Ah, children! They start out in front packs and end up with backtalk. The arguing, the resistance, the exaggerated sighs they think you can’t hear: Sass is practically a rite of passage. You haven’t lived, Timmy, until you’ve been put in timeout for running your mouth!
In many ways, backtalk is inevitable – Does your kid have a voice box? Then plan for it! But that doesn’t mean it needs to be an everyday occurrence inside your home. Rest assured, there are ways to stop kids from talking back (or at least minimize it).
And these include:
Playing it cool:
Staying composed when your child talks back isn’t always easy, especially if the backtalk involves some colorful language. But playing it cool not only keeps the situation from escalating, it also improves the relationship you have with your child by avoiding a power struggle. If you feel yourself losing control, stop the conversation until you both can calm down. And don’t argue with your child in public. You’ll end up on YouTube.
Figuring out what’s really going on:
Kids talk back for a reason (even if they seem to sass for fun). If you can discover the root cause of the backtalk, you can cure the problem. How do you do this? Start by asking questions, such as “Did something happen at school today?” or “Did someone hurt your feelings?” You might be surprised by what your child reveals.
Another way to do the above is by offering your child empathy. Acknowledge that they’re sad or mad or angry and then encourage them to tell you why they’re really upset. Empathy makes your child feel heard, which is what everyone, young and old, is after.
Staying the course:
You don’t want to fight fire with fire when it comes to backtalk, but you do want to stand your ground. Being too lenient tells your child that their sassing allows them to get their way, which only encourages future episodes. Aim to be firm and consistent, especially in regard to things that are non-negotiable (such as going to school, brushing their teeth, or doing chores). You might do this by using the ACT limit-setting: acknowledge your child’s feelings (I know you want to eat a piece of cake), communicate the limits (but you’ve already had enough sugar), and target alternatives (how about a piece of fruit instead?).
Explaining your expectations:
Kids aren’t always aware that what they’re saying is backtalk – they might be parroting something they’ve seen on TV or even something they’ve heard from you. Or they may be trying to emulate kids they idolize, such as older cousins or friends. Telling your child what is and is not acceptable sets them up for success.
Backtalk should never be rewarded, unless you want a kid with a smart mouth and a home with an empty wine cellar. If your child sasses, make sure they reap the consequences. It’s not enough to tell them you’re going to take away their iPad or ground them for the weekend. You must also follow through.
Being a role model:
Children learn through observation – they look to other people to know how to make it in the world. If you yourself are sassy, your kid will probably sass too. This means you must rein in the snark, especially when little ears are near (even if you don’t think they’re listening, they are!).
Giving credit where credit is due:
When your child is polite and well-mannered, praise them. Kids love attention and positive praise for positive behavior makes your child likely to repeat that positive behavior. It also teaches your child that character counts and makes them feel good about themselves when they do good.
Eliminating backtalk from your child’s vocabulary is doable, even when your child’s sass is funny and you find yourself trying not to laugh. Staying consistent with the above helps raise agreeable children. You might still raise an arguer, of course, but hopefully then they’ll become a wildly successful lawyer.