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Controlling Your Emotions and Behavior When Your Child Is Disrespectful

Learn how to stay cool and maintain a steady course when your child is rocking the boat.

By John W. Maag, Ph.D.

Dad: Michelle, I've told you three times to wash up for bed.
Michelle: I'm going as fast as I can; I'm not some track star!
Dad: Listen, young lady, it's late, I've had a long day at work, and the last thing I need from you is back talk.
Michelle: (Under her breath) Why don't you just shut up and leave me alone?
Dad: (Clenching his jaw, thinking) She shouldn't have said 'shut up' to me; that's an awful thing to say; I can't stand it when she does that! She's in trouble for making my evening so terrible.

(Red-faced and yelling) I'm not going to tell you again, get in that bathroom and wash up!

It is not always easy to keep your cool when a child is refusing to follow your directions - especially after a long day at work. But when you allow yourself to react emotionally, as Michelle's father did, you are more likely to respond ineffectively - and even to make the situation worse. In this article, a very powerful system is described for learning how to control your emotions and behavior regardless of how disagreeably your child treats you. The approach is based on rational-emotive therapy (RET) which was developed by psychologist Albert Ellis, Ph. D., and has subsequently been elaborated on by many professionals, including Tom Miller, who studied under Ellis. Miller developed an innovative way to help people recognize and combat four common irrational thinking styles, which you'll learn about in this article.

Recognizing Your Irrational Beliefs

Most people engage in a variety of irrational thinking styles. An irrational thought is simply one that does not match the facts of a given situation. For example, a person who says, "I'll never get into graduate school because I have low entrance exam scores," fails to acknowledge the other factors considered in the admission process - grade-point average, letters of recommendation, and relevant past experiences. Ellis believed that irrational thinking styles stem from both heredity and environment. Miller considered that, of the many irrational thinking styles, four contribute most to the difficulty people experience controlling their emotions and behavior: "Demandingness," "Awfulizing," "I-can't-stand-it," and "Condemning and damning."

It's important to note that we often engage in these four irrational thinking styles automatically and unconsciously. The chart below presents a "generic" irrational statement (left column), and the type of irrational thinking involved in each part of the statement (right column).

What we say to ourselves or others... ... and 4 types of irrational thinking behind it.
"That event (for example, a child telling you to shut up) shouldn't have happened, and... Demandingness: The use of the words "should/shouldn't," "have to," "need to," and "must." These words represent a magical way to change reality to the way we want it.'s awful that it did, and... Awfulizing: The belief that a situation is more than 100% worse than it is, catastrophizing, making mountains out of mole hills.
...I can't stand it, and... I-can't-stand-it: Imagining one can't tolerate situations or have any happiness if the situation persists.
....somebody around here needs to be condemned and damned as rotten and worthless - let's see, is it me? Is it you? Is it the way the world works?" Condemning and damning: The tendency to be excessively critical of oneself, others, or the world.