I swear I am not making this up - have I mentioned that I've always wanted to be Dear Abby? Well, today in the comments, I got a real, honest-to-God request for advice!!
It is so nice to be asked for my advice, instead of foisting it upon my friends and family, who listen patiently and then do precisely whatever they want in spite of my good advice! Wow, this is a red letter day...
Ok, here is the question:
I could REALLY use some help with my 6 year old boy and 8 year old girl. They are both VERY disrespectful, not just to my husband and myself, but also to each other. They have twin 3 year olds siblings and I am scared of them learning this behavior. When the two oldest were MUCH younger, my husband and I did NOT get along very well...so this is a learned behavior...could you give advice on how to fix what WE have broken? Thanks!
Dear Mrs. Cosby,
I think it is wonderful that you asked this question, that you recognize your role (and your husband's role) in teaching your kids this behavior, and that you want to make it better. This is going to be a whole-family project, but I don't think there is any reason why you can't all learn to be more respectful to each other. (Congratulations on getting through the rough patch in your marriage and sticking it out, and getting better. That's not easy to do, and it is worthy of a great deal of praise and encouragement!)
I think the best approach would be to break down the "disrespectful" behavior into its component parts - swearing, sassing, and insulting, maybe. It depends on what you mean by disrespect, and what behaviors you want to eliminate. Then you sit down with them and you say, "You know, Dad and I have been worried about how much we are all swearing in this family. From now on, whenever any of us swears, we're going to...." Here you have a choice, you can either give something (an "X" on a chart, maybe?) or take something away (a token?).
At the end of the week, the person with the fewest X's can get a reward - choose their favorite dinner, maybe, or select a video at the store for the whole family to watch. If you take something away (which may be harder to implement, but might be easier for concrete thinkers to understand), then the person with the most is, of course, the winner and gets the reward.
If your kids can't plan a week in advance, make it a day and make the reward smaller (maybe can stay up 30 minutes late, or gets an extra book read at bedtime...).
I think it's important, since they learned this behavior from you and your husband, that the two of you participate, too. It will make it more fun for them if they know they can "catch" you every once in a while... And I'll bet they will! (By the way, I am HORRIBLE about swearing, and one of MG's first words was "Damn," so don't think that I'm Miss Manners up here, sitting on high, having never screwed up!)
Once you're satisfied with the family's progress on swearing, move on to sassing. Be sure to carefully define the behavior for them. Give them lots of examples. You'll have to make a list of the words you don't want them to say (think about only working on the big ones at first, break the list down into the 3 worst, then the next 3, and so on...). Define "sassing" for them, and act out a few examples with your husband so that they know what you're talking about (and can't argue with you about it!).
I think you'll find that you will have to work for a long time on the first few goals, but after some practice, subsequent behaviors will go faster. They'll get the idea.
Good luck with this! Please do let me know how it turns out.
Of course - if anyone else has a question, I would be thrilled to try to help. I'm not a shrink or an expert, but I was trained to be a special ed teacher (we did behavior analysis all the time), and I have several years of experience with kids who had disabilities and behavioral disorders, as well as experience with my own kids. Results are guaranteed! If you implement my advice and are not happy with the results, I will give you a full refund!