10 Tips to Deal with Back Talk from Kids

Talking BackBack talk from kids rears its ugly head to annoy, challenge, and sometimes even embarrass parents.  It doesn’t just come from teenagers, even tiny tots catch on to “sassing” their parents.  Luckily, parents can remedy this surly syndrome.  Let’s jump right with the following tips.  As always, take what works and toss what doesn’t. You’re the parent and you get to decide! 1.  It is important to note that kids who back talk are normal.  This is part of their natural desire to grow toward independence.  Since they learn by trial and error, they are testing their limits to see what works and what doesn't.

2.  Try not to snap back at your child.  Doing so will justify their behavior and procure more of it.  Instead of getting annoyed with them, try looking at the situation as an opportunity to teach.  (This won’t work all the time, but the more you try, the better you will get at it.)

3.  Rule out hunger or fatigue as catalysts for back talk or any other unpleasant behavior.  Physical discomforts would make anyone cranky and short tempered.  Then, set rules and limits that work best for your family.  Experts advise that kids actually want limits set for them so that they can help themselves self regulate.  Here is what a limit might sound like.  “In this family, we speak with courtesy and a pleasant tone of voice.  Talking back with rude words, tones, or gestures will not be tolerated.”

4.  Teach your child how you would like them to express themselves including a courteous tone of voice, pleasant facial expressions, and civilized body language.  This might seem like common sense, but remember that what your children learn from the media and some of their friends is anything but common sense or common courtesy!  Of course the more you role model high-quality communication the more you’ll be able to teach by example.  Your child’s brain does not just learn by listening to what you say, it learns by observing what you do.

5.  Empathize with your child.  Okay, I know!  The last thing you want to do when you’ve just been sassed is to be empathetic but try for just a moment try to actually feel the frustration that is making your child talk back.  I’m not saying you must agree with them; just try to understand where they are coming from. It is very likely that the back talk was provoked by a strong emotion such as anger, disappointment, or frustration. Once you identify why your child is having a strong emotion resulting in back talk, you both can lay the groundwork for problem solving both.

6.  Use empathy again, but this time as a teaching tool.  Ask your child how he would feel if his closest friends or family addressed him with back-talk.  Of course, this step is best done when your child is calm and not talking back!  It is a step that can allow for bonding between parent and child.  Building empathy takes time but is a key competency of emotional intelligence and it addresses how we communicate with each other.  With your patience and persistence it can work wonders.

7.  Age appropriate consequences should be delivered for the child who continues with back talk.  Remember though that consequences only work for parents who commit to enforce them with consistency.  If you don’t do this, you are teaching your child that your rules are meaningless and that you can be manipulated.  Not good!

8.  If you catch your child regressing a bit but the circumstance isn’t severe enough to be enforced with a firm consequence, consider this simple question as a gentle reminder:  “How do you speak to me?”

9.  Kids are smart and sensitive.  They can pick up on insincerity so please sincerely PRAISE your child when you see that he /she has made improvements.  "I really like the calmness and maturity with which you expressed yourself."  “I’m proud of your efforts.” Watch the pride on your child’s face when positive feedback is rendered.

10. After you praise your kids, please praise yourself.  The steps outlined above require patience and persistence often in very grueling emotional situations.  Parenting is the hardest job on the planet, and you just advanced the success in yours.  BRAVO!

Over to you.  How do you handle back talk with your kids?  Did your parents have tricks that worked on you when you were growing up?  We’d love to hear your thoughts in our comments section.