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!