!!!

      “The Power of a Praying Parent” by Stormie Omartian is great!

  20. The tone of the question made me sad – you say your child is ruining your life – you are making this about you, and not about the child that needs help. You are the parent, you need to figure out a strategy to help. Having said that, I do understand where you are coming from. I’ve seen such kids before, and the parents are at their wit’s ends.

  21. I agree. I was thinking the same thing…. I have some of the same issues with my children, but I realized it’s not “the child who is ruining my life”… it’s MY failure to get the key or be consistent in what will help the child overcome this tone or lack of respect for authority…. and especially know gratefulness! Whining and complaining is not knowing how to be thankful and there is no joy in a heart that knows no thankfulness. I deal with my 5 children on this matter a lot. Anyway, the point is… we are the parent … we cannot place blame but must take responsibility for how we are teaching our children, by word, by actions and, most of all, by example!!!

  22. I had alot of behavior problems with my son. if you are doing all you can to teach him right from wrong you might want to get him checked out by a pediatrician to see if he has any mental issues or undiagnosed disablitily. I know it is difficult to think your child has a disability but if he does then it will help you know how to deal with the behaviors.

  23. It is a shame that in today’s time..children,who are supposed to be our “pride and joy” turn out to be our worst nightmare.Why can’t it be like it was when my grandpa was a dad. ( he was wonderful)He brought up 4 boys and one girl and never tolerated disrespect…and STEALING??? The good old woodshed was waiting for the boys and my aunt too if any shennanigans took place. Everyone did their part of helping the family and respect was never an issue!children today have no guidelines or consequenses for bad behavior.Not any that mean a “hill of beans”to them anyway.Back then everyone was on the same page,if you will understand…Teachers,parents,administrators,law enforcement officers…We all understood each other and consistancy was the rule.If there was a kid that simply could not or would not adhere to simple rules,there were special schools to help him and keep him from harming himself and others.Kids today will continue to wreak havoc because THEY CAN and they know it!Nothing will be done to really stop the situation because they do not want to bother.Bring back the “GOOD OLD DAYS’ of love and respect coming from BOTH sides.My poor grandpa would roll over in his grave if he should see all the chaos t and grief todays kids give everyone.

    • Love and respect? Where? In the woodshed? “Special Schools?” (Like, maybe those cozy, homey Reform schools?) I’m 55 years old and I HAD that upbringing. I survived, but do you have any idea how many sick, twisted baby boomers there are out there, disguised as your average, hard-working citizen?

      A little Twilight Zone music, Maestro please.

    • I am in total agreement with you. Read John Rosemond, parenting guru and speaker…he is totally “old-school” and his parenting strategies are savvy, smart and WORK! He has many books on different aspects of parenting, but his “The NEw 6 point Plan For Raising Happy, HEalthy Children” is a comprehensive overview.

    • Every child is an individual and has individual capabilities and needs. What worked for your grandfather and his children will not necessarily work for others. Two children growing up in the same household with the same rules and the same upbringing can react in different ways. Also, you may want to talk to those four children of your grandfathers. I’d be willing to bet they can tell you some stories. In hindsite Grandpa may have been a whiz bang parent, but I’m sure he made some mistakes, took a few stumbled parenting steps and regretted a few decisions. Like we all do.

  24. It sounds like you could use a new perspective entirely. I highly recommend that you read Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn and How to Talk so Your Kids will Listen and Listen So Your Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. These will explain a lot to you. Then you might enjoy spending some time at to explore further resources.

  25. Jo-Anne Layton says:

    Dear ‘Son is Ruining’ …

    Dyan E. has given sound, well-thought-out advice – with gentleness & kindness, and I hope it rings true to you.

    I am so GLAD for you & your family that you are looking for answers – Seek and Ye Shall Find!

    You didn’t provide enough info to base a more specific reply on … BUT I can’t help but think that this problem didn’t occur ‘overnight’ – it’s been years in the making?

    IF you had help/cousnelling that didn’t work out, you may wish to proceed on to different forms of help until you find what works best.

    I’m hoping that you & your son will be spared unnecessary years of misery – when he actually IS young enough to get this thing turned around. Please be brave, and follow through – life is too short & misery is too long!

    Kind regards, Jo-Anne