Ask the Play Therapist: My Child Has Been Cursing at Me

Dear Anthony,

I am getting aggravated at my 12 year old son because of his disrespect and fowl mouth. It seems like ever since he turned 12 in April all he can do when angry with me or my requests as a parent is to throw the f-bomb or the b-word. At first I would get hurt by his words, but now I am just plain angry every time he does it. Taking away his tablet as a consequence has not changed his attitude one bit. Please help!

Fed Up Mom -

Dear Fed Up Mom,

I can understand your frustration with your child's opposition. Everyone in the family deserves to be treated with respect. Just because your son is not happy with your requests does not give him the authority to reflect his anger towards you through bad language. What I tell parents is that everyone has the right to feel their feelings and express them towards one another, but no one has a right to be disrespectful to another person or creature.

Let me elaborate on that statement further: If your son is angry because he does not want to clean his room (just an example), expressing his frustration verbally as, "I hate cleaning my room!" is acceptable. After all, who actually enjoys cleaning their bedroom? By allowing your child to voice his anger, you are allowing him to feel and express himself. This does not mean that he does not have to clean his room. If he makes the statement, then stomps off to clean up his room, he is still listening to your request.

On the other hand, if your son says "F-you I am not picking up anything and you can't make me!" Now he is disrespecting you, his parent, while expressing his feelings of anger. This is a no-no!

In a recent post I discuss how children's brains are wired to view their parent's energy and attention as a reward regardless of whether this energy and attention is positive or negative. As a parent it can be hard not to get upset and feed into the disrespect with an argument on "how to speak with your mother". That however, is like quarters flowing out of a slot machine for a child, because it is all of that energy and attention that their brain loves!

Instead, in an even tone you should...

1) Acknowledge the feeling

2) Reflect the disrespect

3) Re-state the request

4) Acknowledge feeling again and disengage from the conversation if the discord continues.

"You're mad about having to clean your room right now. I get it, but don't curse at me. Now please clean up your room, and then you can go back to playing Fortnight." If your son continues to be disrespectful, you state, "I know you're angry, but you have to clean up your room," then go back to doing what you were doing prior to the conflict.

When your child cleans up his room, praise him with the positive energy and attention that his brain loves! "Thanks for cleaning up your room! You worked hard and got it done!"

By taking the approach that gives off less energy, you are not feeding into the anger your child is feeling, while also showing him that cursing at you is not going to get you worked up. It is also teaching him that it is okay to feel upset, and they there is a proper way of expressing his feelings.

Hope this was helpful!

With Regards,


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