Disrespect or Disobedience?

We have two daughters, ages seven and three. They are both well behaved and polite for everyone except us. My seven-year-old gets rave reviews at school, she has also excelled in athletics, breaking state records. My three-year-old is also very intelligent and outgoing. Both children have always been highly charged emotionally; they are constantly going and crave attention even when we give them plenty of one-on-one time. They are not hyper, but they are easily bored, although they have excellent attention spans when occupied with something they are interested in.

However, when we take them anywhere they whine, they talk back and throw tantrums; and this happens only with us. We are loving and attentive parents. Time-outs, spanking, it all seems futile in getting them to show us any respect. Yet when the day is done, they are very loving. The next day they are again fighting and doing whatever they can to get our attention. Can you give us any help or ideas?

--A Parent Soup member

Robert Schwebel

Clinical psychologist Robert Schwebel, PhD, has been in private practice for almost 30 years, counseling children, couples and... Read more

I suggest you think about this differently. I do not think it is a question of your children not respecting you. Rather, I think at certain times they do not necessarily obey you. This is a normal challenge of helping children grow up. They need to learn that they cannot always have things their way. If you take it personally, you are likely to overreact. It sounds to me that you have been doing a good job with your girls. They are thriving. This is a small bump, a normal bump, in their development.

I suggest you combine patience (they will eventually learn that they cannot always get what they want) with good strategy. I am not pro-spanking, because I think it sends the wrong message. It tends to make kids angrier and more defiant. Perhaps you can leave them with baby-sitters when you want to go out as a couple for fun. Maybe when they need to be with you (say when you run errands), you can discuss expectations for each situation and build incentives for good behavior. For example, you can say: "If we have a good time shopping, we will go home and play on the playground." Remember, too, that it is normal for children to crave attention. It is also normal for them to have limited patience for running errands with their parents. But, you are right. We have to help them learn to accept some of the realities of life. If you can relax about this, be patient and develop good strategies for working with the girls, they will come along.

Keep up your good work. By the way, a good reference on this type of issue is The Discipline Book by William and Martha Sears.

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