Are you embarrassed with the way your kids talk back to you? Here’s how to stop your child talking back and build a strong parent-child relationship.
An SSBE reader wrote in wondering where she went wrong that her daughter thinks talking back is okay. She’s shocked at some of the words coming out of her mouth. Especially whe,n not too long ago, she was the most angelic person in the world.
She’s tried everything. Taking her beloved toys away, time outs, no television, and maybe even spanking. Nothing was working—her little girl still talked back, and she didn’t know what do.
To stop a child talking back, we won’t have to go the route of harsh discipline or reacting in anger. Those will backfire, as our fellow reader has realized.
But first, let’s discuss why kids talk back. You just might see it’s normal (and forgivable!):
- Testing boundaries. Kids don’t know boundaries until they test them. That’s why my toddler will throw a heavy toy because he didn’t know they aren’t meant for throwing.
- Getting your attention. Isn’t it ironic that misbehavior is a near-guarantee our kids will get attention? Kids resort to talking back because they know you’ll respond (even if negatively).
- Masking other emotions. Kids talk back because of other emotions that may be difficult to articulate. They could feel hurt, isolated or frustrated—and it may have nothing to do with you.
- They know you won’t go away. As their parents, we get the worst meltdowns. From tantrums to talking back, they act up most around us. Yes, we’re the ones who discipline, but they also know we’ll still be there for them even if they misbehave.
How to stop your child talking back
Knowing that still doesn’t make a child talking back any better, nor more excusable. In other words, they should still learn that this behavior isn’t okay. How?
- First, by understanding their deeper behaviors and developmental stages.
- Then, by providing them with other means to express their frustrations.
“We don’t talk to one another like that.”
When you hear sarcastic or inappropriate comments, explain that you don’t talk that way. It’s important to say “we” when correcting her statement or tone of voice. Telling her not to say that or to stop being rude isolates her. But when you add the word “we,” the rule then applies to the whole family.
And don’t allow her to talk to anyone that way, including siblings. Sometimes we brush aside our kids’ squabbles, mistaking sibling bullying for mere fighting. Don’t tolerate your kids talking to one another with disrespect.
You’ll also want to model proper behavior. I once cringed when I heard my eldest tell one of his brothers, “Get out of there!” knowing full well he picked that up from us.
Provide an alternative phrase.
Your child should feel how she feels, whether it’s disappointment, anger or frustration. But she can’t express those emotions in mean ways.
If your child sounds disrespectful, offer an alternative way to phrase the same meaning. Honor the impulse by empathizing with what she’s feeling, but show her another way to say it.
“Looks like you’re mad because you want to keep playing your game,” you might begin. “But we don’t talk that way to one another. Say, ‘Just a minute’ next time.”
Explain that words can hurt.
Egotistical kids that they are, their self-centric state is still normal. That’s why they need our help to remind them that careless words and tone of voice can affect other people.
Phrase your statements from your point of view: “I get hurt when you say words like that.”
Follow it up by teaching her how to express herself without being disrespectful. It’s fine for your child to disagree, get frustrated or feel like you’re unfair. But showing disrespect to others is still unacceptable.
The best way to teach her to be respectful? Again, it’s to model respect yourself. Treat your kids, your spouse and yourself with respect, and they’ll follow suit.
This seems to be my mantra these last few weeks. Staying calm works wonders when interacting with irate, frustrated and challenging kids.
It’s so easy to snap back with a sarcastic retort, a harsh punishment or a raised tone of voice. We won’t always be able to, but try to stay calm and respond—not react. This will further the conversation more effectively than giving in to our wild reactions.
And changing your child’s habits won’t happen overnight. You’re helping to establish boundaries—expecting her to change after one talk is unrealistic. Instead, remain calm when she’s rude. You’ll set the pace for the changes she needs to make.
Don’t pay too much attention.
It’s frustrating to hear rude and inappropriate phrases from your child. But keep the issue from escalating by not paying too much attention. Address what she said, then keep your tone matter-of-fact. Don’t put too much weight on the situation. Kids respond to attention, and the more we give it to their rudeness, the more of an issue it becomes.
Practice preventative measures.
You can address most issues long before they utter a word. How? Practice mindful parenting. For instance:
- Respect your kids. It’s easy to skew the power dynamics when we’re parents and in control of the household. But that doesn’t mean kids don’t deserve the same respect you would give to other adults.
- Discuss feelings. Begin labeling emotions, from happy to sad to angry and the others between. The more your kids are able to place a name on a feeling, the quicker they’ll be able to identify the feeling by word. They won’t resort to vague outbursts or talking back.
- Listen to your kids, from their endless questions to their frustrations. Don’t solve their problems. Give them your support without providing your opinions or making judgments.
- Follow through with consequences. The typical spoiled child got that way because parents didn’t follow through with consequences. Give consequences when kids misbehave, preferably one that’s a natural result of their actions.
- Praise kids when they’re respectful. “You’re so kind,” I told my four-year-old when he brought his brother’s sippy cup to him. You don’t want your kids to be praise-junkies. But acknowledge their positive character shows so they get attention when they behave. And not just when they don’t.
Handling your child’s behavior is made even more difficult when your child won’t listen. I’d love to share with you one effective word I’ve found to get kids to listen in this FREE printable handout. Learn about the word, why it works and how to use it (comes with a worksheet, too!).
Talk calmly after the situation.
Put the conversation on hold and wait until you’re both calm. Only then can you discuss what led your child to talk back. All would have been forgiven by then. She’ll have a chance to open up without fear of punishment or losing your trust.
Analyze the instigators. What causes your daughter to talk back? Do you see a pattern? Maybe she needs to transition between one activity to the next. Or she needs attention, or was hungry. Discuss these issues once you’re past your initial emotions.
We beat ourselves up too much about this parenting thing. We hear our kids talk back and we go through a litany of things we’ve done that might have contributed to it.
Analyzing our past is helpful only if we’ll use it to improve our parenting, not to make us feel guiltier.
See where you can improve and help your kids better express themselves. To help them be more respectful. And to help them communicate and get what they need, all without a retort.
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