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My six-year-old daughter can be very rude to adults. She sometimes will call people names like “poopy-head” or will say that someone “stinks”. We have been trying to teach her not to be mean to other people but she doesn’t seem to listen to her dad or me. We don’t like to yell at her but somehow what we are teaching isn’t sinking in. How can we get her to behave better?
Dear Embarrassed Mom,
As a school counselor and a child and family therapist I find myself often saying to parents I work with, “you are parenting a child you wish you had, not the child you actually have.” This is not to say that you want another child, but your parenting style is not matching the needs of your daughter. We often have these parenting ideals and we try to live up to. I saw a cartoon recently of a mom saying to her daughter, “you are making it hard to be the parent I imagined I would be.”
After a particularly disastrous recent family gathering where our four-year-old son called his grandparents and cousins names, his dad and I decided to change our approach to discipline. We realized that we were coddling our son too much and letting him get away with unkind behavior incrementally. He didn’t start off with calling his grandparents names, but our lack of parenting assertiveness allowed to that behavior to manifest. Nip the rude behavior in the bud by finding “natural behavioral consequences” when your daughter engages in behavior that you would like to reshape.
Natural behavioral consequences follow a logical order. For example if your daughter wants to play a board game with you and then calls you a “poopy-head” when you don’t get to the game table fast enough. The natural behavioral consequence is to not play the board game at that time. My son called me a name the other night when I told him to brush his teeth. After he brushed his teeth, I did not read him a story that night and he went to sleep without our normal bedtime ritual.
The main thing I have personally found most useful for changing rude behavior in children is to point out the rude behavior immediately and without emotion. For our son, the added natural behavioral consequence brings home the idea that rude behavior will not be tolerated. In the short time that we have implemented “operation sassy-pants,” we have seen a drastic reduction in unkind behavior. This reshaping of behavior takes patience and a lot of time but in the end, being around a kid who is kind and welcoming to all is worth the effort.