Honoring your Parents or Honoring the Soccer Team

Respect for Your Parents or Being the Best Player on the Soccer Team

By Dr. Joseph Mallet, Psy.D.

Recently parents came to my office with concerns about their 6 year old boy who has been “disrespectful to his parents.” This behavior had been increasing recently as he was also disrespectful and angry with his siblings.  The boy’s behavior was so bad that the parents describe the disrespect as “mocking” of the mother’s words and talking back in a condescending way.  As well, the boy had also started physically nudging and “elbowing” his mother with his shoulder and elbow when frustrated.  As one can imagine this is not the type of situation a parent wants with their children. In my office the boy also displayed disrespect for me with poor eye contact and a very poor attitude toward authority.

I’ve been in practice for 14 years as a psychologist and collectively for over 22 years as a mental health provider. So, in all these years I have worked with hundreds of children and especially angry and disrespectful boys.  So this did not bother me one bit. In actuality, I really enjoy the challenge of working with kids with this type of “in your face” anger and disrespect. These actively aggressive children are often easier to get to know and understand than the kids who are quiet and introverted or passive aggressive.

These parents wanted help to try to figure out what is going on with this boy. This family dynamic is like many families. Both parents work, the nanny helps out, the kids have no chores, they kids all have activities, the father is so busy he is hardly home, and when he is it’s about what kind of fun they can have. Trips and extra-curricular activities are planned and executed regardless of behavior and attitude of the children. How often do I hear “but he is part of a TEAM.” He has to play “because he can’t let his teammates down.” So parents allow, accept and tolerate misbehavior, disrespect and poor attitude because they don’t want to let down the “sports team.” I like this idea of being part of a “team” and support and playing together for the success of the team.

But, what about the “Family team?!”

In order to modify a child’s behavior parents “reinforce” behaviors they like or “punish” behaviors they don’t like. This can be done by “taking something away”(negative) or by “adding something on” (positive). In this particular case the boy was intensely motivated by his participation in soccer. He was good at soccer, he likes soccer, and he “is the best player on the team,” I was told. The team depends on him! So let’s use soccer as the motivator. Perfect! His participation in soccer would be dependent on his ability to manage his frustration, control his anger, honor his father and mother, and display of self-control. Simple and doable.

Well as it happens, this is exactly what was planned; he had to earn the privilege of playing soccer. He lost (or, better, did not earn) a day of soccer everyday he had the poor behavior. Makes sense doesn’t it? He was probably going to test his mother’s resolve, and the mother was reminder to remain strong and follow through on the consequence of his behavior. As the week went along, he had not earned two days of soccer privileges (practice days), and all that was left was the Saturday game. Eventually, he did not earn the privilege of the game day.

Now a dilemma was evident. He did not earn the privilege of the game day, and the upset and angry boy asks his mother “what am I going to say to my team?” In my world, this is such a clear opportunity for life lesson that I could see a light from the sky come down, and the angels started singing, and the mother, as his “life coach,” pronounced the perfect words to help her child out of this conundrum – “You can tell them you have a stomachache.” Then the light from the sky shone a little dimmer just for a second until the boy responded, “But Mom -that’s a lie, I have to tell the truth!” Out of the mouths of babes! The light shone even brighter to indicate that the boy wanted his mother to give him the words about how to do the right thing. He needed the right words to help him through. The light was shining brightly! The mother had to see it. It was right there! The boy got it right! You don’t have to lie. You just have to accept responsibility for your behavior and work on self-control and respect for others, especially your parents. The mother was going to coach him to do the right thing. She was going to tell him the 10 Commandments admonition of “honoring your father and mother.” If he can’t control his behavior, attitude and words, he does not deserve to play in a game this week. If he does better next week then he earns the privilege of soccer.

I thought the parents and I were on the same page. But alas, we were not. The boy played the soccer game and the mother continues to struggle with her son’s disrespect. As parents, and our kids “life coach,” sometimes we have to take the tough road and teach them difficult lessons. What better time to teach them is when they are young? Take the opportunities “to teach your children well” those great lessons about life. Does respect and athletics have to be mutually exclusive.  Certainly one can still be respectful and play a great game of soccer at 6 years old and throughout life!



10 Basic Manners for Kids

10 Basic Manners for Kids

1. Waiting their turn and not interrupting other people when they are speaking. No one can be heard if there are too many voices at once. Gently tell them to wait until someone is done speaking, and then ask their question. Be sure and give your child your full attention when you are done speaking so as to reinforce the positive behavior of waiting his/her turn. While children are patiently waiting, hold their hand or put your arm around them to let them know you are aware of their presence.
2. No name calling. Even if it’s in “fun,” name calling hurts. Instead of labels, ask children to explain what the behavior is that bothers them.
3. Always greet someone when they come over to your house. Depending on your level of formality, you can teach your child to shake hands with adults who come over, but it’s not necessary to shake hands with other children. However, your child should always say, “hello” or “hi” when someone visits so that the guest feels welcome.
4. Say, “Please” and “Thank you” often. It shows respect and appreciation. In addition, if they are thanked, then say, “You’re welcome”.

5. Clean up after yourself. Whether at home or at a friend’s house, always pick up after yourself. It’s their mess, so they need to clean it up. If children leave a mess, then remind them that they need to clean up before the next activity can begin, and stick to it.

6. Good sportsmanship. After playing a game (sports, cards, board game), no matter the outcome, be pleasant. If your child wins, tell him/her to not gloat or show off, but to be kind. If they lose, don’t sulk or get mad, but be a good sport and tell the other child(ren) “good game” or speak well of them.

7. Take compliments courteously. If someone praises your children, teach them to be gracious and say, “thank you” and avoid putting themselves down or pointing out flaws.

8. Opening doors for others. When going into buildings, allow elders to go first and open the door for them. When preceding others into a building, don’t let the door slam in the face of those behind, but hold the door until the person behind can grab it. Also teach your children that if someone holds the door for them, then remember to say “thank you.”

9. Exiting/Entering etiquette. Elevators: allow those in the elevator to exit first before entering the elevator. Same with buildings or rooms – if someone is exiting the building or room through the same door you are entering, let them exit first.
10. Respect differences. When people do things differently from your family because of diversity in culture, race, or religion, then teach your child respect. Point out how interesting it is or how different families do different things. Families have their own traditions or rituals, and it is important and has meaning for that family.


Your Manners are Showing!

A parent came to me to report her adolescent son invited a few friends for an afternoon of fun at their house.  They boys played video games, played basketball, and watched a movie, and had popcorn, snacks. In spite of all the fun, the parent/host reported that only one of the six said “Hi, Mrs…, or said “thank you” for the host’s kindnesses and snacks provided, while the others failed in their greeting, tended to help themselves to the refrigerator and the snacks in the cabinet without asking, and overall showed not manners.   Then the host understood why. The parents of these same boys failed to greet the host when they came to retrieve their children; and did not even get out of the car to show their appreciation with a “thank you” to the host for caring their children over the past several hours.

We can wax nostalgic about how life was better back when.  In the good ol’ days when people were friendly, kind and showed good manners – life seemed to be simpler and there was presumed “family values”.  Can it be that we have lost the consideration of others and manners, and respect and a sense of the greater community?  Is it that we think manners don’t matter anymore?  Maybe manners are not important anymore. Trivial?  I beg to differ.  For those of you who are old enough to have watched the TV show growing up called “Leave it to Beaver” enjoyed the sitcom that aired from 1957-1970s of an all-American family living in Ohio – wise father Ward, loving mother June, teen-age son Wally and 8-year-old Theodore as “Beaver“.  The show provided “life lessons,” “cause and effect” behavior discussions, with rewards and punishments, and logical and applied consequences.  The show showed examples, among other things, lessons of earning enough money to “buy” their own bicycle, lessons of task completion, etc.  June is a typical television “good mom” who prepared meals for her family and attended her sons’ school events.  She is kind and often mediated between her husband and children. Ward was the understanding disciplinarian who doled out punishment when the boys strayed, or explained how their behavior was socially unacceptable!  The horror! Can you believe that parents would explain their child’s socially unacceptable behavior?

What do good manners provide?  Children who learned good manners (whose parents nagged about showing good manners) were better able to negotiate life and institutions, speak to adults, and knew how to behave in varied settings.  It turns out that manners and other socially enforced rules of politeness not only help train us, unconsciously, to be better members of society and its institutions, but also “rewire and strengthen networks in the brain.” It definitely does make me feel better to think of table manners as “habits and practices that help us reinforce our best intuitions and inculcate moral habits.”

My life experience also supports the premise that polite, considerate, and courteous children are more likable and more likely to get teacher’s attention, have more friends, have a sense of success, and feel more self-secure.

Maybe in today’s society the rules of what is deemed socially unacceptable are ambiguous.  Maybe not!  Children have to be taught right and wrong (your values a parent) usually between the ages of 2 and 12/13 years of age.  This is best because adolescents already know everything.  You won’t teach them too much in a traditional sense, after hormones kick in.  The lessons of right and wrong in adolescence.

I still think it is rude not to greet someone, even if it is just in passing.  I still think it is rude to not say “thank you” to the person holding the door for you as you walk through it talking on your cell phone.  I still think it is rude to throw your trash or dirty baby diapers from your car into the parking lot.  I think it is rude to hold up traffic while you finish your text.  It is rude to have a loud conversation on your phone in public –not considering others who may not want to listen.  I think it is rude to play loud music in your car that disturbs others walking on the street.  I still think it is rude to allow children to be unruly in public with no attempt at discipline from the parent.  I still think it is rude for children not to greet known adults with a simple “hello”.   I think it is rude to not say “please” and “thank you” for simple requests.  My life growing up was nothing like this “Leave it to Beaver” situation comedy.   Sure this sitcom was romanticized.  It’s sort of like the life depicted in a Norman Rockwell painting.  Yes, there is something nostalgic about a simpler life when life was slower; when the focus was on raising your children well, and good manners were expected.  Just the thought brings back warm and fuzzy feelings about a more considerate time.

The definition of what is deemed “socially unacceptable” may change somewhat as we progress; however, we can still identify a child with good manners from a child without good manners.  There is something pleasing, heartwarming, and maybe unfortunately surprising about interacting with a child with good manners.  They stand out.  Their “please and thank you” roll off their tongues with ease.  They are considerate and anticipate another’s need with “let me help you,” they hold the door with a smile.  It reminds me of a time when it was OK for boys and men to give complements, hold the door for others, asking to help with a load, or to simply be aware when someone was not feeling well.   Let’s try to make this world more considerate.

For goodness sake! Our Manners are Showing!


Sickness and Death in the Family

I saw the Lion King Movie many, many years ago BC (before children), but remember the powerful images and song “The Circle of Life.”  Disney has a way of always exploiting the dichotomies of life/death, good/evil, and light/dark to enhance their movies.  This movie had many themes that were powerful for me as an adult viewing a “children’s movie”.  However, life and death is a perennial theme that impacts everyone including young children.  I have had many parents wonder about how best to tell their child about the terminal illness and/or death of a beloved grandparent or close relative.  There is no easy way to do this.  Death can be the scary unknown, but one’s faith and understanding of the “circle of life” can help.  I remember, as a child from a large Catholic southern Louisiana family raise in Houston, (by large I mean – I am the middle child of 13 children), we went to Baptisms, Confirmations, Weddings, and Funerals of family members and close friends at our church just as a matter of routine.  This was just the expectation.  I don’t think there was ever a question as to whether or not, as children/adolescents, we should attend these “circle of life” events.  Being a Catholic meant that we participated as a family.  Funerals often meant for us the sadness of the death, but also the laughter of the stories being told about the person as we remembered and stood outside the funeral home or church gathered for support.  To me, those are great memories – the “circle of life”.

While we worry about the psychological impact sickness and death of loved ones will have on our young children, it is a fact of life, and discretion is advised.  Helping our children understand and discuss (openly and freely) the death of a beloved pet, or finding a dead a bird or butterfly in the backyard, or a dead animal on the road, will go a long way to gradually exposing them to the eventuality of the death of family members.  By discretion I obviously mean, allowing a very young child to visit a loved one besieged by the ravages of cancer may be overwhelming for them.  However, that may be different for a pre-teen or an adolescent who will be better able to put those images in context.  There is not predictable formula to use for when and where to visit and see a loved one dying.  But the rituals in the Catholic faith promote peaceful understand in the context of faith of the “circle of life” events.  It is my opinion, that children should not be excluded from these rituals (funerals).  It’s OK for them to see you cry and be sad over death – you are human and so are they.  Sadness is a healthy and appropriate emotion for them to see and experience at a funeral.  Modeling appropriate emotion in a life event is healthy.


Can the sadness of being rejected mature into contentment with self?

by Dr. Joseph Mallet

While as parents we want our children to be well rounded and well adjusted, pre-teen and teen girls’ identity and self worth is often defined by being included or excluded from the social group.  This is especially hard on girls.  Because of girls’ need for emotional connectedness they take rejection or exclusion especially hard.  Not being invited to an anticipated or spontaneous social event is devastating.   It won’t be the last time.  It happens, and learning how to respond to such a situation is critical to overall development at this age.   Responding in a highly emotional and erratic manner only gives the group more concern about the girl that was excluded, and in a sense justifies the exclusion.  While it is difficult to learn, it is important to teach girls to respond to rejection in a calm manner while demonstrating self-confidence and self-security.  Positive self-talk like “that’s OK, I can invite others to my house for a movie,”  and “They have the right to invite whomever they want to their house, that’s fine with me”, and “you don’t want to be my friend, that’s OK I have others who I can talk to.”  Acknowledging the disappointment, yet remaining happy and well-adjusted through disappointment will give the impression and the reality of maturity and stability that is important in social groups.  Individuals and groups dislike constant drama and find it unsettling.  Maintaining a friendly and respectful attitude toward others makes us more attractive as a friend individually and as part of a group.