Showing Care When You Hear “I Don’t Care”

“I don’t care!”

We all have heard it before—a child’s dismissive comeback, often in response to a parent’s concern. Discussions about children’s behavior and expectations are often stressful for parents; a child’s “I-don’t-care” retort can generate additional frustration, anger, and sometimes, self-doubt.


Why does the “I-don’t-care” response cause such a strong reaction?  How come we find it so hard to respond in a measured way, and instead often find ourselves reacting in ways that escalate the discussion into an argument?  To find an answer to these questions, it can help to look inside ourselves; if we do, I believe we will find one definitive and primary emotion: fear.

What might parents fear? One parent might fear that he or she is an ineffective parent; another might fear the loss of a child’s love.  While we experience our fears as real, if we look carefully at the situation, we can see that they are usually unfounded. Resistance to discipline is not a sign that we are ineffective parents; it is more likely a sign that we are successfully challenging the child to make better, albeit difficult, choices.   Persistence in discipline does not result in the loss of love; more often, it leads to a deeper respect.

Understanding that our fears are not reality-based can allow us to avoid the trap of reacting out of them.  When we allow our fears to rule in a discussion, we tend to intensify our response to our children’s misbehavior. We may raise our voices or threaten to increase the severity of consequences we have already put in place. Such a reaction will likely take the child’s focus off of their own behavior to being angry with their parent.

Let’s take a step back for a moment to think about a real-life situation. Imagine that your child has made a wrong choice, and now needs to accept a consequence.  As you are explaining the consequence, your child says, “I DON’T CARE”, and you feel an impulse to react.  You can remind yourself that your fears are likely unfounded at that moment. You can then continue on carrying out the consequence with firmness and determination. (See our blog for other posts on consequences).  While we are unlikely to receive thanks for our persistence (except perhaps ten or even twenty years later!), following through on efforts to promote positive behavior is likely to assist a child in making better choices over the long run.

A child’s dismissive response does not mean that you have done something wrong or that the bond with your child is in jeopardy.  On the contrary, it is usually a sign that you are successfully challenging your child to engage in more positive behavior.  If you can put your fears in perspective, refrain from reacting, and show confidence in yourself as a parent, chances are that your child will finally respond and ultimately learn to make more effective choices.

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