A: I know I begin many columns this way, but there is much I don’t know here. For instance, is everything going well in school? Is she being bullied? Could there be anything else happening that is causing this level of frustration? We often don’t correlate the behavior we see at home with an external cause, but it is always worth exploring.
One of the reasons I loved this question, though, is how you conveniently list all of the techniques that are not working. This must be maddening. So, let’s look at why this rudeness could be happening.
If this were an occasional incident, I would chalk the rudeness up to her being an immature child who naturally pushes boundaries. It truly is normal and can usually be corrected with an arched eyebrow or a gentle but firm reminder: “Hey, watch it.” Children (and all humans) are often ruled by deep emotions, and rudeness is a side effect of that. It’s just life.
But when a child is rude all of the time and also flips it when she wants something, she is trying to tell you something.
To understand this, consider a younger child, say, a 4-year-old. When young children are inartfully (because of their immaturity) trying to tell us about their frustration, and we are constantly correcting their tone, volume and wording, we are adding more frustration to their system. And this often leads to a tantrum, aggression or a complete shutdown. Essentially, young children are too immature to harness their deep emotions and channel them in a way that is “appropriate” for the adults. This is normal.
As for an 8-year-old girl? She has matured enough to not hit and throw tantrums. Instead, she is controlling the dynamic. When you resort to a punishment (which you may be calling a consequence), she worms out of it with sweetness. She has effectively been rude, pushed you into a corner and gotten out of trouble.
Sounds hopeless, but it isn’t.
Instead, let’s shift the perspective to: Why doesn’t she care about others’ viewpoints? This is a maturity question. One who is compassionate and cares about others’ interior worlds has to be able to do two things: keep their own perspective and take on another. This requires a mature brain. And despite what people think, age alone does not supply this. There are a number of reasons your child may not be compassionate toward others:
1. You have not listened to her enough. If she has been harassed, reminded and cajoled to sound “nice” and “kind,” her true voice may have been stifled. She doesn’t care about others’ feelings because you don’t care about hers, only the appearance of her feelings and behavior. To be fully human is to fully experience all of our emotions, not just the “appropriate” ones.
2. There is something in the way of her growing up. Brain issues, learning issues, physical issues — all of these can affect how a child matures. Her lack of empathy speaks to an immaturity, but based on the techniques you have been using with her, I would go back to No. 1.
3. She doesn’t feel safe enough to be herself. If you punish her every time she expresses something negative, where is the room for her to be herself? And if we cannot be ourselves in our families, where can we? You are going to see an increased surliness, increased manipulation and an increase in her pulling away from you as she nears her tween years. (If you think she is rude now, buckle up.) You want to strongly step back from shutting her down now so that you can keep a connection with her in the future.
How do you rebuild this connection? I know people are going to absolutely froth at the mouth when I write this, but drop the punishments and threats and admonishments about speaking nicely.
By resorting to these old tricks, you are only restarting a cycle that is not working. These strategies are just bringing you more misery.
Here are some ways to connect to a rude child:
1. When she is rude, train yourself to go for the feeling underneath. “I get it, honey. It is frustrating when . . . ” or “I get why you don’t care about . . . . I didn’t either when I was 8.” Find the emotion under the words. If you have been punishing her for years about the way she expresses herself, this is going to be a long-haul effort, and you may want to see a family therapist for support (for you, not her).
2. Repeat this to her: “No matter what you say or how you say it, I love you and I will always love you.” This is a separation of behavior and child. The child who is kind and compassionate is under there. She does not want to be bad or disrespectful or mean. She just doesn’t know how to do anything else. If you don’t believe this, it will be difficult for you to make headway with her. Why? Because then you believe your child is inherently unkind and bad. Don’t go there.
3. Mindfully and purposely create times of fun and times when your daughter is “good.” I am not saying that this will be easy, but do things with her that have you listening more than talking. Listening more than judging. Listening more than critiquing.
4. If she is in a moment of terrible rudeness and is hurting those around her, take a timeout with her. Take her to a couch, a room, anywhere, and sit with her until everything settles down. I am not going to ask you to say much; just be there with her. This is a strong parenting move because your actions say, “I am not going to allow you to insult everyone here, but I am also not going to hurt you to teach you a lesson.” Can you imagine the world if we did this? I will never suggest that you allow your daughter to be wretched to everyone in the house. But if you have to remove her, do so in a way that does as little harm as possible.
5. Do not listen to anyone who tells you to “nip this in the bud” or “show her who’s boss.” That is just code for punishment. More punishment will be worse for you in the long run, and you can take that to the bank.
Find this over on The Washington Post.