Do you have a child who has a tendency to backtalk you or other adults? Whether it’s over chores, getting ready for school or just because they feel like it- backtalk is never a fun parenting moment. It can be hard as a parent to keep your calm when your child cuts you off or is disrespectful toward you. Many of the parents I work
with tell me that backtalk is one of the biggest issues they face on a regular basis.
Backtalk can be irritating and may leave you struggling with how to respond appropriately but often there are reasons behind it. It’s important to know that backtalk is a natural part of growing up. It illustrates your child showing mental and emotional development along with learning how to express themselves, and establishing boundaries. Other reasons for your child displaying backtalk may be attention seeking, emotional distress, avoiding something/a situation or even imitation. Lashing out with words may be your child’s way of expressing a sense of control in a world where they are often told what to do. Although backtalk may be a typical growth point, it certainly doesn’t have be a stuck point in your relationship.
Putting an end to backtalk and creating a parent/child relationship with more respect and communication is possible. Make your child aware of your displeasure in their behavior and show them the support they need to feel respected and heard by you. Here are 6 steps to get started on stopping backtalk:
1.) Set Clear Expectations- You are more likely to be successful when you are aware of expectations. Create a set of family expectations that go along with the values that your family has- and include your children in the process! Explain why an expectation is being made (ex. We do not interrupt one another when we’re talking because we respect and value what everyone has to say.) Involving your child in creating family expectations and understanding values can foster an internal sense of discipline and good judgement.
Let your child know that these expectations are the basis for family engagement and when not following them they will be given a consequence. Remember to go easy on telling your child what to do, limiting it to only when necessary. Tell them often that you do not like it when they talk back to you or others. Let them know that you’ll save giving directions to when they’re needed and you’ll listen to their thoughts and feelings when it comes in the form of a calm conversation. Setting up a dynamic where they feel heard can go a long way in decreasing backtalk.
2.) Give them some autonomy– No one likes to be told what to do all day every day. Give your child the opportunity to say “no” and to choose throughout the day. The word “no” is a very powerful tool that can allow someone to feel in control, don’t take that away from your child, just offer it as a choice when you’re willing to hear it. For example “would you like to run an errand with me?” is a great yes/no offer when you’re prepared for them to say no, but not so great when you have no one to stay home with them if they say no. Offering choices can be another powerful option for your child as it gives them the autonomy to decide what they’d like to do. “Would you like to stay home and vacuum or help me with my errands that I have to run?” You’re giving them a task with either option but it lets them choose which task they would rather accomplish.
3.) Be Cool & Ignore the Ignorable– Many times children may be seeking out your attention and aren’t yet equipped with how to ask for it appropriately. Backtalk most likely gets a response, or even a rise, out of you so your child gets what they want- attention. Instead of giving attention to their unwanted behavior, ignore it and keep your cool about it. If you tell your child to put their shoes away and they backtalk while putting their shoes away, don’t call attention to the backtalk or you’ll reinforce the interaction. A lot of the backtalk that occurs happens when your child is still adhering to what they’re supposed to and during those times it may be better to just ignore the backtalk and move on. Why be in a fight when you don’t have to be? Engaging in an argument about backtalk doesn’t open up a conversation about how to be respectful and keeping your cool is a great way to model for your child what you want from them.
4.) Give Positive, Direct Attention & Praise– Set aside time each day to spend uninterrupted time with you child (turn off the electronics & stop cooking/cleaning up dinner.) Show your child that you want to hear from them, that you’re interested in their interests and tell them so. Give them 5 praises each day before they go to bed. They can be simple (I like the outfit you picked out today) or more specific (thank you for listening, I enjoyed talking with you at dinner.) Think about the things that you want to see more of from your child and praise it when they do them. They’ll begin to notice you’re showing more interest in them, that you’re noticing the good work they’re doing and want to do them more often.
5.) Have them “Try it Again”– Those 3 little words can save me from entering into an argument with my son several times in a weekend. Giving your child the opportunity stop, think and to try their response again not only offers a teaching moment, but it also shows that you care enough to allow them to practice a skill that is essential in life. When your child snaps back at you when you’ve given them a direction they’re acting impulsively and having them “try it again” reminds them that their response was not appropriate and to say something that falls in line with your family’s expectations. Teach them to say “ok” instead. This method can take the arguing out of the situation and focus on correcting their response without it feeling controlling.
6.) Respect– A motto I use often with parents is “We want to raise respectful, rather than obedient children.” It’s important for children to be encouraged to have a strong voice so that they may grow up confident, happy and self-assured. Help teach your child how to be respectful towards others by being respectful of their thoughts and feelings. along with their boundaries. Use the word Respect often, tie it in with your family values and expectations, and praise them when they show respect.
Backtalk is a fight or flight response from a child. Since they can’t just move into their own apartment (flight), they’ll fight back by testing limits and trying to get a reaction. If you don’t want to engage in the fight or flight dance, follow the steps above and move into a more respectful and positive relationship with your child.
I am a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist practicing in the Lake Norman area of North Carolina. I enjoy working with people on improving their lives, relationships and feeling all around more mentally healthy.
Michelle A Coomes MA, LMFT