I was under the impression that only teenagers talk back to parents. So when my 5-year old daughter talked back to me, I was shocked. I remember my mother telling me once, you will understand how it hurts when your child talks back. That moment, the image of my mother floated right before my eyes and I understood how hurt she must have been with my rude talking.

She had taken ill and was not eating well. So I told her she could have sweetened yoghurt.

She immediately asked me, “But you don’t ever give me sweetened yoghurt?”

I replied, “Yes, usually no. But because you are not well, maybe the yoghurt will motivate you to eat.”

I thought she would be happy, jump with joy maybe. But what I was not expecting was her making a face and “Whatever!”

WHATEVER – I mean seriously. I thought I still had a good 6-7 years to go before I would see my daughter’s sassiness.

She talked back. And I didn’t like it one bit. It was only a prelude to the things that were coming. Though not frequently, she continued to talk back on and off. And whenever that happened, it managed to upset me. And I scolded her or punished her for her rudeness. However, I knew it was not the right thing to do.

What is talking back?

Firstly, let’s understand what is considered talking back to parents. If your child makes smart-alecky comments, sassy and disrespectful gestures such as smacking lips, rolling eyes or pulling up one side of the mouth or turning down of the mouth; he is talking back.

Also, if he always has something flippant to say or wants to have the last word, then your child is probably talking back to you.

Let me give you an example.

A few months ago, I told my daughter to change into a nice frock as she was visiting a family member.

She came out wearing something old and a little inappropriate.

When I pointed out the same to her, she said, “What, do you expect me to wear a ball gown or something?” I mean these are the times when you seriously wish for a handy manual of parenting 101.

If she had said, “I don’t want to change” or “I am good, mama,” it wouldn’t have been talking back. It would have been showing insubordination, which was still OK. It showed my daughter was a spirited kid.

But what she said was definitely talking back. It’s not only the words, but the facial expression and the tone that made me lose it! Raising kids is not easy, but talking back is like taking it to a whole different level.

When kids talk back, they are showing their insubordination, being disrespectful to you and challenging your authority, in a way that upsets or enrages you. Saying NO is not an issue, the way they say it IS. If it’s a one-off, I’d say ignore. But if it happens much too often, then I would actually do something about it.

After consulting some elders and doing some research, I came up with this 4-step strategy. I implemented it and it actually works. It’s been 6 months and my daughter hasn’t talked back to me.

Let’s learn how to deal with when your child talks back:

Stay calm and composed when you child talks back

Those first few moments after your child’s rude behavior are the most crucial. It can set the tone for your interactions. So, hold yourself back and you might win the battle, or that round at least.

I know, I know, it’s not easy when you are very well tempted to respond to your cheeky 7-year old, “Keep in mind who is the parent here and who calls the shots!”

You also feel like scolding him. But, answering in kind or a knee-jerk reaction like scolding or hitting would actually only spoil things further. Your child will learn it’s OK to trade barbs or respond sass with sass.

If you don’t retort or scold, then how to discipline a child who talks back? I will come to that later.

However, the best solution at that moment is to leave the room immediately and calm your breath. And come out or respond to your child again only when you can speak in a calm and composed manner.

When you and your child are both calm and controlled, you can talk about what happened and give a punishment if you feel appropriate. You will realize your child is more receptive to you and more likely to understand which she won’t do in the middle of a heated argument.

Find out the root cause of your child’s impudence

Try to go past his tone or expression to pick up on the message he’s trying to convey.

And find out what causes your child to behave rudely. It can be due to many things. These are some of the ‘WHYs’ behind kids talking back:

  • Your child is growing up and is growing more independent and assertive. It’s not that you did something wrong or because he doesn’t respect you or has got something against you. He still loves you as much.
  • He feels stifled and powerless because of your excessive control. And this is how his suppression or pent up anger takes shape. By erupting from time to time. I have explained this in detail in the next strategy.
  • He might be angry because he was told to switch off the TV or stop playing and start doing his homework. If he talks back every time, he is asked to stop an activity of his choice and interest, you know where the issue lies and can work upon it. You can give him a 5-10 minutes warning the next time you want him to finish an activity and start doing his chores.

Similarly, if you feel he acts up when he’s tired or hungry, address to that issue first before asking him to finish his homework or do chores.

  • He wants your attention. Kids are attention-seekers, particularly when they feel you are not paying them enough attention. Listen to your child and provide him support without giving your opinion.
  • He is testing his power and see how far he can go. It is a sort of defiance and your child will most probably cow down once he realizes he has upset you. Because it was not his intention to upset you or make you feel small.

Give your child more control

Try to assess your own behavior and see if you are a control freak who likes to monitor and control your child’s every action. What he eats, what games he plays or what kind of friends he hangs out with – well, if that’s the case, expect some kind of rebellion from your child sooner or later. Kids, like most people, like their independence. While they don’t know how to put that into words, they express with offensive behavior.

I am not saying to give them all the control. But give them some. Kids don’t grow up positively feeling powerless all the time. So, how do you do it? It’s simple.

Give him plenty of opportunities where he can make choices for himself.

“Would you like to color or play a board game?” or

“Would you like to take X or Y in your tiffin box?”

If your child has some control over his activities, he will feel valued and less likely to assert himself in rude ways.

However, be careful with your choices. Don’t give an option if you don’t want your child to choose it. For example, if you ask your child to choose between reading or playing, while you want him to read, then don’t offer playing as a way of choice in the first place.

Establish what’s acceptable

You are not scolding or hitting your child, but she should know that her rude behavior doesn’t fly with you.

  • Tell her in polite but uncertain terms what behaviors you would not tolerate. “It is rude to roll your eyes when I talk to you. Please don’t do that.” It might take a few reminders from your side to get the message across and for your child to learn what kind of behavior is expected of her.
  • Let her know there is a difference between expressing her opinions and coming with sassy comebacks. The latter isn’t acceptable, and the same goes for rude gestures. Tell her you won’t listen to what she has to say until she can speak in a respectful manner.
  • Tell your child the consequences for talking back. The appropriate punishment for talking back should be like losing screen or computer time, not be able to go on a play date, etc.
  • Once you tell your child, follow through should the opportunity arise. Let your kid know you are serious.

Last but not the least, learn this golden rule – kids emulate their parents. Also, their little ears are often listening and picking up things, even when you are not aware of it. Which is why it’s important that you set the right example and show them the kind of behavior that is expected of them. Also, praise kids when they are respectful. This will show them they get attention even when they behave well.

Hope these 4 strategies help you deal with when your child talks back.

Child talking back to her mother

Your child talks back – How to deal with it?

Small kids talking back, showing tongue, lip smacking to their parents

Your child talks back – How to deal with it?

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