I show my son a lot of respect (I give him lots of choices, and I let him tell me what he wants), but he doesn’t seem to respect me! How do I change this?
Here’s the thing – he doesn’t respect you. But can you really blame him? You’ve given away all your power. You don’t want to be an abusive authority, but you’ve confused authoritarian with authority. You have to exercise authority in order to have your child’s respect. You must become comfortable in your power and stop giving it to him. The problem is that he knows he’s not able to handle the power you’re giving him. That’s why he’s scared and that’s why he’s acting out.
I would encourage you to sit your son down and tell him that you’re sorry – you’re sorry you haven’t exercised your authority and have give him too much power. Tell him you know that can be scary for a child and you know when he misbehaves, it’s his way of telling you he’s scared. Tell him some of the things he’s done are not okay (be specific: hitting, calling you stupid or other names, swearing at you, etc.) and that you will no longer allow him to do those things without acting.
I would encourage you to stop giving him any choices except the ones that apply only to him for the time being. For example, let him pick the green or the blue shirt, but don’t let him decide what your afternoon will look like; let him decide between two toys you’ve preselected for his friend’s gift, but don’t let him decide where the family is going to lunch, or in what order you’re doing activities.
Then decide what you will do. And do it.
So, for example, you might have said something like this when you picked him up: “We’re going to lunch and then to get your friend a gift for the birthday party. We’re going to McDonald’s and you may have the hamburger or the chicken nuggets. Think about it while we’re on the way.” When you got to the store you might have said, “You will see lots of things in this store that you will want. You may look at them and you may want them, but we are not getting them. I will remind you if you forget. If you whine at me or do anything I find unacceptable, we will leave without getting a present and go straight home.” Then, if it happened, I’d turn and leave the store and go straight home. No discussion. No second chances. No giving an inch. After a few times of this, he will come to see that you are serious and he will stop.