4 Tips for Dealing with Back Talk

What to do when your child no longer sounds like an angel.

"Shut up, butthead!" The first time such unsavory words come out of your angelic (or so you thought!) child's mouth, you were probably caught by surprise. You may even have giggled. But as every parent knows, rude behavior and back talk loses its charm fast. How does a child go from being so anxious to please to responding to reasonable requests with an attitude?

"Media is a big influence," says Audrey Ricker, PhD, coauthor of Backtalk: Four Steps to Ending Rude Behavior in Your Kids (Touchstone Books). "Kids imitate what they see on sitcoms and cartoons," she says. "Plus, our culture actually encourages back talk. When it comes from a young child we say he's being assertive, is standing up for himself, is a real individual." That may be true, but no one wants to feel like her child's doormat. And that behavior will not play well in the larger world either. Fortunately, you can get your child to stop talking back, according to Ricker. Here's how:

1. Plan ahead. Decide on a consequence that you will implement if your child talks rudely to you. "You should withdraw something that he enjoys that would normally take place in the next 24 hours," says Ricker. Examples include watching a favorite TV show or going to a friend's house.

2. Respond decisively. When your child speaks rudely, say "That language (or tone) is not acceptable. As a result, I am not going to take you on a playdate to Jimmy's house."

3. Follow through with no further discussion. Do not offer a second chance. Do not negotiate. Avoid the word "if" (as in "If you do that again, I'm going to..."). It makes you sound weak instead of decisive and your child will pick up on that. "Parents tend to over-talk. Taking action is much more effective," says Ricker.

4. On a related note, ignore any back talk associated with the consequence. Don't get drawn into explaining or justifying your position. On the other, don't punish your child again if he gives you back talk when you enforce the consequence. Treat it as one incident.

Ricker notes that following through isn't easy. "It's hard to take away something you may have promised that you know your child enjoys. But kids learn fast. After two or three incidents where your child sees you really mean it, the back talk should end."

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.

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