What To Do When Your Child Is Talking Back

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For as long as parents have been parenting; for as long as dads have been trying to get their kids to do something; kids have been talking back. They’ve given smart-alecky comments, eye-rolls, or lip smacks.

And it seems that talking back is becoming even more normal than ever as there is an ever-growing distrust and dislike for authority figures.

There are many reasons why our kids are talking back. But the main reason is that your child wants control. Your son or daughter wants control over the way they dress, where they live, what they eat, who they hang out with.

It’s a natural progression for anybody. However, for a parent, it can seem like our children are turning into Hitler.

Whatever the reason for children talking back, parents shouldn’t let it go. They need to address it. So, here are some tips on what to do when your child is talking back.

Tip #1 – Keep Calm and Carry On

You certainly don’t have to put up with back-talk. But you do need to be careful with how you respond. Let’s assume your child is talking back because they want power or control; because they are testing their boundaries.

If that’s the case, your approach can either make the situation worse or help it get better.

If your attitude and language is too strong, you could provoke your kid to act out even more. And when the talking back escalates, and you’re in public, the conversation could quickly turn into “How dare you!” or “I hate you!” or “Just wait until we get home!”

In the moment, instead of engaging angrily, calmly tell your child that you are going to resume the conversation in the car or at home. This de-escalates the problem for the time being and also puts you back into control.

Tip #2 – Determine the Issue Behind the Problem

When a child is talking back a lot, it could be an expression of how they’re feeling. Maybe you haven’t had the best week, and you’ve had a lot of arguments, and your son or daughter is feeling defeated.

But, a lot of back-talk could be a sign that other things are going on. In fact, this is more common than parents even realize. Your child could be dealing with problems at school or is stressed out over homework. It could be anything.

So, be prepared to provide empathy and ask some questions about how your child is doing. Here’s some language to help you out:

  • “I’ve noticed you’ve been a little snappy with me lately. Is everything okay?”
  • “Sometimes, when I’m not talking nice, it’s because I’m upset about something else. Is that what’s going on?”
  • “Is there something wrong that I can help you with?”

When you have figured out the reason behind the snappy comeback, you can then understand and focus on solutions.

Tip #3 – Explain to Your Child What is Acceptable and What is Not

Let’s paint a scenario that never happens (read the sarcasm) – your son, who is normally quiet, suddenly shouts, “Shut up, Dad!” in the middle of a conversation.

When this type of thing happens, apply tips #1 and #2 and then be confident enough to tell your child that their behavior is inappropriate.

They may have heard that language from a friend at school or on tv. So, moments like this are an opportunity to teach your son or daughter what is acceptable and what is not. Have you ever seen an older kid with an inability to control their tongue? Many times, it’s because their parents never put up boundaries along the way. Don’t be “that guy.” Talk to your kids about it.

Tip #4 – Explain the Consequences for Talking Back

After you’ve had the conversation with your kids about appropriate and inappropriate language, it’s also important to let them know what will happen if they continue to talk back. Let them know that, if they continue to disrespect you or other people, they will have consequences:

  • lose privileges
  • added chores
  • time out
  • wash their mouth out with soap (kidding… kind of)

Once you talk about this and set up consequences, stick to them so that your kids know you’re serious.

Tip #5 Model the Behavior

Just like almost every single parenting issue we talk about, the most effective improvement of behavior is YOU. Every child, whether we want to admit it or not, models the same behavior they see at home.

When your child mocks you, or says something disrespectful, he or she could just be repeating something you said to your spouse. When he or she talks back to their teacher or a coach, they might be repeating something they heard you say to a buddy.

Be very careful about what you say around your children. They are like sponges who soak in everything only to use it in their own way in their own little world.

And here’s something to think about: Be mindful of your tone when you’re talking to your kids.

Even if they’re being punished, or you’re scolding them for talking back, you may inadvertently be modeling the wrong kind of behavior.

Podcast Ep. 127 How To Stop Kids Talking Back

Tip #6 – Praise Positive Behaviors

Most of parenting is setting yourself up for the long-game – recognizing that you’re making small deposits now that will pay off down the road.

One of those deposits you can make right now is to positively reinforce good behavior. When you see your child speaking appropriately, let them know. If they have a tough conversation with you without talking back, thank them for being able to talk with you like a human being. These small deposits will build over time and your son or daughter will begin to actually want to stop talking back.

So, let’s recap:

  1. Stay calm
  2. Figure out the root cause
  3. Explain appropriate behavior
  4. Set consequences
  5. Model the right behavior
  6. Positive Reinforcement

Obviously, we aren’t going to solve the age-old problem of talking back. But, we can make a dent in the problem for sure. In a culture that is increasingly skeptical and disrespectful toward leaders or authority figures, you are helping your child become a functioning member of society.

I just released my Free Webinar, 6 Proven Strategies to Be a Better Father. This is a free 1 hour online class. Take your Dad Skills to the next level! Reserve Your Spot.


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