What To Do When Your Child Talks Back

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When your sweet newborn first enters the world, smelling of hope and baby powder, you never imagine that there could come a day when your tiny ball of love is a smart-mouthed, door-slamming, back-talking kid.

The bad attitude, the eye rolls, the snide comments and the general lack of respect that your child may be exhibiting now are just not what you pictured (even if you did all of these things to  your own parents).

You were going to be a cool parent and a smart parent and the kind of parent who simply earned the respect of your children because of your all-around awesomeness. You were never going to be like your lame-o parents. You would have kids who would listen and accept instruction with ease because of their deep-seated love and admiration for you.

How’s that working out? Do they fall in line with doe-eyed obedience? Or, do they question you? Do they push boundaries and limits? Do they even – gasp – speak disrespectfully or talk back?

Why did they turn on you?

Welcome to the real world, mama and dad. “He’s 7, going on 17,” you tell your friends. “She is so sassy now – I can’t imagine what the teenage years will be like,” you moan to your parents. You may even quietly wonder if you are losing control of your kid.

If you’re like most parents, you’ll see a change in your child as early as 6 or 7. This is around the time that they will be starting to develop their own opinions.

Toddlers throw tantrums because they cannot get the words out.

Elementary school kids suddenly have plenty of vocabulary and lots of friends to model their own behavior after. They will not throw nearly as many tantrums but they will likely start to tell you what they think.

I have two boys and they have always been “spirited” and rambunctious. As little ones, they threw epic tantrums and everyone told me to be grateful for their strong wills.

I had difficulty appreciating this about them. I couldn’t wait for their toddler meltdowns to end.

But, now that they are in kindergarten and second grade, I see that things don’t get easier, they just change.

My six-year-old is certain that he could run the household completely independently. My nearly eight-year-old has an opinion about everything we do, every movie watch and every meal we eat.

Most of the choices that myself or his dad make, he refers to as his “worst nightmare.” In the last week, spaghetti, outdoor play and a movie about kids travelling to the moon have all been deemed his very “worst nightmare.”

Why do they talk back?

We all have an instinct to seek positive power. This means that we all want some command over our lives.

When parents are overprotective, extremely demanding, give constant orders, correct them non-stop and direct their every move, we make it difficult for them to feel that they have any power.

They will fight back with backtalk, disrespect, negotiating, door slamming, eye rolling and the like.

It’s infuriating to parents because we know that our directives and instructions are always in their best interest. We are their parents, after all.

But, that is not really the point. Growing up is about seeking independence so a certain amount of back-talk is natural and normal. It’s a part of their maturation process.

As with all situations in parenting, it is your job to set good examples and encourage growth while protecting the child enough – but not too much. This balancing act is exhausting but no one said parenting would be easy.

Parents should work to build a home life where kids can practice stating their opinions in appropriate and respectful ways. How do you do that?

  • Listen to your kids’ thoughts and ideas – even if you do not do see things their way.
  • Involve kids in discussions and debates about the world around them. Show them how to respectfully disagree on a topic.
  • Don’t tell them to “just be quiet” when they have differing opinions from yours.
  • Acknowledge when they have made a good point. This is harder to do, but most important to do when the opinion is dissimilar to your own point of view.
  • Ask your kids to take part in family decisions, when it is appropriate. Let them help decide where to go on vacation, what to have for dinner, which movie to see and so on. These feel like small decisions to you but they are big for your kids.

If you act as a patient and loving guide as they make their way through this normal process, they will come out the other end with the ability to speak respectfully about their feelings and thoughts.

Jessica Gray
Jessica Gray lives in North Carolina with her husband and two little boys. She enjoys cooking, but she hates cleaning house. She's deeply passionate about kids and education - her experiences working with children as a teacher have been some of the most rewarding of her life. Writing has been a lifelong passion that started with notebooks, old scraps of paper, and journals. She loves to write informative and educational pieces for kids and adults.