Q: My daughter is 13 and just moved in with me 6 months ago. Her mother and I have always had problems with her talking back and being disrespectful. I have tried grounding and even rewards for not talking back, but no matter what everything is a rolled eye or a stomp off with a yell. I don't know what to do because the direction we are going it is getting worse. Before she moved in it was quiet and our other two in the house (11 and 4), never acted like this. PLEASE HELP!

A: You know how when a baby is born, we just can’t wait for his first word, and we are so excited when it happens?  I guess we forget that after that first word, a lot of other words will follow….

If a teen is talking back a lot, there are some things a parent can do to address this issue.

Listen to and actually hear what your teen is saying When your child feels he is being heard and valued, this can go a very, very long way. It is too easy as a parent to always be correcting and questioning your child, as well as always telling him what to do, and as a result a child can feel that he is not being heard and valued. So take time to actually listen to your child, showing that you understand what he says (“It sounds like you are saying that the other kids were not being nice, and that hurt”), and resist the urge to always try to fix things or tell your child what to do.  Show empathy (“I’m sorry; I know how bad that feels”) and understanding.  When your child feels that you are hearing him, he may be more likely and willing to hear you.

Reward and praise acceptable behaviors  No kid is disrespectful 100% of the time.  Find the times that he is being respectful, and praise him.  Set positive consequences for good behavior: for example, keep track of each time he talks respectfully, and tell him that after a certain number of times in a day he will get to watch television or play video games.  Explain that these are privileges that you are willing to give to only in return for a certain level of maturity and respectful behavior. Behaviors that are rewarded or praised tend to increase.  

Figure out what skill you want him to use, and practice it  When he doesn’t get his way, perhaps you want him to tell himself, “It’s o.k; maybe I’ll get to do it later.” Learning to do this is a skill like anything else: the more he practices, the better.  So first practice it by pretending you are in one of these situations, and have him practice saying this out loud.  Then, when he gets good at it, go over it with him before the actual situation is about to arise, and have him practice it at that moment.  Then, each time the situation actually does arise, have him stop and use this new skill.

Set limits, and stick to them Explain what talk and behaviors are not acceptable, and set consequences (such as loss of privileges) for these behaviors.  But remember to choose your battles, because no kid will be perfect, and not every behavior is equally unacceptable.

Make sure to have fun with your child  It is too easy to focus only on a child’s problems.  This creates a negative interaction and environment that just gets more and more negative.  Remember to have fun with and enjoy your child.  Not only will this help create a better relationship with him (and hopefully help with his behavior), but it is also simply one of the things that parenting and life are about.

Answered by Dr. Wayne Fleisig