How to Speak up When Your Kids Aren’t Being Respected

‘Aww, give me a kiss or I’ll cry’

‘Be a good girl for Mummy’

‘Be nice and share your toys’

‘Say please or you can’t have it’

‘Shhh stop crying, I don’t want to hear it’

When you start thinking about how children are treated in our society, and the discrimination they face, you see it everywhere. You can’t turn it off anymore. It becomes quite frustrating and discouraging at times. So how does a respectful parent get along in a world full of childism?

How to Speak up When Your Kids Aren't Being Respected

On one hand, sometimes you just want to keep the peace, right? On the other hand, we want things to change. We want to show people with our actions how children deserve to be treated. We want to stand up for our children!

I hear you! People tell me often of the times when they just didn’t know what to say, or when they tried to say something and it all went pear shaped. Maybe the secret is being prepared? When we’re caught off guard we end up not knowing what to say and then things happen that we’re really not comfortable with. Or else we blurt out something we really shouldn’t have said! eek! Coming up to holiday time, when every second person you meet in the shops asks your child if they’ve been good or bad, is the perfect time to prepare I think!

Here are some of my tips…

Be confident

Whatever you do, do it with confidence! Be assertive, not confrontational or passive. You want people to know you’re serious, but not looking for a fight or asking to be convinced of the opposite viewpoint.

Be calm

Remain calm! If you can. I mean if someone actually smacks your kid then you’re not going to be calm, but hopefully that’s not going to happen! Assuming it’s a less dramatic situation than that, be calm. You might be quite frustrated but anger can silence your message. Calmly state your boundaries.

How to Speak up When Your Kids Aren't Being Respected

Decide on your boundaries

Speaking of boundaries, decide what they are now! What are things you will ‘let go’ to keep the peace, and what things are unacceptable and you will need to speak up about. Does they change depending on the setting/circumstances/people involved?

For example, forced affection is nonnegotiable for me (and I hope everyone). I will not accept anyone touching my children without permission or guilting them into showing affection. But things like people saying ‘good girl’, while I don’t agree with praise used to manipulate behaviour, I will let slide in most circumstances. I’ve talked about the issue with my children and they don’t hear it at home so the negative impact is pretty low in my mind. It’s more likely to cause an argument with well meaning people who are just trying to be kind, and I’d rather avoid that in this case.

Practice saying no

‘No’ is a hard word for some people to say. Especially without then also going into apologising and justifying it. Is it because we were always taught to do what our parents said? That it’s rude to say no? I’m not sure, but I definitely find it hard, especially if the person I’m saying it to is older than me! The fact is, we all have the right to say no to something we’re uncomfortable with. We just need more practice! It will feel awkward at first but the more you do it, the easier it is. Think back to some situations where you wished you had said no and imagine what it would have been like if you had. Next time you encounter the same, you’ll be ready!

Prepare ahead of time

How to Speak up When Your Kids Aren't Being Respected

I recently had a big chat with my 7 and 5 year old’s about how people view and treat children. This time it was prompted by someone asking them if they had been good or bad this year ahead of Christmas, but it happens quite regularly. They see the discrepancy between how they and their friends are treated by their parents, to how other people in public often treat their children. We have unfortunately witnessed quite a few time-out’s and smacks and they are always left confused and worried. So we talk about it! This time we also had a discussion about what to do or say in certain situations and they had some great ideas. A couple of phrases they came up with that they can use are ‘stop pressuring me’, and ‘my body, my choice’. They feel empowered and have some words ready if they need them!

Speak up for your kids if they can’t

How to Speak up When Your Kids Aren't Being Respected

Even if you’ve prepared your kids, don’t expect them to always be able to speak up for themselves. It can be scary and awkward for them too! If they can’t do it, then it’s our job to step in when necessary. We want to show them that we will protect them, and that their rights are more important than our feelings of awkwardness. We also want to model assertiveness and healthy boundaries.

But, what do you say? Again, I think preparing ahead of time is essential! Then you’re not left speechless. Here’s some suggestions to say either to the person, or your child, in different situations…

When you hear Unwanted advice
You could say 'That sounds interesting'

When you hear 'You're spoiling them' You could say 'We don't believe in spoiling', 'You can never have too much love'

When you see Invading your child's personal space, you could say 'Please give him/her some space', 'Please be sure to ask before touching/picking up/tickling them'

When you hear safety concerns you could say 'we trust them', 'they are very capable'

When you hear forced sharing, you could say 'they will let you know when they're finished with it'

When you hear forced manners, you could say, 'We don't force manners'.
When you see unwanted help, you could say 'they love to learn new things, they will ask if they need help'

When you hear controlling eating, you could say 'listen to your body, eat as much as you want'

When you hear 'have you been good?' , you could say 'All children are good'

When you hear guilt and coercion, you could say 'You are free to make your own choices', 'do what feels right/comfortable for you'

When you hear dismissing feelings, you could say 'It's ok to cry/be sad/ feel angry'

When you see forced affection, you could say 'It's their body, their choice'

When you hear laughing at children, you could say 'They would like to be taken seriously. Please don't laugh'.
How to Speak up When Your Kids Aren't Being Respected


Unfortunately, there’s still going to be things you miss or can’t be there for, and children will witness a lot of people treating other children disrespectfully. So it’s always good to debrief afterwards if the children are up for it. Don’t blame or shame anybody, but just ask them what they think and how they felt about things. You can talk about what you believe, why other people believe differently (and how their experiences may have led to their beliefs), without labelling the other person as ‘bad’. We can’t change other people, we can only change how we respond to them.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has” -Margaret Mead

Do you have any other tips to add? What are your go-to phrases? I’d love to hear!

How to Speak up when your kids aren't being respected


Kaitlin Hynes
December 11, 2016 at 8:13 pm

Excellent. Will be borrowing some of these!!

December 11, 2016 at 8:21 pm

Thanks! Very useful!

December 11, 2016 at 9:22 pm

Really enjoyed this post. Very helpful.

Virginie Montagne
December 11, 2016 at 10:56 pm

I so adore your blog and your post ! We have found our tribe now, but a few years ago I felt so alone with my “weird ideas” and it feels so good to know other people feel the same 🙂 People don’t understand when you speak up for your baby for example because they suddenly interrupt him in his play and carry him for their own pleasure.. or when you don’t force your children to say please or thank you … There are so many examples and like you said anywhere you go you will witness children being not respected … It is very difficult for me to stay calm, but I’m working on it and I am getting better at it with the years (I mean I don’t shout at people but I think it shows that internally I am not calm at all ^^ ). Anyway, thanks for writing this, once again 😉

December 12, 2016 at 12:11 am

We’re fortunate in that we don’t wind up in these circumstances very often. In the few instances where I have had to take control of a situation, I was less than pleasant or tactful. A simple abrupt, ‘Stop what you’re doing’, did the trick though.

I’m also fortunate that all the kids are great at establishing their own boundaries. They’re independent, and have no issue letting people know what they do and don’t want. The very few times that I’ve been looked to by the offending adult for support, a simple, “Hunh, that didn’t work out.” has completely defused the situation.

Thanks for the excellent post. It’s always nice to see these techniques, and this lifestyle in action for other people.

December 12, 2016 at 4:14 am

I totally agree with the statement that children own their own bodies. My daughter says it’s part of rape culture, if we force hugs and kisses on kids. I had never even thought of such a thing before. But, now I’m more thoughtful, and usually remember to ask my grandbaby for a kiss, instead of just grabbing her.
I have a question. You don’t require your children to say please? I was wondering why, if the answer is you don’t.

Mo Allan
December 12, 2016 at 6:40 am

I always enjoy reading your posts. Thank you.

December 12, 2016 at 12:30 pm

I have a question- what should I say when my child snatched a toy away from someones hand?

    December 12, 2016 at 2:29 pm

    I think that depends on the kid’s reaction. Sometimes we jump in with our adult ideas of fairness without first giving them a chance to figure it out. Sometimes they’re just experimenting and working out the details of social interaction. If the child is upset I usually use ‘sportscasting’ to help them problem solve. That mean just kind of commentating on what’s happening without judgement or blame, e.g. ‘You had the toy and now she has the toy, you look upset, you weren’t finished playing’ etc. You might be surprised how capable they are of sorting it out.

December 12, 2016 at 3:04 pm

I agree that strangers should not be touching other people’s children and sometimes occasions arise where you have to say something but I don’t think that people who ask if your child has been good are trying to be condescending, I think they’re trying to be pleasant and nice.
Also, teaching children to say “please” and thank you” isn’t about manners to me, it’s about showing appreciation to another person, plus it makes both the child and the other person feel good. A child should know that situations aren’t just about them and appreciation teaches them to think about others.
In a world where everything has to be politically correct all the time it’s scary that what is being said to children is constantly being taken the wrong way.
I don’t think that people are trying to be rude most of the time when these things happen and they shouldn’t they have to walk on eggshells because what they say could be taken the wrong way. I give most people the benefit of the doubt within reason because most people are good people.
If people are actually rude to your child then it’s important to say something so that the other person knows that they’ve gone too far and also so that your child learns how to stick up for themselves.

    December 14, 2016 at 1:49 pm

    If you read the article, you’d have seen this near the beginning, “But things like people saying ‘good girl’, while I don’t agree with praise used to manipulate behaviour, I will let slide in most circumstances. I’ve talked about the issue with my children and they don’t hear it at home so the negative impact is pretty low in my mind. It’s more likely to cause an argument with well meaning people who are just trying to be kind, and I’d rather avoid that in this case.”
    For me, please and thank you are things I model to my children. And I also tell them, incidentally, that for me it’s more about their tone than the words. There’s no word for ‘please’ in a lot of languages. But do I want them whining or demanding? No. A simple “mama, could you pass the water?” is fine with me. They’re 3 and they understand the concept perfectly well. Just as they would understand using tone to insincerely say ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ or ‘sorry’. I do not believe that appreciation can only be shown with words. I think words are highly overrated, actually. And that’s saying something for someone who uses so many (I’m working on it!).

December 14, 2016 at 1:26 pm

“Childism” I think this is the opposite of what the author means. A common misconception that I will be happy to correct. An ism is something we hold HIGHER than something else. Think ableism (the idea that it’s better to be able-bodied), professionalism (the idea that it’s better to be “professional”), etc. It is less clear with things like sexism and racism but indeed sexism is the holding of one ABOVE the other, as is racism.

    December 31, 2016 at 6:43 am

    I understand your reasoning, but I look at it differently: to me, words like “racism” and “sexism” indicate that we treat some differently, or discriminate, based on the noun to which the -ism is attached. That is to say, racism means we discriminate based on race, sexism means we discriminate based on sex.

    From this perspective, childism is still a good word for what the author describes: we discriminate based on the fact that we’re dealing with a child.

    Professionalism is not an -ism in the same way the other words are: it has nothing to do with preferential treatments or prejudice. It simply denotes competency. One can be a very professional amateur photographer, for example :).

December 22, 2016 at 10:19 pm

My go-to phrases are “there’s no milk in that right?” Or “don’t give him cheese dad” along with “let him down” and “give him some space”. My son has cow’s milk protein allergy and it really pisses me off when my dad tries to feed him something that isn’t safe for him to eat. Dad also keeps making comments about the alternative milk i buy for me and my son, saying how in his opinion it isn’t milk at all. Last night i snapped and said “almond milk won’t make him sick dad, no one is forcing you to have it.” That quickly shut him up.

December 23, 2016 at 11:23 am

Great post!! We run into this a lot with extended family. I often find myself jumping in front of forced physical affection by giving the arriving family members a hug and saying “Hey Grandpa, so good to see you! I’d love a hug! Izzy (2 year old), would you like a hug too?” It makes it very clear that we are deferring to her, and not expecting to force a hug. I also have several times had to jump in when inlaws say “no no” as the poor kid is doing something she’s allowed to do, in her own home. I say, “yep, she’s totally allowed – isn’t she capable / strong / coordinated? (whatever fits the situation). Thanks so much for so many good suggestions – you’re totally right that having some phrases ready at hand, makes all the difference!!

Ana Carina
December 25, 2016 at 11:11 am

Thank you so much for this , you have helped us !

Niamh Ní A
December 28, 2016 at 12:53 am

I really agree with this post. I don’t think forced manners or affection are worth having, and are practise for dishonesty and insincerity. Really enjoy your blog, Sara!

December 28, 2016 at 5:33 pm

Great suggestions it’s just knowing how to follow up on it – ie debates and upset family members would definitely ensue after saying most of these and that’s where I get all flustered and can’t debate properly and hence the authoritarian often wins out as their argument is basic.

Sarah Hemm
January 11, 2017 at 10:11 am

Wow. Your blog is amazing! I just came across it and have been reading your articles, so great. As a homeschooling mom of 3, I thank you!

January 13, 2017 at 9:26 pm

Great post! I need some go-to phrases for when people disrespect my kids – and me! Yesterday, a mom got all in my face, invading my space, asking if I was ok with her “encouraging” my son in controlled play – a complicated relay race my 3 kids did not want to participate in, but went along with the other kids. I cowardly replied to her that it was fine, wanting to avoid a confrontation. She then demanded to know what was my problem and I was forced to admit that I preferred free play rather than contrived games. She harrumphed and stomped away. I’m still physically ill over the confrontation.

June 5, 2017 at 4:16 pm

This article was so impactful I offen wonder many things for the past year and this artical answered all of them and I look forward to exploring deeper now that I have some language to use and share thank you for sharing it was beautiful.

June 5, 2017 at 8:12 pm

Great sharing, THANK YOU! Needed this to educate myself and daughters as no one taught/spoke up for me that way before.

June 7, 2017 at 4:02 am

Some of these are spot on. Others not so much. Children should ALWAYS taught manners. Rudeness and disrespect stem from lack of manners. They won’t get far in life that way.

June 8, 2017 at 6:16 pm

This is really beautiful and interesting.
I would disagree with one point though. I’ve four children and the only thing we forced early on is manners. They must say please and thankyou as we as adults do. I think it’s really important to bring up hood citizens and part of that is being respectful of themselves and others. No person shld feel entitled no matter what their age. They should feel self worth, love, respect and gratitude. Much love xx

June 25, 2017 at 5:40 am

I started using “You be in charge of You” with my 5 year old. Like I might ask if he wants to take his sweater off when I think it’s warm. If he declines, I say “Ok. If you get warm you can take it off. You be in charge of You.”
If I think someone is over-directing how he dies something I usually interject directly to him so that they can hear: “Or do it however you want”.

June 25, 2017 at 11:30 am

How do I talk to my Children’s Dentist about Not talking down to them about their teeth care..The children go in alone to get their teeth cleaned and when they come out they are upset because of the way the dentist describes whats wrong with their teeth..The Dentist even sounds threatening if front of us … I always have to talk to the children after about how the dentist talks to them and they know and can see, But I don’t want it to happen again.. This Dentist is a pediatric dentist.I searched high and low for one..I think next time I will go in with them….

June 26, 2017 at 6:59 pm

Interesting article. Each to their own in regards to manners but totally agree with the main point of the post.
My son (7) has ADHD and we frequently get comments that are both unhelpful and unnecessary. People feel that they are able to step in to ‘discipline’ even when I’m there. Last week his nanny stood right in front of where he was sitting and he kicked out his leg to get her to move (poor impulse control) she shouted “if you kick me again I will kick you back, you’re a spiteful, spiteful boy, you’re spiteful”
She went to continue but I stepped in a told her no. He is not a spiteful boy, his behaviour was wrong and he needs help to understand what he should have done but he is not a spiteful boy. I told her she was undoing everything I have been working so hard to do. I took him aside and explained that he had hurt nanny, I helped him understand that he should have asked her to move politely and waited. I asked him what he would like to do next and he said say sorry, so he wrote an I’m sorry letter (which is hard for him)
I can’t even count the amount of times we’ve let stuff go to keep the peace but no more.
We are trying to teach our son how to react calmly and be respectful of others and we are doing this by example.

June 27, 2017 at 3:06 pm

Hi, is there a printable version of this?

November 9, 2017 at 5:58 pm

Generally I agree with the blog. Forced hugs are awful, stopping kids do dangerous things that we did is saying we don’t trust them and praise can be a twisted thing.

I disagree slightly when it cakes to manners., I think getting kids in the habit of please and thank you is important. My son as ASD and while his blunrness can be charming but he doesn’t really copy the people around him so I could be the most polite person in the world and it wouldn’t rub off. I didn’t know for sure if my child had slight Autism until recently but I guessed his social were a little off so I taught him, left to it he would haven been rude. Manners help children’s if they’re not being polite they should be told the code and to someone’s fake it.

November 11, 2017 at 5:31 pm

I love reading your post. I have a question – my daughter who is 5 years old cane cold towards other family members besides me. For example, she would not say “good night” to her grandma or give her a kiss. Or she won’t go to her father to say good bye when he is leaving for work. What should I do in those situations? I still keep encourage to get up say good bye or good night and such. I do not know if I am doing it right way.

John Muir
July 2, 2020 at 5:47 pm

Great piece, Sara.

I particularly like the guidance relating to being confident. For me, it’s really helped internalising the belief that it’s my role as a parent to lead. To supplement my girls’ maturing brains and provide them with emotional assurance by confidently stepping in and leading and emotionally supporting them through life’s many adventures and challenges.

Thank you for sharing.

Tara Briggs
February 8, 2022 at 12:01 am

I really like this blog! However, some of the authors posts are not completely accessible to people who are blind or have a visual impairment. I was interested in the tips about how to speak up as a parent if my children are not being respected. Unfortunately it seems to be some kind of a screenshot with no text.

October 29, 2022 at 6:34 am

I feel upset if some adult gives out to my child in front of me when they see I’m the mother. Also I don’t like when adults talk about horror stories in front of my children and I’ve stopped people doing that- ladt time it was a lady taxi driver. My children when around 3-4 years old were told by many people especially on the bus ‘Will Itake you home?’ and they got scared. I know that was said as a joke but I just say that my child doesn’t like that, or I say to my child out lod that that is not true.

October 29, 2022 at 6:46 am

When my daughter was 3 years and a half I lived in a city for 3 months and everyday we both heard people saying how pretty she is, up to a point that it was upsetting. There were too manh peoplw saying the same thing and even she asked me why they all kept saying that! The effect of all this was that they were drilling the sexist idea that being pretty is the most important thing for a girl and I didn’t like my daughter to have that message. I started thinking about what to say and we both started saying ‘Pretty…but clever too!’. People took on the remark and incorporated it, which helped a little bit. Have you ever had a similar experience whith your children?

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