My Son Is Very Disrespectful

Annie The Nanny

Annie The Nanny

Get your parenting advice questions answered at Annie´s Advice Column
Annie the Nanny is a professional parenting educator. She writes a weekly advice column for parents who need help with their children's behaviour. Her advice has also been featured on CTV, CBC and in all kinds of print media. For more information about Annie, please go to her 'about' page.

Hi Annie.  My son is very disrespectful to me. He’s 3.5 years old. He roars, swears, and has tantrums at the drop of a hat. He does not act this way toward his father. I am wondering if there is any advice you can give me.

We also have a two-year-old boy who is following in his brother’s footsteps. These kids are loved dearly and want for nothing. Why do they act so terribly towards me? My husband says I have to be more aggressive with him and show him who is boss, but that is just not in me. I don’t think raising my voice and getting upset will help this situation. Thanks in advance, Jerry -Lynn

Hi Jerry-Lynn,

my child is disrespectfulThanks for writing to me. Firstly, I realize that it takes enormous courage to reach out to someone you don’t know and ask for advice. Secondly, your instinct is your greatest guide, and right now, it’s telling you things are not working well, so you’re quite right to act on it. While these are just the kinds of behaviours that are difficult to change and are generally best looked after by my behaviour intervention service as they are so all-encompassing, I’ll try and answer your query as best as I can.

My son is very disrespectful: There’s a reason why children behave this way.

I’m going to lay out for you what I think isn’t working and the reasons for it. What strikes me about your letter is that you sound confused and hurt. You expect your children to act like adults, to rationally understand what you do for them, and to express their gratitude appropriately. The trouble is, a three-year-old is not an adult. They do not have the capability to rationalize what you do or don’t do for them. All they want is to feel safe and know that you are leading the family, and therein lies the problem.

Children act out for a reason. Let’s examine how most parents with similar issues get into these problems. After the baby stage and as the child grows, parents often become centered on their children. They believe that by doing this, they are being responsive parents, but a child is hard wired to be happiest when an adult is centered on their own activity, from which the child can watch, imitate, and play along.

My son is very disrespectful: So what goes wrong?

Any adult who interrupts this process to find out what their child needs next looks to the child as though they are lacking in confidence, something that is likely to make any toddler or child extremely uncomfortable. It may also seem to the child as though the parent is looking to them for assurance. When the question of who’s in control is no longer obvious, the child becomes aware of the vacuum and tries to fill it themselves because having one creates uncomfortable feelings.

Of course they can’t, and so they become increasingly insecure, displaying that insecurity in their behaviour by becoming more and more demanding, commonly indulging in what adults would see as “naughty, disrespectful” behaviour. The child will continue to display that kind of attitude until the question of leadership is resolved.

My son is very disrespectful: Your child doesn’t know you’re in charge.

The behaviours you are seeing are the panicked reaction of a child who does not know for sure that you are in charge and is desperately trying to get you to re-assume control. Young children have a need not only for love but for reliable authority figures. Your children know they have that in their father, which is why they behave differently with him, although I have to point out that the leadership role can be done very successfully without getting upset, raising your voice, or being aggressive.

I know pointing out something like this is likely to be somewhat of a shock, but the good news is that you have come to a realization about the need for change at a point in the lives of your children when change is still very doable. If, after reading this, you agree with me, then I would urge you to get started right away with a behaviour intervention service. I can tell you love your children very much. Keep in mind that you will be doing this for them. Its impacts will be with them forever, giving them a solid foundation on which to grow.

All the best,


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