Remember the old song, “yackity yack, don’t talk back!”? Sure, the lyrics were catchy and the music was fun. But when it comes to raising kids, “back talk” is anything but entertaining.
Despite hundreds of different parenting philosophies out there, few directly address how to handle kids who talk back. All the “positive parenting” in the world doesn’t always stop a sassy teenager from back talking.
So what’s a loving parent to do?
Here are some effective ways to navigate life with kids who talk back. The good news is, there is hope!
1. Understand Why Kids Talk Back
First, take comfort in the fact that you are NOT alone in your plight. There isn’t a single parent in the history of the world who hasn’t dealt with kids who talk back.
It’s just part of parenting.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate behavior. It’s still something to address. Understanding a little about why your child or teen constantly sasses you back can help you know how best to respond.
Common back-talking phrases, (or variations of these), include:
- “You can’t make me!”
- “You’re the worst mom ever!”
- “You don’t understand me.”
- “Whatever, I’m not doing that!”
While these irritating comments can infuriate you in the moment, try and remember that they are actually signs of your child developing independence–a trait you don’t want to squash entirely.
Research shows that as early as 4 years old, most children start to develop a sense of independence. This helps them differentiate themselves from their caregiver.
A sense of independence helps kids gain confidence in caring for themselves and developing new relationships. The key is to allow your child/teen proper levels of independence while also setting healthy limits.
2. Hand Over Some Power
It’s hard. After all, you know what’s best for your child, right? Still, loving parents realize their children deserve equal respect.
Think about it this way, you wouldn’t like being told what to do in every detail of your daily life–what to wear, what to eat, when to sleep, what t.v. shows you can watch.
Too much parental control starts to feel suppressing to kids, even small ones.
Research shows that children as young as 4 years old begin developing a strong sense of independence. Whether you mean to be controlling or not, never allowing your child to make their own choices begins to wear on them. What happens next?
The solution? Hand over the reigns. That doesn’t mean you have to let your kid stay up until 10 pm or eat candy for dinner. It just means allowing your child to make their own choices about things that won’t negatively affect their health or safety.
Let them choose things like:
- What shirt they wear
- Which movie they watch
- What flavor popsicle they eat
- Whether you go to the park or the pool
Choices like these show your child you respect them as an individual. They’re also not going to inhibit your ability to protect or rear your child well. Kids who are given some degree of healthy autonomy are less likely to break rules or talk back.
A good rule of thumb with parenting? Remember the wise words of Dr. Seuss, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” So, respect your child’s independence and you’re more likely to be respected in return.
3. Check Your Language
If you don’t like the back talk in your home, it may be time to look seriously at your family’s communication in general. How do you talk to your kids throughout the day?
Are you ordering them around?
As parents, we naturally want to correct our children. We tell them what’s best, how to stay safe, what they need to get done. Unfortunately, sometimes this comes across as ordering them around.
Think about it. How would you feel being bombarded all day with things you’re doing wrong or with demands?
You’d get worn down.
Well, kids are no different. Try taking an honest look at your communication style with your kids (and your significant other). If you find that you’re spending most of the day barking orders, it may be time to make a change.
Try some positive parenting-style language to help your kids understand your expectations. For example, instead of saying, “Put your coat on before you go outside!” Try something more respectful, like, “It’s cold outside today. I don’t want you to be chilly. Will you please wear a coat?”
If this kind of communication is unusual in your home, it will probably take time for your kid to adjust their responses. Don’t give up.
The more you practice speaking in logical requests, or cooperative language, the less likely you are to have kids who talk back.
4. Set Aside Time, Just for Them
If you’re a stay-at-home parent, this back-talking tip can seem insane. “I already spend all day with my kids!” But do you…really?
How often do you give your kids your undivided attention?
Unless you’re under COVID-quarantine together, it may surprise you to realize there aren’t always more than 5 minutes in a day that your child has your undivided attention. This may be another cause of the ever-irritating back talking.
If so, consider setting aside dedicated time for each child every day. It doesn’t have to be a huge time commitment. Start with 10 minutes.
Let your child decide what you will do in those 10 minutes. If you have a teenager, they may want to sit and talk, watch a show, sit silently, do a chore together, etc.
If your child is younger, those 10 minutes will likely entail you pretending to be someone from their favorite Disney show. The point is, to give them your attention without any distractions.
Doing this will help fill your child’s emotional bucket. They are more likely to feel loved, heard, and validated. In turn, you’re less likely to have them respond to you with sass.
Kids Who Talk Back: More Helpful Hints
Kids who talk back are generally not doing it because they are “bad kids.” Most often, it’s because they have an underlying need to be met.
Whether it’s giving them your undivided attention, being less commanding, or simply letting them make more choices, a few small adjustments on your part could lead to better parent-child interactions overall.
For more helpful ideas on raising your kids well, check out these helpful secrets to parenting. Best of luck!