As a parent, the words “No, I won’t,” or “You do it,” from our kids is enough to make us cringe. In fact, back talk is the number one parenting complaint from all the parents I’ve worked with—and it can be so hard to get kids to respond to our requests without whining, eye-rolling, or simply ignoring us that many of us can’t help but snip back, “You’ll do it because I said so,” or “Don’t you dare talk to me that way!”
Back talk might be annoying and, at times, infuriating, but it’s a common side-effect of growing up and gaining independence. At all ages, kids need a strong sense of personal power on an emotional level. When they can’t get it because we’re ordering them around or doing everything for them, they lash out with words. It’s a typical “fight or flight” response: since they can’t exactly move into their own apartment (flight), they’ll fight back by testing limits and trying to get a reaction.
The best way to stop back talk in its tracks is to allow our kids the positive personal power they need. By fostering independence within our limits, we can help them grow up, as well as limit the back talk, arguing, whining that no one enjoys. Here’s how:
1. Give kids some power
Find opportunities for your kids to assume some control of their own world, whether that means picking their own outfit for the day (for a toddler) or planning an activity for a family vacation (for a teenager). The more positive power you give them, the less they’ll try to get it in negative ways.
2. Don’t play a role
Recognize that parents may unknowingly contribute to the power struggles that produce back talk by bossing kids around too frequently. After all, would you be able to hold your tongue if you were told what to do all day? Limit the ordering, directing and correcting you do by finding alternate ways to get cooperation, and you may find that back talk is greatly reduced.
3. Pay attention!
Your kids have an attention basket that needs to get filled every day—they need your undivided attention, and will get it one way or another! Spend 10 minutes twice a day getting into each child’s world with no interruptions (let your phone go to voice mail), and you’ll see get a lot more cooperation in the future.
4. Refer to the rules
Set very clear rules for your house, and set up very clear consequences for any child who chooses to test them. You don’t have to be overly harsh or strict, you simply need to stick with the limits you put in place.
5. Keep your cool
Your kids may be talking back simply to get a rise out of you—so don’t give them the satisfaction! Simply say, “I feel hurt by the way you’re talking to me. When I hear that tone of voice, I’m going to walk away. We can talk again when you can speak respectfully to me.” Then walk away. Next time it happens, there’s no need for even a warning—simply leave the room. You’re sending the message that you refuse to participate in a power struggle. And when there’s no one to fight with, there’s no fight!
By following these 5 steps, you’ll be able to greatly reduce the amount of backtalk you hear from your kids. And isn’t that music to your ears?