6 to 9 Years Old: Model Respect, Not Retaliation
When your 7-year-old resorts to back talk or name-calling, it's easy to think she's being nasty. "When a child insults us, we often decide 'she did it to hurt us,'" says Peter Goldenthal, Ph.D., of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, author of Beyond Sibling Rivalry: How to Help Your Child Become Cooperative, Caring and Compassionate. "But kids that age are not thinking about the effect they have on their parents. They're thinking about themselves and how they can get attention."
Talking back isn't always bad. "In some ways we really want our children to be able to talk back," notes Constance Katz, Ph.D., supervisor of child and adolescent psychology at William Alanson White Institute in New York City. "Our culture values independence of opinion and we don't want to destroy that quality in our children."
The problem occurs, she notes, when the child's opinion is communicated in a tone that conveys anger, contempt, or dismissiveness. We need to teach our children to get across what they are trying to say without resorting to a harsh or resentful tone of voice. Remember to consistently treat your child with respect so that he will learn how to treat others that way. "If you want your child to respond to your requests respectfully, you need to model that," advises Dr. Katz. "Say you ask your 7-year-old to take out the trash and he snaps back, 'Do it yourself.' If you retort 'You're a brat,' you've moved into the area of character attack," Dr. Katz points out. Instead of stooping to your child's level, treat him with respect by saying, "Hey, cleaning up can be a drag. Want me to give you a hand?" The point is to remind your child that he's part of a family and that respecting one another and pitching in to help out is what all family members must do.