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Kids Talking Back – What Should Parents Do

Kids talking back to you can be upsetting.

You immediately feel a ball of fire rushing toward the heart, and something clicks in your head, telling you that your kid cannot talk to you that way.

“You don’t talk to me that way. I’m your Father. You need to show me respect.”

Fast forward twenty years later, Steve recently graduated from college and started a new job. Everything went well, and he was happy about his new career, except that he didn’t know how to express his disagreement with his superior. He tried to present a new idea to his boss, who kept dismissing it. One day, he was very frustrated and had an outburst in the office yelling at his manager for dismissing his idea yet again.

In another workplace, Mary, also a new graduate, was assigned several projects. She did them all and did them well. Naturally, her manager assigned her even more projects. She was gaining responsibility. It seemed like a good thing, except that her salary stayed stagnant and below the level of her male counterparts, and she kept getting the most boring and difficult projects no one else wanted to do. Also, despite receiving words of appreciation from management, she kept being passed over for promotion. Yet she said nothing even though she was miserable.

What do these two people have in common?

Well, they’re both new graduates from college.

But there’s more – they were never allowed to backtalk when they were young.

Steve never had the chance to learn to disagree respectfully, because any disagreement was considered back talk, and he was never allowed to voice his dissent. He also had a lot of pent-up anger because he felt he was never heard. So when he was frustrated at work and didn’t know how to handle the disagreement, he exploded.

Mary never had the chance to learn to be assertive, because any attempt to be assertive was viewed as talking back and she was never allowed to talk firmly and confidently to adults.

When a child talks back, it’s easy for parents to be fixated on how they say it rather than what they say. When we feel disrespected, we become reactive and try to stamp out the source of hurt feelings.

But if we only focus on our own feeling, we forgo the opportunity to teach our kids valuable skills.

Check out this step-by-step guide to calming tantrums

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five year old boy sticks his tongue out is kids talking back

How To Deal With Kids Talking Back

Allowing kids to talk back has many advantages. It will even put a stop to the behavior if you also do the following:

1. Teach Them How To Disagree Respectfully

Allowing kids to talk back is allowing them to have a voice.

Of course you shouldn’t encourage the use of a disrespectful tone. However, parents also shouldn’t see everything is talking back. Not all rude comments are power struggle, limit-testing, attention-seeking or the lack of discipline.

Children, especially younger ones, do not have good emotional regulation skills. So when they object something important to them, their intense emotions will naturally come out.

Rather than being intentionally disrespectful, most kids just speak with emotions they don’t yet know how to control.

If we focus on the tone, but ignore the message behind, we will not be able to help them or meet their needs. And if we strictly disallow any negative tone, kids will not have the opportunity to practice delivering their messages in a controlled way.

Practicing means they will make mistakes. Don’t expect a child to get it right the first time. We need to keep our cool, point out the problematic tone gently and ask them to repeat their message in a better manner.

If we can calmly point out the mistake and give them a second chance to say it again, they will be more likely to calm down and do it right this time.

Practice makes perfect. If they cannot practice, they won’t learn. They will grow up and become another Steve who cannot object in a peaceful way and sabotage their own career. You don’t want that for your child.

2. Help Them Practice Being Assertive

Kids could sound blunt and rude when they get upset, but that’s easy to fix with practice (and your patience). Speaking anxiety, on the other hand, is not as easy to cure.

It’s important for kids to learn to be assertive and not afraid to speak up. Assertiveness is especially crucial for girls, who are often told they should be “nice.” Many women, like Mary, cannot stand up for themselves and ask for what they deserve.

Like respectful tone, being assertive requires practice so kids can assert themselves competently. Don’t let your child become another Mary.

3. Model Respecting Others

When you let your child speak up and listen to their opinion, you are modeling how to respect others. Providing a good role model is the best way to teach kids respect.

4. Teach Life Skills

Allowing your child’s backtalk means allowing your child to reason with you. Reasoning trains a child’s critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, and negotiation skills. All of these are important life skills that will help your kid succeed in life.

If you are angry or too upset to teach well, simply walk away from the situation briefly to cool down, which is another coping technique your child should learn. Make sure you’re calm and composed before re-engaging.

5. Allow Emotion Regulation

Sometimes, kids do push limits and want to engage in power struggle. That usually happens when they are angry.

Anger results when people, kids or adults, feel that something is wrong or unfair. When a child is overcome by anger, stress hormone is released, the thinking brain goes “offline”, and a tantrum starts.

Having a functioning thinking brain is essential to prevent tantrums and regulate emotions​1​. Reasoning with your child can help them think through an issue and activate their thinking brain.

6. Understand That Authority Isn’t Always Right

Teaching a child to “always obey the authority and never talk back” is training a child to accept abuse.

Parents are not omnipotent. I make mistakes all the time. I rather my child know right from wrong in any situations than agreeing with me all the time like a sheep.

Authorities are not always right. They’re human and human makes mistakes. Besides, some authorities do abuse their power. When that happens (it’s more often than you think), you want your child to have the confidence to refuse abuse.

7. Build A Strong Parent-Child Relationship

When you treat your child as a rational human being instead of a subordinate, you build a close relationship. Your kid will see that you hear what they say. They will learn to trust you, listen to you better and stop talking back eventually.

When you don’t focus on giving consequences for talking back, but work on inspiring learning, you will have less fight, a more peaceful home, and a happier family.

Final Thoughts on Kids Talking Back

Parenting is hard and it is often exhausting. But using “because I said so” as an answer to every disagreement is a parenting shortcut that won’t do any good to your child.

Allowing your child to have a voice and disagree is teaching them to be a leader, not a blind follower.

  1. 1.
    Quirk GJ, Beer JS. Prefrontal involvement in the regulation of emotion: convergence of rat and human studies. Current Opinion in Neurobiology. Published online December 2006:723-727. doi:10.1016/j.conb.2006.07.004
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