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My 11-year-old son behaves rudely with me. He answers simple questions with a frown or a sneer, or worse, talks back, like, “You tell me if you think I’ve packed my bag or not." Sometimes, he even mimics me while repeating my question. Frankly, I feel like slapping him (but I don’t). I ask him about things like his school bag because he often forgets to take some things and gets notes from his school about this. His father travels a lot, so when he is in town, their interaction is very good and my son is on his best behaviour. Also, my husband gets him gifts. I have told my husband about this rude behaviour and he thinks I should just ignore him when he does this and not take it personally. Do you agree?

It looks like you’re the resident bad guy and dad is Santa Claus. “Just ignoring him" can be a strategy sometimes, but is not the answer. Your husband must intervene and make it clear to your son that he does not like this behaviour either and will not allow him to treat you shabbily and rudely. Children pick up on what is tacitly allowed by one parent, though it bothers the other parent. It is important that you don’t allow him to operate in that space, which is a gap between both parents’ perception of what is right and wrong, what is okay and not okay behaviour.

Also look out for any kind of rude, sarcastic or offhand tone that you might be using or may have used in the past with the child, or any such interaction that the child might be seeing between parents and other elders around him. If that is the case then people will have to stop this kind of communication. In fact, you could, as parents, go out of your way to speak warmly and courteously to each other, even when disagreeing, or during day-to-day interactions. Perhaps his friends talk this way, but you will have to make it clear that you will not be spoken to like that.

Another thing that you could try is, and he is old enough for this, simply leave the room, become unavailable for any rude talk. Don’t walk out in a huff but simply vanish on him and leave whatever task you may have been doing for him, half or not done. You need to make the connect that no one around him will be their happy and helpful selves if he chooses to be rude.

You, along with your husband, could also explain to him that someone with such a rude attitude comes across as silly and unlikeable rather than smart or funny. I don’t think you are over-reacting or should let things be as they are. You will be putting in place an important value in your child—that an unpleasant demeanour and smarmy replies will not get him far and, in fact, discourage those who are trying to help him with everyday chores. The sarcasm is being used as a cover-up for what he fails to do—for instance, packing his bag carefully. You, or better still, your husband, should also jokingly tell him that what he is doing is like being sarcastic and rude to an alarm clock that is set to wake him up.

Gouri Dange is the author of More ABCs Of Parenting and ABCs Of Parenting.

To read Gouri’s previous columns, click here.

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