Our 9-year-old has picked up a habit of speaking to us and to her younger brother in a sarcastic, disrespectful manner. Her favorite phrase lately is “whatever.” What's the best way to handle this?
This is a common problem many parents face and with God’s help you can turn it into a great opportunity. Honor and respect are attributes that should characterize every Christian family and there are ways of dealing with this that will not only help your daughter break a bad habit but also enrich the relationships in your entire house.
At the outset you need to clarify for yourself what you mean by honor and respect. What is honor? What is respect? When does it cross the line into dishonor and disrespect? Do you know where that line is? Does your daughter? With young children it’s good to have your definitions as simple as possible. We define honor as treating someone as if they have value and worth. Respect is treating someone as if they are worthy of high regard. Who are some people who she thinks are worthy of honor and respect? Why? What does it look like?
Since we always like to start by looking at what Scripture has to say, the next step might be for you to look for a time when she seems like she might be receptive and invite her get her Bible and sit down with you to look at a couple of verses. In Philippians 2: 3 Paul challenges us to “regard one another as more important” than ourselves. In Romans 12:10 he encourages us to “take delight in honoring each other” (NLB). Many parents have found it helpful to look at passages in several different translations.
Read the verses out loud together. Then ask her what she thinks God is saying to us here. Why are honor and respect so important? What does she feel like when she is honored and respected? What does she feel like when the opposite takes place? Discuss some specific times in the past week when she has experienced both conditions. How did it feel? Which did she enjoy the most? Which made her feel the best about herself? You may want to share times that you have intentionally tried to show honor and respect to her. Feel free to tell her what you feel when she shows honor and when she shows dishonor.
It will be important for you to choose to focus on and reinforce the times when she does show honor and respect.
Remember, whatever behaviors you feed will grow. What you reinforce will be repeated. If you spend more time cultivating the behavior that is healthy you’ll spend less time correcting the behavior that is unhealthy.
At this point some readers are asking, “Okay, that’s good stuff. But what do I do when they DO cross the line?” When that happens don’t correct or reprimand her in front of her siblings or friends. In as soft a voice as you are able to muster simply invite her into another room, let her know that while you are hurt or upset or disappointed that you want to deal with her in a way that demonstrates honor and respect for her. Calmly let her know that because of what she has done, and be specific, she can go to her room for a time out. Let her know that whenever she decides what healthy behavior looks like, she is free to come back out, correct what she did wrong, and join the family. If her deciding what healthy behavior looks like causes her to miss a meal or something she really wants to do, let her know that you are sad about that and hope that she’ll be able to make a quicker decision the next time, but that it is her choice. When she “gets it right” be sure to encourage and reinforce what she has chosen by praying with her and for her.
Remember, you can model honor and respect for her in the way you deal with her dishonor and disrespect towards you. When all is said and done, what she sees and hears you model will have the longest-lasting impact.