How to Respond When Kids Talk Back

As a parent, you know the joy of hearing your child’s first words (or himself). However, this joy can turn to fear in an instant if the child in question uses her words in an unkind or offensive manner. In this article, we’ll talk about how parents can respond when kids start to talk back.

Typical situation: you tell your three-year-old daughter to clean up her toys. She then yells, “No!” I don’t feel like it!” I refuse to do as you say. For a split second, you fear that you’re in for many years of sassy behavior from her, and you wish she’d stay silent forever.

Talking back is a developmental milestone that can occur as early as a toddler’s first successful “No!” Some possible reasons for a child’s pushback are exhaustion, irritation, boundary testing, or a desire for more autonomy. Even if you don’t know what’s triggering your child’s negative behavior, there are responses you can give that will teach her to communicate more constructively.

Managing A Child’s Talking Back

The urge to retaliate verbally when a child talks back can be intense. The temptation to respond, “Oh yes, I can!” to a defiant three-year-old who refuses to put away her toys after being told to do so may arise, for instance. However, modeling such behavior for your child sends the message that it’s acceptable to use foul language when one is agitated, which is a lesson neither of you wants to have to learn the hard way. The following are some recommendations for dealing with backtalk more effectively.

Hold your peace.

If a child is rude, it’s probably because they’re frustrated about something. You’re probably feeling aggravated after hearing them speak rudely. Maintain composure and a steady, even tone of voice despite how you feel. Try counting to 10 or taking a few deep breaths if you are becoming too angry to speak immediately.

Taking a step back to collect yourself is a clearer signal to your child that she has crossed the line than escalating the conflict further. Attempt to respond to backtalk calmly and politely by saying something like, “I know you can find a better way to say that,” or “That’s not how we speak to one another. Is there a second chance?

Speak clearly.

To help your child understand your expectations and your limits, try giving him or her clear and concise guidelines. A three-year-old who repeatedly interrupts adults may not comprehend a directive like “Don’t be rude.” Tell her, “When I tell you to pick up your toys, you need to do it. You must pay attention whenever I give you an order.”

Similarly, if you wish to eliminate a particular word or action, identify it and instruct her on how to proceed. When you toss your pajamas on the floor, it irritates me. In fact, I specifically requested that you change into your pajamas. If you refuse to choose a pair, I will do so and assist you in donning them. Keep reminding your child of the rules you’ve established for the household, and give her plenty of time to learn them.

Provide options.

As opposed to getting into a power struggle with a child who is backtalking, it’s fine to give her an option. A child of three who will not put away her toys may be reading a treasured book. Giving her a choice may be more effective than forcing her to clean up her toys. I know you aren’t finished reading your book, but it’s bedtime. Do you want to finish it now and put away your toys, or do you want to put away your toys and read before bed?

Similarly, rather than pick a fight over how much broccoli a preschooler eats, it’s better to let her pick another vegetable if one is available or encourage her to eat more of the other foods on her plate. Make it your top priority to show kids how to respond constructively to challenges. If a child politely requests a different option, we can accommodate their wishes.

Put up walls.

It’s fine to have firm limits on specific behaviors, such as not being able to use profanity, insults, or threats. A child with back talk may use unfamiliar words she has heard on television or in public without understanding their meaning. Don’t freak out if your kid uses foul language; respond calmly and instruct her accordingly. “We don’t use that kind of language. Please don’t ever use that word around me again; it’s not nice. Let’s think of a different way to describe how you feel.

Try something else if she uses the word again to get your attention. Stay focused on your work and ignore her. Try telling her, “I will not listen when you talk like that.” If you speak to me with dignity, I will pay attention.

A timeout might be in order if she keeps using the bad word. Don’t let her out of your sight, but make sure she’s somewhere secure. Put her in time-out for a minute for every year she’s been alive. A three-year-old will view a three-minute timeout as an interminable period of punishment.

When a timeout is over, it’s important to have a short conversation about what went wrong, give the child another chance, and reassure them that they are loved. One alternative is the “time-in,” in which the child is left alone for a set period of time to reflect on the situation while an adult maintains close proximity.

Carry out consequences.

Ignoring backtalk can sometimes lead to more of the same. Set and enforce fair and reasonable limits on children. By acting as if nothing has happened, we tell kids that their behavior is acceptable. Maintaining a pattern of regular discipline communicates to your child the importance you place on their education and development.

If your child is having trouble staying still or being quiet for long periods of time because she is hungry or tired, try to meet her needs first before resorting to punishment. She may need something to eat, a nap, or something to do before she can make sound decisions.

When to seek assistance.

Almost all kids of that age group are backtalkers. Your child’s behavior may improve after you patiently instruct her on socially appropriate language usage. Talk to your child’s pediatrician or a local FAYS provider if backtalk persists.

Meaningful articles you might like: 7 Mistakes Every Parent Makes in Discipline, Stop the Screaming with These Discipline Tips, The Fun Mom’s Discipline Handbook