HomeHealth & BehaviorBehavior & Discipline

Ask the Experts

How Can I Get My Daughter to Be Respectful?

By Debra Collins, Family therapist


My fifth-grader has gotten so she talks back and makes smart or sarcastic remarks whenever asked to do anything. It is so hard to ask her to do anything, knowing there will be an argument to get her to do it without any mouthing and asking over and over.


A fifth-grader may enjoy being one of the oldest kids in their school, at the same time fearing becoming the youngest in middle school. It could be she is trying on new roles at home where it is "safer to act out."

Sarcasm is a way that people show their annoyance, anger or frustration, and their comments often have an intended victim. Since you only mention that this behavior is happening at home and with you, I suspect you are getting the brunt of her "growing pains."

This would be a good time to review if your relationship is changing to reflect her desire for more independence and input. Have her participate in a new list of responsibilities and expectations that you have of one another. Her sarcasm could be her way of telling you that you that she wants a more age-appropriate relationship with you.

It is important to model good communication skills. Examine if your family is more prone to using indirect communication such as humor, sarcasm, or silence. Some use is not harmful, but it sounds like you and your daughter are not feeling respected. Working together to be more empathic and clear and direct might allow both of you an opportunity to better understand one another.

Children and teens get a steady diet of media depicting sarcasm as a common communication style. It is not unusual to hear children using sarcasm regularly with both adults and their peers. It would be useful to explore with your daughter how this might be affecting her relationships and help her to become more discerning.

It is easier to not resort to lecturing or nagging if you remain open and curious about what your daughter is attempting to convey. You might also want to suggest that the teacher have a classroom discussion on sarcasm and its impact on others.

Debra Collins is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has worked in both primary and middle schools as a school counselor. She gives workshops to teachers and students and offers parenting classes in the San Francisco Bay Area. To learn more, visit her website.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from readers

"I began reading this part of the website on behavior. I want to say just how relieved I am to discover that I am not the only one going through what i thought was my own problem. It is amazing how many other Mothers with five year olds, who have been complete Angels until now. I wish with all my heart there was some time of Universal parenting classes, for all parents to attend, so that single mothers (like myself) and even first time parents could join and make life so much better for our society. I wish instead of being swamped with football on t.V. someone could look into putting on some parenting programmes. Lord please hear my prayers and answer it and thank you to all the stressed out mommies who have just made me realize that i am not alone. "