I encounter frustrated parents all of the time who are at their wit’s end with their child’s back talk. They ask me, “Why won’t my kid just do what I say without questioning me all the time?” or “Why can’t I just ask my kid how their day was at school without getting my head bit off?”

Does this sound familiar to you?

 

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Rude, impertinent, or insulting remarks made in reply to a parent or other authority figure – commonly called back talk – is a problem that has been around for generations. The problem with back talk is that it is not productive, it hurts the relationship between parent and child, and it becomes a destructive habit if it continues into adulthood.

In order to eliminate backtalk in your family forever, first you need to understand why your child resorts to back talk (surprise! it’s because it works for them), identify the common mistakes that you might be making when dealing with back talk in your family, and then implement some – or all – of the 10 actionable items I suggest later in this article.

 

Why Your Child Uses Backtalk So Frequently

There are several different reasons why kids use back talk so frequently. It is important to understand the context surrounding WHY your child decides to resort to backtalk as a way of communicating with you, so that you can choose the appropriate, and most effective, way of handling the back talk when it happens.

Here is a list of some of the most common reasons.

  • Both young children and teenagers use back talk because they feel “bad” inside, but might not know what they are feeling or how to express it; as a result, their confusion is expressed through back talk.
  • Kids often use back talk when exploring their independence from their parents – they are testing what they can get away with and what they can’t.
  • They are imitating what they see displayed by other people in their environment – this modeling could have come from you, an older sibling, their friends, or TV.
  • It works! Many kids have gotten out of doing chores, going somewhere they didn’t want to go, or insulting their sibling who the are mad at by using back talk.

However, just because there are reasons behind why back talk is so popular among kids, it doesn’t mean that it is ok for our kids to be doing it. The next step is to look at common mistakes that a lot of parents make when attempting to deal with back talk.

 

Common Mistakes Parents Make When Dealing With Backtalk

So just as kids get into the bad habit of back talk, I have witnessed many parents of my child clients also succumb to bad habits when REACTING to their child’s back talk.

Let’s face it: back talk causes even the BEST PARENT to get angry, frustrated, and annoyed. These bad habits (based on an emotional reaction to back talk) are COUNTERPRODUCTIVE for parents – it does NOT eliminate the back talk at all.

Read the list below, and evaluate whether or not you are guilty of these common reactions to back talk.

  • You try to “one up” your child. For example, you ask your child how their math test went, they retort something like “Why do you always bug me about tests right when I get home?” so you say, “Fine – I’ll never ask you about school ever again.”
  • You take what you child just said personally. When your child says something mean or rude, you react with a rude or mean comment back because what they said hurt your feelings. Of course our feelings get hurt during these situations, but as good parents, we must rise above these hurt feelings and use this moment as a teaching opportunity. Don’t play the victim – be a parent.

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  • You “over-teach,” “over-preach,” and “over-lecture”. Believe or or not, our kids DO know that what they are doing is wrong, and telling them 25 times in one lecture will not make them slap their hands to their foreheads with “sudden wisdom” and change instantly. When your child back talks, remind them they broke a rule, give the consequence, and then move on.
  • You don’t follow-through on the consequences. This is probably the biggest mistake many parents make when trying to eliminate back talk. If your child back talks and all you did was yell at them back, or give them a long lecture, or act hurt – but didn’t follow through on any consequences – then this just reinforces your child’s behavior. Expect them to continue with back talk in the future.

Now that you have resolved to stop using these common parenting mistakes when dealing with back talk, let’s discuss what you SHOULD be doing to rid your household of back talk once and for all.

 

10 ACTIONABLE Ways You Can Eliminate Backtalk In Your Home – TODAY!

Below are the top 10 parenting techniques that I guarantee will eliminate back talk from your household forever. Now, it won’t happen overnight. You need to use the 10 techniques below CONSISTENTLY every time your child misbehaves.

Now, I always get this question: how long should you use these techniques before you give up because they don’t work for your child (they are unique in some way) or for your family (you have unique circumstances). YOU KEEP USING THESE TECHNIQUES UNTIL THEY WORK.

These techniques might work on your child the first time, or maybe the 5th time, or maybe not until the 75th time – each child and circumstance is different. The point is that you cannot give up just because you get tired of consistently following through.

Ok. Here they are.

1. Assess your own behavior – have you been modeling this behavior to your child? The absolute FIRST step is to take a look at YOUR OWN behavior. When someone tells you something that you don’t like, do you turn around and argue with them? When your spouse/partner asks you to pick up the dry cleaning, without thinking do you say “Why do I have to do everything”? If your child asks you to sign their permission slip, do you retort “not now – can’t you see I’m busy! Sheesh”! If this is you, then changing your own behavior will go a LONG WAY in changing your child’s behavior.

2. Identify predictable triggers to your child’s sassiness. Next, take a step back and try to assess whether or not certain instances tend to elicit more back talk than other situations. Are they more prone to back talk right after school or when you want them to stop doing something immediately and go perform a chore?

Try to find themes in your child’s back talk and then experiment with adjusting your communication with your child. For example, if your child’s back talk is worse right after school, then wait until they have had their after-school snack before you ask about their math test or how much homework they have to do that night. If they snap at you when you tell them to take out the trash RIGHT NOW, try telling them that the trash needs to be outside before dinner.

By giving your child a little bit more space and control, the back talk is drastically reduced. 

3. Remember HALT triggers – could your child be HUNGRY, ANGRY, LONLEY, or TIRED?

You might be thinking that only little kids and toddlers are susceptible to physical discomforts – but that is SO not the truth! If your tween or teenager is hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, then it is WAY more difficult for them to “keep it together” and act composed when they get annoyed. Therefore, an easy fix to backtalk caused by physical discomfort is to make sure that your child’s physical and emotional needs are met. Making sure that they are eating regularly and getting enough sleep will go a long way in curbing the back talk!

4. If your gut is telling you that your child is picking up their backtalk behaviors from TV, then inform them that they are only allowed to watch Sesame Street or Blue’s Clues until they show you they can handle family TV.

This worked WONDERS when my kids hit the age from transitioning from children’s TV shows to family TV shows. It seemed like overnight my kids started imitating the behaviors that seemed funny on TV, but not so funny in real life. They started back talking and making fun of me and each other. This had to stop.

So, I explained to them that these kinds of behaviors are funny on TV because those families are not real; in real life, those kinds of smart-alec behavior is hurtful. Then all I had to do was threaten to take away the family TV shows (this was a while ago, so for us I was talking about taking away Hannah Montana and Wizards of Waverly Place) and go back to only watching Nick Jr. and PBSKids TV. That worked like a charm! They seemed to “get it” and the back talk and insults stopped. Even as they got older, I would have to remind them of this rule and they quickly got their behavior under control. 

5. Set limits ahead of time regarding what specific words or rude behaviors will earn consequences.

This is an important one. Set aside a time to sit down with your child when back talk is not an issue at the moment and discuss what words, phrases, or nonverbal behavior will be immediately punished. For instance, swear words, insults, or eye rolling might mean immediate time out or loss of privileges. These words or behaviors are never tolerated – especially during high-emotional conversations when back talk might occur.

6. Have a consistent, boring statement ready to go – and use it EVERY TIME.

So most parents I work with think that they understand what “positive reinforcement” is, but they really don’t. Many parents mistakenly think that positive reinforcement is complementing their child in order to encourage their child to continue doing something they want to see happening. WRONG!

Positive reinforcement is when you do something and that behavior encourages someone else to perform a particular behavior every time. (To read more about positive reinforcement, here is a good article). Any kind of attention you give your child (whether it is positive or negative) serves as a reinforcer if it serves to encourage them to continue with their whining and pleading.

As such, the only way to extinguish back talk in your child IS TO GIVE IT VERY LITTLE ATTENTION WITH MINIMAL EMOTION FROM YOU! You need to have a consistent, boring statement ready to go that: 1) elicits no behavior from your child, 2) does not serve to increase your child’s emotions during this time (which saying nothing would do), and 3) they come to predict this useless statement every time.

I like to use the statement with my own kids: “When you are the parent, then you get to make the rules.” Use this statement (or one like it) EVERY TIME.

VERY IMPORTANT POINT: if you use this statement 10 times and then go back to your previous way of interacting with your child on the 11th time, then you have totally wiped out all of the previous work you have done. This is called a RANDOM REINFORCEMENT SCHEDULE – which is the hardest reinforcement schedule to break!

7. If you feel yourself becoming very emotional – you are at the point at which you might scream at your child – then don’t say anything at all.

I’m a realist. As a parent, I know that there are some days when it is easier to handle backtalk than others. For me personally, on days that I am tired or stressed, it is much harder for me to deal with snotty, mean statements from my kids. Therefore, on these kinds of days when it is too difficult to repeat the boring statement back to your child (because it might come across in a mean tone), it is best to just not say anything back to the backtalk at all.

Just make this the exception rather than the rule. For most instances of back talking, you will want to handle it with suggestion #6.

8. Go back to what you were doing right before the backtalk and don’t even give your child any nonverbal attention.

After you have repeated the boring statement (or not said anything at all), go back to what you were doing. If your child wants to continue arguing with you or give you attitude (which they will want to do, especially at the beginning of this new routine), then just ignore them. You will have to do this several times before your child “gets it” that you have a new routine for handling backtalk and your consistent behavior communicates to them that you are serious about starting this new routine.

9. Reinforce appropriate, mature behavior WHEN YOU SEE IT HAPPENING.

I have found this step goes hand-in-hand with the “boring statement” step – it is that important. When your child does follow through on a task WITHOUT backtalk, or your child has a mature conversation with you that you really enjoyed, make sure they know that.

However, DON’T simply say “good job” – kids hate that! Modern kids want you to be specific with your praise. They want to know that you really noticed that they are trying to be the kid you want them to be. My kids seem to really respond when I say compliments like, “I really like talking with you like this – it’s like we’re two interesting adults just having a conversation” or “Wow! I never thought about it like that – that’s really interesting.”

It might seem out of your comfort zone to talk to your kids like this, but try to make an effort to really tell them how their mature behavior makes you feel (but in a non-condescending way). Remember, you don’t have to use my example statements – use an honest, positive statement that fits your personality so it comes across as sincere.

10. **ADVANCED TECHNIQUE** Validate your child’s EMOTIONS behind the statement – but not the words that were said.

This is an advanced technique because you need to conquer regular backtalk first. When your child’s backtalk has reduced in frequency, then you can assume that the new backtalk is occurring again because there is some meaning behind the words.

For example, let’s say that your child got a very bad grade on a class assignment that they worked hard on for weeks. Your child came home really upset about this assignment and now you need your child to come to the table for dinner. When you tell you child it’s dinner time, they retort with a snappy, sarcastic answer. In this instance, a validating statement would be, “You sound upset.” This statement communicates: 1) they are not treating you kindly, 2) that you care about their feelings, 3) that people mess up sometimes and that’s ok, and 4) you want to know more about what is gong on in their life.

Again, this step is really only to be used after your child has mostly stopped their usual back talk behavior. Don’t expect to be able to use this step if you are just beginning to address your child’ back talk.

Take Home Message

Now I want you to begin implementing these techniques into your parenting plan. Once you have begin trying these techniques, don’t give up on them – refine them and “tweak” them to make them fit your individual child and family.

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