Kids Talking Back – What to Do About It?

The first time your child, probably around the age of 2, decides to talk back, it all seems like an innocent enough advance into childhood. You may have asked them to go brush their teeth or told them they couldn’t have a cookie; only for them to react with a mouthful of words that clearly indicate how unhappy they are with your authority. Years pass and suddenly your pre-teen child is spinning on his or her heels, spitting rude comments, completely dedicated to get in the last word. There is nothing more frustrating than dealing with kids talking back. While it is definitely part of the parenting pie, these are the slices that simply don’t taste as sweet.

Before you lose your patience and wallow in guilt about what kind of parent you must be to raise such a rude and disrespectful child you must first realize how your child got this way. Sadly, it really isn’t ALL your fault. Soft parenting techniques through the last few decades have evolved that make parents less believable to their children and much less threatening. If you think about how your parents handled talking back, you will realize exactly why you didn’t do it. Obviously, washing their mouth out with soap in this day and age is not a preferable option. But, consider for a minute how you have raised them.

Today’s children are raised thinking that they are the center of the Universe. Parents are taught to always consider their children’s feelings, their emotions and the long term damage that disciplining them harshly and laying down the law are supposed to cause. We pussy foot around our children trying to constantly offer them a chance to explain, to be heard, to get their feelings out. When they throw tantrums we make excuses that they are under pressure and are blowing off steam. When they talk back we listen with out hearts frightened to take a stand that may somehow stifle their precious and ever so fragile psyche. When the react to parents out of misplaced anger we give them time to ‘cool off’ regain their self control and then sit down with them to have a lengthy one on one chat where they learn that nothing else matters but their opinions and feelings. Whereas years ago, parents were able to use the phrase ‘because I said so’ today, we are considered about making them understand our reasoning. The result is that children feel entitled to talk back and are indulged in their mood swings often to the result of mom and dad’s guilt. It isn’t that they are being manipulative or rude; rather they are acting just as they were taught to. What they say, feel, think and want to do trumps what mom and dad feel they should be doing.

Let’s understand that allowing children time to react and the safety net of knowing they are always safe and heard at home is a good thing. However, there comes a time when children should still be able to realize that they are crossing the line. If they are told to do something, they should do it. Doesn’t matter why you want them to eat their dinner before dessert or complete homework before playing outside; it should only matter that it is your wishes and that you (MOM AND DAD) are the boss. Allowing kids to talk back in order to get their way is not a message or lesson that will serve them well in life. Their bosses and teachers won’t be as patient and neither should you.

A kid talking back to adults has become so common place that many parents aren’t even embarrassed of it anymore. At any ball park, grocery store or park you hear children, even very young children, talking back to their parents and parents succinctly giving in. When you were a child had you used words and tones the way they do, not only would you have not gotten your way but you likely wouldn’t have seen the light of day for a month or so. And guess what, you learned your lesson and rarely did it. Are you scarred for life? Do you feel that your parents never listened? Is your psyche damaged because when you were being rude and disrespectful you weren’t allowed the last word?

Here’s the thing. Kids talking back to adults is just plain rude. It breaks the rules of manners. It also breaks the rules of respecting their parents and seeing them as authority figures. You aren’t a psychologist and most of the doctors who wrote those children behavior books don’t even have children of their own. The easiest way to curb this undesirable behavior is to nip it in the bud. If your child is a toddler and begins to talk back to you, use effective discipline that asserts your authority. You can talk about the consequences and the behavior later, but in the moment when they first begin uttering those words; you have to take a stand. If you don’t, you will have a pre-teen who feels downright entitled to talk back at will and whom never learns that in order to get respect, they must first give it. Starting with and especially toward their parents.

If your child has become the leader of the kingdom of kids talking back; you need to spin on your heels as quickly as they spin on theirs and put a sharp, abrupt and even frightening stop to the behavior. You don’t have time to do it little by little by the time your child is 10 years old. Lay down the law. This doesn’t mean that you won’t listen or talk to your children about their feelings and emotions. It also doesn’t mean that you ignore what they say out of anger or that you are stealing your voice. What it does mean is that talking back is NOT the way to get what they want and that your parental ears will remain wide open as long as they offer you the respect that they need. Talking back isn’t about having or not having discussions, it is about children trying to gain power over their parents and guilt them in to giving in to their will. Your child may be very well be the center of YOUR universe. You can love them no matter what. You can listen to unkind words and actions out of anger without losing hope seeing their good over bad. Unfortunately, the rest of the world where they will eventually end up, will not tolerate it.



One Response

  1. Hello Stef, thank you so much for your article which is a breath of fresh air in our children-centric universe these days. I have a 7 year old girl with last word, justification, attitude, talking back issues. I try to nip the problem of her rude talking as soon as it starts but I am lost as to what is a sufficient punishment (other than anything physical) that will get her to stop efficiently. Could you provide any ideas that worked for you or others around you? I get so tired from the power struggle. Thank you for being on the parents’ side.

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