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My Disrespectful 6-Year-Old


I have a 6-year-old son who is very disrespectful. What can I do to help him change his behavior?


Most 6-year-olds can be very headstrong. They are able to do many tasks on their own, such as getting their own cereal or dressing themselves, but they still need supervision, instruction, and sometimes, re-direction.

Kids this age are still at that stage where they don't want to be interrupted during playtime or a TV show, whether it's time for dinner or time to simply follow a parent’s instruction. For your son, these may be the times when he is disrespectful.  If he knows he can get away with being disrespectful without receiving ​a negative consequence, he will continue to push the limits.

Here’s what you can do: sit down and talk with him when things are calm. Tell him about a time when he did treat someone respectfully and praise him for it. Then, teach him how you want him to respond respectfully when you (and other adults) talk to him or give him an instruction. Have him practice the following steps for when he is asked to do something:

  1. Stop what he is doing
  2. Look directly at you
  3. Answer with "Okay" or "Yes, Mom"
  4. Complete the task

Whenever he uses these steps and behaves appropriately and respectfully, praise him for it. When he doesn’t, give him a negative consequence such as a 10-minute earlier bedtime or no access to television or the computer until further notice. Whatever consequence you choose to give, be sure to follow-up with teaching afterwards. For example: "You didn’t listen to me when I asked you to turn off the TV. Next time I ask you, I want you to look at me, say, 'Okay Mom,' and turn off the TV. If you don’t do what I ask, you will lose a privilege again.”

Remember to stay calm and stay focused on the behavior you want to change. There is no need to raise your voice or deliver a lengthy lecture. The best thing you can do is be consistent in how you respond to your son’s behavior. Kids actually like to know what is expected of them. There are no surprises this way.

A great book that includes many ways for parents to teach their children appropriate behaviors and skills is Boys Town’s Common Sense Parenting®, available through It is an easy read and the parenting strategies it presents can be used with children of any age.