What do I do when my ‘threenager’ is giving me attitude?

The other day, my three-year old announced, “Make my Milo right NOW!”

I had a few options:

A – Ignore her until she asked me nicely

B – Retort “Eh, you think I’m your maid issit?”

C – Acknowledge the feeling behind the rudeness AND hold a boundary around how I expect to be treated

Honestly? My first instinct is to go with B. I’ve gone with this response more times than I care to admit.

But I know from experience, that this doesn’t result in the outcome that I’m hoping for, which is a child who speaks kindly and is sensitive to the feelings of others.

I’ve learned that there IS a way to respond which both acknowledges my child’s feelings AND clearly communicates how I expect to be treated.

In this post, you’ll learn:

  • How to reframe rudeness so that you can keep your cool
  • The three steps to dealing with attitude in a way that acknowledges your child while keeping your personal boundaries in place

So keep reading to gain some clarity around this highly triggering but absolutely normal behaviour. You’ll also have a chance to book a free call with me if you’re still struggling with this in your home.

It starts from a place of understanding. Understanding that ALL young children will inevitably express themselves in rude, never-give-face tones and behaviours at some point. Also, that children express themselves the most with the people they feel safest with. That’s usually us, the parent. So that fear that your child will go off and be rude to every single teacher in school? Likely blown out of proportion if they’re exposed to plenty of polite interactions at home. Reframing it this way takes some of the power away from a potentially explosive situation and helps me to keep my cool in the moment.

Get curious and reframe

Remember that ‘all behaviour is communication’. When it comes to rudeness, there is always a reason. Maybe my child is physically uncomfortable i.e. hungry or tired. Maybe she is feeling disconnected from me because I’ve been on the go the whole day. Maybe she’s restless from not moving much the whole day. Whatever the reason, getting curious rather than assuming that she’s ‘just being rude’ helps me to see the behaviour in a new light and avoid reacting out of anger or fear.

Validate feelings

If I can understand the underlying reason, it makes it a lot easier for me to acknowledge and validate my child’s feelings. Ultimately, we want our children to know that they are heard and understood even when we don’t agree with the attitude being displayed. Sometimes, this is as simple as me saying “It looks like you’re feeling cranky because we’ve been stuck in the house the whole day”.

Be clear about your own expectations

This has been the biggest game-changer for me personally – getting clear on my own expectations and communicating them directly to my child. Being understanding and empathetic doesn’t mean that we aren’t allowed to communicate how we expect to be treated. This can sound like “I can hear you’re angry but I do not like being spoken to that way. I can get you your Milo when you ask me without shouting”. And then, I wait calmly and follow through with what I said. This is helpful for children to understand that other people have feelings that are affected by their behaviour and they’re getting direct feedback on what would be an acceptable alternative.

To sum up

Appropriate social behaviours like asking nicely and saying thank you are skills that develop over time. Our children learn politeness best, not from being told off in the moment, but from the countless times that we ourselves demonstrate polite behaviour.

As with all parenting choices, the specific hows of dealing with attitude and rudeness will depend on us and our child’s unique personalities and temperament. If this is something you’re struggling to figure out with your little threenager, you can book a free call with me so we can dive deeper into this issue, together.

I know attitude from your toddler can be extremely triggering. Just remember, it’s not personal and is not a reflection on you as the parent. All children, and I mean ALL, exhibit this type of boundary-pushing behaviour. Continue modelling politeness in your everyday life, remember to get curious and validate those feelings and hold your personal boundaries and I promise, the day will come when they’re not shouting for Milo RIGHT NOW!

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