Isn’t it exhausting to have your child continuously talking back at you? Do you feel that he or she is testing your limits or challenging your authority? Does it seem like your child wants to defy you on what feels, everything?
The unpleasant back talk is not exclusive to teenagers but children of all ages, and can become a bad habit that gets worse progressively if not stopped when identified. Remember that it is normal that at some point children will try back talking but how you deal with it is the key to a good relationship between you and your child.
Back talk is part of children’s development and independence; it provides tools for being used in their future lives when negotiating is needed…. But this doesn’t mean that one should let it slide. When it comes to learning to negotiate, and standing up for ourselves, it is important to teach our children to be assertive, not aggressive or passive-aggresive.
Here are 9 tips to stop and/or prevent back talk:
Be clear and specific about the home rules: Kids need some structure so setting the home rules is a good practice. The number of rules depends on the age of the child. A good way of thinking about it is number of rules = age of child. Therefore if your child is 8, he can handle 8 specific rules. Keep these rules visible in the kitchen or any common area of the house or just refer to them if needed. Saying “be nice” sometimes is not enough especially with young kids because they probably will not understand what you mean so it’s better be more descriptive, for example: “Rolling eyes, saying “whatever”, shouting, stomping away or insulting is unacceptable. Being nice means, maintaining eye contact, talking calmly, being kind during the conversation….”
Set limits consistently: The most important word in this tip is consistency. Rules can be changed and we can be flexible; however, too much change confuses children. Limits are necessary for children to feel safe. Tantrums or back talks are just some of the signs that your child is crossing boundaries. With love, calm and respect set the limits. It’s better to hold off setting boundaries when we, as parents, feel angry, upset or resentful to avoid overreaction. Using the rules set in tip one, firmly remind the child about the limit, for example: “Son, in this house we value cleanliness, so please pick up after yourself.”
Come up with alternative answers together: I always like to suggest parents to look back in time to memories where their child was able to give a positive answer as opposed to talking back. Try to get as many details as possible. Through this exercise, parents are reassuring the child that they cherish and value positive behaviors so the child will understand that he is capable of doing it. Also, suggest polite alternatives to the back talk. This is also a good way to teach them how to say what your child might want to say politely, for example, if your child back talks by saying: “I hate you!,” an alternative that can be suggested is: “I am not happy with what you are telling me right now.”
Try to understand the reasons behind the back talk: Kids talk back for many reasons. Sometimes they feel parents overprotect them or treat them with no respect. They may also feel curious about testing the limits just to know how far they can go or maybe they feel their parents are too demanding. They want to have some control over their lives. Another reason to consider is school. They may be having a bad time at school with teachers, classmates or the school system. I encourage you to step back and be curious about your child’s school life so you can help him cope with his emotions.
Help your child label feelings and express them in an appropriate way: There are several strategies that parents can use to teach their children about feelings and emotions. Some children like reading books. Is your child one of them? Read a story together and let your child talk about his feelings regarding this story. There are some apps out there that can help your child to label his emotions. Another good resource is the movie Inside Out from Disney which shows the purpose and labels emotions in a very child relatable manner.
Parents are role models. Be careful about your own reactions: Part of parenting is looking at our own behaviors. Most parents are not aware that they back talk, so paying attention at our own coping skills around difficult situations in front of our children can be a good start. Do you yell when you are upset at your spouse? Do you call people names when you are angry at them? What about road rage? Kids look like they are immersed in their own world, but most of the time they are listening to every word you say.
Stop and think about your answer when your child back talks at you: Parents consider back talk to be a challenge to their authority so things can escalate fast and turn into a heated discussion. First of all, staying calm can stop the cycle. Remember, you are the parent so you are the one setting the rules and enforcing them. If you feel you can’t handle the situation take some time to yourself and talk it over later. Always listen to your child’s point of view, analyze it and together reach a conclusion. Be careful with your child’s feelings and his self-esteem. Remember that everyone wins when a solution is discovered and accepted.
Pay attention when your kid talks in a positive way: Listen actively and encourage the positive talking. When your child talks, look into his eyes and give him your full attention. Don’t interrupt him and show your interest. Active listening is a great tool to build a good relationship with your child.
Spend time together: Researchers agreed that children might behave poorly when they don’t get the attention they need from their parents and loved ones. I advise parents to put their mobile devices for at least 15 minutes a day to spend quality time with their children. Whatever activity you choose with your child, show your genuine interest. Children feel happy when parents become part of their world.
Remember that it takes two people to fight! Back talk is a part of growing up, and as such, it is an opportunity to promote independence, within the established limits.
To your children’s success!
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Your Therapy Friend,
Sofia Robirosa is the owner of Infinite Therapeutic Services and is a Relationships & Parenting Expert. She offers individual, couples, and family counseling to individuals seeking to enhance their relationships, in her private practice, located in Plantation, FL. She attended Nova Southeastern University for both her bachelor and master degrees in marriage and family therapy and in business administration. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist, and a Leader in Active Parenting for children and teens, an evidenced based program. She is also a certified addictions professional (CAP). She is a passionately committed therapist, who thoroughly takes pride and joy from her job. She enjoys working with a culturally diverse population, and is bilingual in Spanish and English. She is a member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and an active volunteer of the Broward Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. She loves her family, which is consisted of her husband, daughter, and two dogs. Some of her interests outside of work include spending time outdoors, traveling, and dining. Read more about her at: www.infinitetherapeuticservices.com and follow her on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/infinitetherapy/