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4 Ways to Deal with an Elder Who Steps Out of Line!



As a child, my grandfather would graciously let out a loud stinky fart while engaging me in a conversation or even during a meal, then ask me to thank him for it…and I actually would! It sounds silly but it kind of traumatized me at the time. Although I always felt my grandfather was out of line for doing that, my hands were tied for certain reasons: one, he my grandfather; two, he was also a chief and tradition demanded I kept mute and endure whatever he dished out. I was expected to respect and thank him for literally everything he did to or for me – good or bad. Looking back now, I wonder what I would if he were still alive and insisted on such misbehavior. Would I still keep mute and thank him each time?

Recently, a colleague, who is over 30 with 2 children, shared an awkward story of how her biological mother (a 61-year-old) gave her a hot knock on the head in front of her husband, children, and maid, for suggesting she (her mother) ran an errand by herself. Of course, she felt so disrespected and cried over it, but could neither send her mother packing nor admonish her because…well, she’s her mother, she is older and tradition demands respect for her.

As Africans and Nigerians, it is the cultural expectation to show respect and great regard for elders, even when they are being inappropriate, rude and bad mannered. You are expected to put up with crap from the Mama across the street who keeps asking you rude and personal questions; the Ma in church who blatantly condemns the way you raise your children, and goes ahead to blatantly call you a lazy parent and your child, ill-mannered; the Daddy who spouts the worst profanities and maybe also even attempts to touch you inappropriately at the slightest opportunity… yet you keep mute because you aren’t sure how to even begin addressing such. So you go ahead and assume he didn’t do it intentionally. The ones I find most irritating are those that play the “I’m an elder” card and make you run errands or do things for them when they can actually do it for themselves.

While rude, unruly and bad-mannered are labels mostly used for children and teenagers, it is also apt for a number of elderly people today. How does one deal with these elders who take advantage of culture to make the lives of those who put up with them a living hell? How do you tackle an elder when he/she goes out of line?

Keep your Cool, Bite your Tongue, and Avoid Being Rude In Reacting
You are probably wondering how this is any different from condoning and enabling them. It is 2017, societal expectations are not as rigid as they used to be. The first instinct will be to ram in on the person being rude, older or not, because…who gives a f**k?! Right? The truth though is, handling bad behavior in the elderly can be quite complex. The fact that the badly behaved person is your parent or someone older than you, who you should normally show respect, complicates the entire scenario because you feel the need to continue recognizing this role even though a role-reversal may actually be necessary. Keeping cool, biting your tongue and avoiding being rude in response is the first step to stopping it all from escalating beyond control. You cannot really regulate someone else’s behavior or explanatory style, so before you do anything, count to ten, take a few deep breaths and ask yourself: “Is this really worth losing my cool over?”

Consider their Actions and Identify the Root Cause of their Behavior
If you are like me, you are probably already saying: “Ain’t nobody gat time for all o’ that“. But then, consider the fact that the aging process is not easy and may be taking a toll on them. Age and maybe even illness can reinforce longstanding personality traits in some unpleasant ways. For instance, a pessimistic person may just become bitter and look for ways to inflict their bile on others, or an impatient person may become demanding and impossible to please. It could also be because they are dealing with mental health issues and all of the other indecorous things that come with getting older. Should their grievances stem from the aforementioned, it certainly would be a waste of your emotional energy to let them get under your skin. It would make more sense to empathize with the rude elder, focus on the positive, ignore the negative and refuse to take their rudeness personally.

Try Explaining how their Behavior makes you feel and Set Firm Ground Rules for them
Sometimes, empathy and equanimity may not just be enough or may even prove futile. In such cases, rudeness and cantankerous behavior will very likely persist, and if left unchecked, can result in mental, emotional, or physical abuse. Even when you think they are just lashing out to vent frustration, let them know in detail, how their behavior makes you feel. Let them realize the damage they may be causing to you emotionally and where abuse is physical, take strong actions and involve a third party. It does not have to be the police or your pastor, however it should be someone the elder respects. After explaining, ensure you make it clear with all the intense calmness you can gather, that you won’t tolerate rude behavior going forward and be sure to attach consequences in the event that it happens again. Clarity helps to foster open communication between people. A bit of guilt-tripping may also be effective in getting them to realize that their behavior was unacceptable and offensive. Try something like “Madam, listen to yourself, you call yourself a Christian and you are judging like this,” or “You are someone’s grandfather .What will your children’s children think about this behaviour?”

Walk away or withdraw
When it comes to dealing with elders, sometimes, you have to stay even-keel and use common sense. Where the rude behavior is repeated even after you have explained to them the effect it has had on you, there just might be the need to physically and emotionally withdraw from them. Show them that the relationship is no longer a necessity, but a privilege. Respect is a two-way street and you needn’t continuously submit yourself to rudeness and disrespect because they are older, despite what culture and tradition demand.

What are your thoughts on elders who are rude and bad mannered? Have you had to deal with any?

Photo Credit: Dreamstime

Nkem Ndem is an energetic and highly accomplished Media Consultant who loves to help small businesses, especially women-led, grow their online presence using the right digital strategy or transition from traditional organizational boundaries. With years of experience in Copywriting and Editing, Content Branding and Strategy, Social media, and Digital Marketing, she is clearly obsessed with Digital Communications. She is the Head of Content and Lead Consultant at Black Ink Media - an Ideation and Content Agency that excels in providing fresh, creative digital services to content-centric businesses. Find out more about her at or send her an e-mail at [email protected] Also follow her on IG: @nkemndemv, Twitter: @ndemv.


  1. Chuks

    August 9, 2017 at 6:15 pm

    Kindly hide my identity please .

    I need a quick advice .

    I lived in the uk for 6 years for studies before I returned to Nigeria (My student visa expired) . Right now , I would love to go back to the Uk on a scholarship .
    Everything now is so expensive both with tuition and living.
    Please how do I go about the scholarship to study in the uk ? I want the Uk cos I’m already used to the system there . I don’t want to go to the US or Canada then start all over again . I will be more than happy if you can post this please

    Also , having used 6 years in the Uk before coming to Nigeria .When I return to the Uk, do I have to start counting my long residence all over again?

    • missnk

      August 10, 2017 at 10:30 am

      When I was in college, we had a large number of hausa people on scholarship from Nigeria and apart from help with tuition, they received £1,000-1,500 as allowance. I don’t know the scheme they used but you could research that. There was a Niger Delta scheme as well but I think that has stopped.
      For the residence, it has to be continuous stay, so you’ll have to start counting again. my sister did 2 years alevels, 4 years university (mPharm), one year pre reg and just got 5 years visa for work. Any break in that and she would have had to start all over again.
      I would advice you to look into EU countries, some of them have full scholarships and you can get your residence permit in a shorter time than England and move to England after, if you wish

    • Eagleeye

      August 10, 2017 at 9:18 pm

      Your 6 years now do not count towards the long residency.
      Your best bet is coming back for masters (if you have not already done it) or a PhD; I am sure you are aware the rules and you wouldn’t be granted a visa on the same level of education you have already attained.

      Otherwise, you can hussle hard to get a job – I know Bank of America sometimes recruits straight from LASU; try checking out those routes. Although getting sponsorship is hard these days as the premium on visa sponsorships for company’s to pay is now very high.

      Having said all, I live and have lived in UK for 13 years now, came here for a-levels and got my passport on long residence; I would honestly not advice coming here to start afresh. It is expensive, and no longer welcoming. The atmosphere is very different from what it was, and with Brexit, even us with UK passport would not have the same rights in EU anymore – its a shame.

      I would advice considering an EU country. Germany is welcoming (and free!!) for international students, you can google that. The language might be a barrier, but I know folks that have learnt german in less than 1 year while studying and working – cant be that bad.

      I wish you all the best and I hope you make the right decision for yourself.

  2. Eva Ob

    August 9, 2017 at 6:20 pm

    I’m sorry but this article had no substance at all

  3. Jigga

    August 9, 2017 at 6:50 pm

    Waste of data

  4. Meestyk

    August 9, 2017 at 7:40 pm

    You need to tell the elder off…old age or not. Its that simple.

  5. Chuks

    August 9, 2017 at 8:47 pm

    Thanks Atoks

  6. Nickson

    August 10, 2017 at 10:02 am

    In summary the author is trying to say something that he/she can’t quite bring themselves to saying.

    in my opinion – u are only further contributing to the problem.

  7. Exotique

    August 10, 2017 at 11:31 am

    Eva and Jigga relax na. The article does have substance. It may not make sense to you but there are people who are simply terrorized by the older family members or even just older people around. I see ithappen around me always. Personnally, I have no reservations about cautioning someone who is going out of line, no matter the age.

  8. zzzzzzzzzzz

    August 10, 2017 at 1:12 pm

    It makes whole lot of sense. Some elders sometimes do get out of line

  9. Dr.N

    August 10, 2017 at 2:37 pm

    You mean somebody’s mom “konked” her head?
    My ears have seen My eyes

  10. iyabo

    August 10, 2017 at 5:44 pm

    using number 4 at the moment….working just fine.

    • Meee

      August 10, 2017 at 6:18 pm

      Same here oo, no time for bs. If you can’t respect yourself I ignore you and walk away from you forever. Can’t be doing that respect your elders bs to my detriment abeg.

  11. OA

    August 11, 2017 at 4:32 pm

    I nor get time. I’m not a kid that someone will be talking to anyhow no matter how much respect I have for you. One Christmas holiday while at home, they were cooking outside in preparation for Christmas Day, das how my Mom said (upon sighting me returning from an outing), “Just go and take off your clothes and shoes and come and start helping them cook!” I pulled one of those “look to the left, look to the right…talking na me?!” looks and did go in and come back out and told her straight please don’t address me in that manner again. Even if you want me to help, there’s a way to ask. Am I a child that you will be addressing me like that? Particularly, don’t talk down at me in front of iya alase’s (cooks) and house helps for that matter like that, ahbeg! Then walked away and made sure I did not lift one single finger. First of all, they did NOT need my help! There were several iya alase’s, house helps, and some aunts who had come to help anyway. Then once my father yelled at me in a crowd at the airport I think. I nicely and respectfully told him “With all due respect. Sir, please don’t yell at me, you can’t talk to me like that. I am not a kid!” Needless to say I collected $100 from him hereafter! LOL!

    I have used No 4 several times of recent unfortunately for the person, but it has definitely worked for me. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when the person actually called me a name! After I did it so tey they did not see my eyes for ground any longer, they started playing the “you’re unfriendly/cold” card. My response: “I am friendly, but apparently, it turns out, I have to walk on egg shells around you which I am not prepared to do for you or any baga, so it will be in my best interest (which is what matters anyway), while remaining cordial and diplomatic, to refrain from play play with you. Thanks!” Yes, having a relationship with me, and vice-versa is a privilege; not a right.

    • Uberhaute looks

      August 12, 2017 at 5:44 pm

      What if it’s your in law precisely mother in law that keeps disrespecting you in such a way that make you depressed and suicidal, what advise will you give such person?

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