Sick of Your Kid’s Backtalk? Here’s How to Stop It


As a parent, sometimes it seems like your day is filled with an endless  stream of backtalk from your kids—you hear it when you ask them to do chores,  when you tell them it’s time to stop watching TV, and when you lay down rules  they don’t like. It’s one of the most frustrating and exhausting things that we  deal with when we raise our kids.

“Your  job as a parent is not to get your child to accept the rationality of your  decisions. You just need them to follow the rules.”


Backtalk comes from a sense of powerlessness and frustration. People don’t  like to feel powerless, and that includes children. So when kids are told “no”  they feel like something’s been taken from them. They often feel compelled to  fill that empty space with backtalk. I want to make the distinction here between  backtalk and verbal abuse, because many times people confuse these two very  different things. If your child has started saying hurtful or harmful things,  the line between backtalk and verbal abuse has been crossed. For instance, if a  child is cursing you, calling you names or threatening you, that’s verbal abuse.  If your child is saying, “This isn’t fair, you don’t understand, you don’t love  me,” that’s backtalk.

Verbal abuse is a very negative behavior and has to be dealt with  aggressively and up front. It’s not that backtalk is harmless, but it’s  certainly not as hurtful and hostile and attacking as verbal abuse is. For  parents who are dealing with verbal  abuse in their home right now, rest assured that we’ll be addressing this  topic in an upcoming article.

Related:  Does your child yell, call you names or swear at you?

Backtalk itself can take several forms. One is the kid who can’t keep quiet,  no matter what you say: he or she has got to have the last word. And then  there’s the child who wants you to understand their point after you’ve already  said “no.” It’s easy for kids to get into the mindset of, “If I could just  explain it better, you’d understand my situation.” So you’ll get kids who  present their problem or request repeatedly in the hopes that their parents will  give in and respond to it. If their parents don’t give them the answer they  want, those kids will then try to re-explain, as if the parent doesn’t  understand. Often, as they launch into their explanation for the third or fourth  time, the child and the parent will both get more frustrated until it ends up in  an argument or a shouting match.

Don’t Respond to Backtalk: You’ve already set the limit Why do parents react to backtalk after they’ve already won the argument? I  think parents often see it as their job to respond to their children: to teach,  train and set limits on them. And backtalk is an invitation to do just that.  Just as the child re-explains things to the parent if they’re told “no,” the  parent “talks back” and re-explains things to their child. So the parent’s  mindset seems to be, “If you really understood what I was saying, you wouldn’t  talk back to me—you’d accept my answer.” Let me be clear here: That’s not a  rational mindset. It leads parents into attending and prolonging arguments in  which they don’t need to engage. Parents sometimes see backtalk as a challenge  to their authority, but as long as you accomplish your objective, the fact is  that your authority is fully intact.

Here’s an example:

Your child: “Can I stay out until 10 tonight?” You: “No, because you have  to get up early tomorrow for soccer practice.” Your child: “Who cares? I  don’t need that much sleep.”

You should stop right there. Any conversation you engage in after that is  meant to convince your child that you have sound judgment. Know this: that’s the  wrong objective because it addresses a completely different issue—whether or not  you made a good decision. So once you give a reasonable explanation for the rule  you’ve stated, your job is done. You can repeat it again if need be. You’ve  already won the fight. But when you try to convince your child that you’re right  and they continue to challenge you through backtalk, you’re just going to get  more frustrated. Your job as a parent is not to get your child to accept the  reasonableness and rationality of your decisions. You just need them to follow  the rules. Look at it this way: when a cop stops you for speeding, he doesn’t  care if you think that 35 miles an hour is too slow. He just tells you what the  law is. If you argue with him, he repeats what the law is. If you don’t accept  it, he hands you your ticket and walks away. If you become verbally abusive, he  arrests you. Try to think of yourself as the cop here—you’re the parent making  the rules, and your child needs to accept them or pay the consequences.

Related:  How to disconnect from your child’s backtalk

Shutting Down Backtalk: The Plan In order to put a stop  to backtalk, there are several things you have to do. First of all, when things  are good, sit down with your child and lay down some ground rules. Discussions  about these rules are critical to good communication and to cooperation down the  road. I guarantee that you’ll feel better as a parent if you set up rules and  follow them with your children. Your goal then becomes following the ground  rules instead of trying to achieve your child’s acceptance. The first rule is,  “I’ll explain something once and I’m not going to talk more after that. If you  try to argue or debate, I’m going to walk away. If you follow me or if you  continue there will be consequences.” You set limits on backtalk and you don’t  give it power.

Another option is to set up a certain time of day in which your kid  can talk back to you. You can say to them, “From 7-7:10 p.m., you can  ask me to re-explain all my decisions. Save it for then. If you need to, write  it down in a journal. Then at 7 o’clock, we’ll sit down and I’ll explain to you  why you can’t date a 22 year old or how come you got grounded for smoking. But  at 7:15, our discussion is done. If you try to keep it going there will be  consequences.” That way, if you feel like you want to give your child an outlet  to air his or her grievances, there’s a way to do it without getting bogged down  in constant arguing.

Remember, there are two kinds of days that a kid has: there are good days and  then there are days when things don’t go their way. Don’t try to fight the tide  of disappointment that kids experience. They will use backtalk to get their way,  but as a parent, you have to accept the fact that they will not always be happy  with your decisions. Your job is to set the rules and enforce them because those  roles are for your kid’s development and safety. Whether they like those rules  or not, they have to learn to live with them

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