What to Do When Kids Talk Back

Smart-alecky comments, sass, and disrespectful gestures, such as eye rolls and lip smacks, seem to be the norm when children talk back to you nowadays. Try these tips to nip your child's bold and brash behavior in the bud.

Keep Your Composure

You don't have to put up with your child talking back, but be careful about how you react, because your response can either improve or weaken your relationship with your child. Be too lenient, and the cheekiness could lead to more worrisome behavior. Be too strict, and your child could feel that he can?t express himself, which will lead to a communication shutdown. Your child is probably feeling some intense emotions already, so if you don't keep your reaction as mild as possible, a nasty power struggle might ensue. Yelling, making threats, or screaming "How dare you? I'm your mother!" will only escalate the situation. It's best to hold your tongue, take some deep breaths, count to 10 (or 20), and ask yourself if what you're about to say will help or hurt the situation. If you still feel yourself losing control, or if your child has already lost control, keep calm and say that you will continue the conversation later when both of you have cooled down. Then walk away to another area of the house. If the two of you are in public, don't engage in a war or words. Instead, tell her that the conversation is on pause until you get in the car or make it home.

Determine the Root Cause

Back talk isn't always a true expression of your child's feelings, and the reason might be rooted in something unrelated to you. Maybe your son is having problems with a friend in school and taking it out on you because he feels you're a safe target. Or perhaps he's stressed about homework and screaming at you to get out of his room. If this happens, remain calm and collected, and ask questions to get to the root of the problem. ("Did something happen today at school?" or "Did you say that because you need some time alone?") Figuring out the reason behind the snappy comeback can make it easier to understand and resolve the issue.

child with loud mouth
Alexandra Grablewski

Explain What's Acceptable

When your usually docile child says ?Get off my back!? in response to a request, she might be repeating something she?s heard and not realize she's being rude. "Children sometimes hear their friends talking back, and they want to be like them, so they may imitate the language," says Hannah Chow-Johnson, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. So be explicit about what is and isn't okay. Tell her it's fine to say that she's angry or tired, for instance, or that she doesn't feel like talking at the moment. But name-calling, yelling, or telling you to go away is unacceptable.

Carry Out Consequences

Once you discuss which behaviors and phrases are inappropriate, let your child know there will be consequences if he crosses the line. Determine what these consequences will be -- losing certain privileges (video-game sessions, TV time, etc.), getting additional chores, or going to bed earlier -- and let him know ahead of time so he won't be caught by surprise when he's punished. Most important, follow through. Being consistent and sticking to the rules is the only way to show you mean business.

Model Your Expectations

It's very important that you model the behavior you expect from your child. Children learn by imitating what they see, especially at home, says Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D., a family psychologist in Houston. If your 5-year-old overhears you using a snarky tone when speaking to your spouse or your mother-in-law, she will learn it's okay to treat others (including you) in a similar manner. So make sure you speak and treat others (family, friends, neighbors, and strangers) respectfully, even when you think your kid isn't around (little ears often hear everything).

In addition, examine your own interactions with her. "If you see a pattern of back talk developing with your child, sometimes the best thing to do is grab your phone and record audio," says Erik A. Fisher, Ph.D., a psychologist and the author of The Art of Empowered Parenting: The Manual You Wish Your Kids Came With. You don't have to let your kid know -- simply glance at the phone when your kid's talking back and hit the record button. The recording gives you a chance to listen to your child's tone as well as your own. Many times when parents listen, they realize that they used the same sarcastic or disrespectful tone as their child, which is how the child learned it, says Dr. Fisher.

Praise Politeness

Pay extra attention when your child is exhibiting positive behaviors instead of negative ones. When your kid talks and expresses herself in a respectful manner, show your approval. Tell her, "I really like the way you waited your turn to speak" or "You did a really good job explaining yourself without raising your voice." This will make her feel good and help her realize that Mom and Dad also notice good things. The best part: She'll talk back less often!

Copyright © 2013; Meredith Corporation.

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