Here’s How to Handle Your Child’s Backtalk. It’s an all-too-common occurrence: You ask your child a question and receive an answer that falls somewhere along that slightly sassy to downright disrespectful spectrum. While talking back is definitely a normal part of growing up, sometimes this cheeky habit can get out of control — and, unfortunately, a smart mouth often serves as a deep source of parental frustration.
For many parents, the back-talk habit is much more than an annoyance, especially when you’re asking your child to do something important, like completing their homework or being home by a certain time. But when it comes to back-talk, parents tread a fine line between too strict, which can stifle a child’s desire to communicate with you, and too lenient, which can lead to worrisome behavior in the future.
These 5 tips will help you handle your child’s back-talk in a healthy way.
If you’ve ever thought that your child has poor impulse control, you’re likely right. In fact, the pre-frontal cortex, also known as the area of the brain that controls a number of behaviors — such as risk-taking, impulse control and decision-making — and allows kids to understand that actions have consequences and then adjust their behavior accordingly doesn’t fully develop until age 25. While this developmental fact doesn’t give his smart-alecky behavior a pass, keep it in mind when your child is mouthing off.
The Root of the Problem
Why is your child talking back? Kids may be influenced by what they see on TV — which often involves plot lines with clueless adults being outwitted by smart, snarky kids. He may be mirroring this behavior. Maybe he had a terrible day at school and his smart mouth isn’t really directed at you. Maybe he’s feeling stressed out and overwhelmed by other things and you just happen to be in his line of fire. Determining the root of his behavior can make it easier to decide how to respond.
Keep Your Cool
Your child looks to you when he’s figuring out how to act. If you react in anger to his back-talk, by yelling, lashing out or losing control, you’re teaching him to do the same. You’re also providing him with an emotional reaction, which may be the root of the talking back in the first place. When your child rolls his eyes or responds with a flip, “whatever” or worse, take a minute to cool off before responding. Count to 10, leave the room, think happy thoughts — do what you need to do to ensure that you respond calmly and not with anger.
When you’ve made your position clear on an issue that’s not negotiable — such as rules having to do with safety — responding to back-talk just opens the door for more negotiation. Don’t argue or lecture, as neither will actually help the situation. State the rules clearly and remain consistent.
Flex a Little
When it comes to non-safety rules, however, you may want to remain flexible. If your child is able to calmly, respectfully state their perspective and politely lay out a case that “proves” why they should get their way, listen. Show your approval of this mode of communication and model respect by listening and considering their request. Studies indicate that kids with parents who are willing to calmly discuss issues, and to reward calm, persuasive arguments, actually show greater strength in the face of peer pressure than those with parents who just said “no” across the board every time.
While each situation is different, you can help your child to speak calmly and respectfully. By modeling appropriate behavior, you’ll teach them better ways to get what they want from life.