Are you embarrassed and frustrated with the way your child talks back to you? Discover how to discipline kids talking back and build a strong relationship instead.
Wondering where you’ve gone wrong that your child thinks talking back is okay?
Maybe you’re shocked at some of the words coming out of her mouth, especially when, not too long ago, she was the most angelic person in the world.
You’ve tried everything: taking her beloved toys away, time outs, no television, even spanking. Nothing is working—your little one is still talking back, and you have no idea what to do.
Here’s the thing: you don’t have to use harsh words or react in anger when she talks back—in fact, that kind of discipline is more likely to backfire. If you’ve felt stuck and seeing things getting worse, it’s likely because of this.
Thankfully, you can also turn things around, without resorting to punishment and losing your temper.
But first, let’s discuss why she might be talking back. You just might see it’s normal (and forgivable!):
- Testing boundaries. She won’t know her boundaries until she tests them. She might throw a heavy toy, not knowing it wasn’t meant for throwing.
- Getting your attention. Isn’t it ironic that misbehavior guarantees that she’ll get your attention? She resorts to talking back because she knows you’ll respond (even if negatively).
- Masking other emotions. She might feel other emotions that can be difficult to express. She could feel hurt, isolated or frustrated—and it may have nothing to do with you.
- She knows you won’t go away. From tantrums to talking back, she act up most around you because she knows you’ll still be there for her even if she misbehaves.
How to discipline kids talking back
Knowing why kids talk back still doesn’t make it any better, or more excusable. Your child should still learn that this behavior isn’t okay, but how?
- First, by understanding his deeper behaviors and developmental stages.
- Then, by providing him with other ways to express his feelings.
Let’s take a look at a few ways to tackle those points:
1. Say “We don’t talk to one another like that”
Explain to your child that you and your family don’t talk to one another with sarcastic or inappropriate comments. Say “we” when correcting her words or tone of voice so she knows the rule applies to the whole family. This simply isn’t what you do as a family.
And don’t allow kids talking back to anyone that way, including siblings. Sometimes we brush aside our children’s squabbles, mistaking sibling bullying for mere fighting. Don’t tolerate kids talking back 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 me.
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2. Explain that words can hurt
Kids are born thinking only of themselves. She might blurt something with little understanding of how others might feel. Only through years of practice and growing up do they begin to develop empathy. As egotistical as your child may be, in many ways, her behavior is still normal.
That’s why she needs your help to learn that 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.” Then teach her that it’s fine to express herself, but that she must do so with respect. It’s fine for her to disagree, get upset or feel like you’re being unfair, but being disrespectful to others is still unacceptable.
The best way to teach her to be respectful? Model respect yourself. Treat her, your partner and yourself with respect, and she’ll follow suit.
3. Stay calm
Staying calm, hands down, works wonders when dealing 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, but try to stay calm and respond—not react. This will further the conversation more effectively than giving in to wild reactions.
Changing your child’s habits won’t happen overnight—expecting her to change after one talk is unrealistic. Instead, remain calm when she’s rude. You’ll set an example for the changes she needs to make.
This doesn’t mean enabling or allowing her to get what she wants or continue to misbehave. She won’t get that cookie or watch the extra television show, especially with the way she’s talking to you. But you can still remain calm while holding your ground.
4. Don’t pay too much attention
It’s frustrating to hear hurtful words from your child, but keep the issue from escalating by not paying too much attention. She responds to attention—positive or negative—and the more you react to her rudeness and attitude, the more of an issue it becomes.
Address what she said, then keep your tone matter-of-fact. Don’t put too much weight on the situation or take it personally. In fact, ask yourself if it’s truly a big deal—if not, walk away or ignore it completely.
And if it does warrant your attention, you can also save your conversation for later, once you’re both calm. After all, she can’t process anything you say—much less learn and change her behavior—when she’s too upset.
5. Practice preventative measures
Address most issues long before you utter a word of discipline. How? Practice mindful parenting. For instance:
- Respect your child. It’s easy to skew the power dynamics when you’re the one in control of the household. But that doesn’t mean your child doesn’t deserve the same respect you would give other adults.
- Discuss feelings. Label emotions, from happy to sad to angry and the others between. The more she’s able to place a name on a feeling, the quicker she can identify the feeling by word. She won’t always resort to vague outbursts or talking back when she can say, “I’m mad.”
- Listen to her, from her endless questions to frustrations. Don’t solve her problems, either. Give her your support without providing your opinions or making judgments.
- Follow through with consequences. Give consequences for talking back, preferably one that’s a natural result of her actions.
- Praise her when she’s respectful. “You’re so kind,” I told my son when he brought his brother’s sippy cup to him. Praising positive character shows your child she gets attention when she behaves, and not just when she doesn’t.
6. 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 will have been forgiven by then, and she’ll open up without fear of punishment or losing your trust.
Analyze the instigators. What causes her to talk back? Do you notice a pattern? Did she need to transition from one activity to the next? Was she looking for attention? Could she have been hungry?
Discuss these issues once you’re past your initial emotions so you have a better idea what to do next time.
7. Provide an alternative phrase
One mistake many of us make with kids talking back? We forget that they can feel difficult emotions, such as disappointment, anger or impatience. Everyone feels these emotions, but we need to teach them a more appropriate way to express them.
Offer an alternative way to phrase the same meaning. Show empathy with what she’s feeling, then give 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.”
Because if there’s one thing I learned about parenthood, it’s that the way we communicate with our kids can bear a huge impact. From encouraging grit and effort to making sure they know we love them for who they are, our words matter a great deal.
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We beat ourselves up too much about parenting. We hear kids talking back and go through a litany of things we’ve done that might have contributed to it.
Analyzing our past is helpful only if we use it to improve our parenting, not to make us feel guiltier.
See where you can improve and help your child better express herself and be more respectful. You’ll help her communicate and get what she’s asking for, all without a retort.
Set the standard about the way family members talk to one another. Explain how words can hurt, and provide better ways for her to communicate what she’s saying. Focus on staying calm so you don’t reinforce her behavior with even more attention.
Prevent many of these situations in the first place, and finally, correct and discuss her behavior after she has calmed down, not during.
You can stop kids talking back—and help her be your little angel once again.
p.s. Check out Benjamin Back Talk Watch Your Mouth to help her learn how to speak her mind without talking back:
Get more tips:
- How to Discipline a 4 Year Old When Nothing Seems to Work
- When Your 3 Year Old’s Behavior Is Out of Control
- Why You Need to Follow Through with Consequences (and How to Actually Do It)
- How to Avoid Saying Empty Threats
- 9 Warning Signs You’re Raising a Spoiled Child
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