talk back

Wise Words When Your Children Talk Back

Nothing makes correcting a child more frustrating than to have him constantly “back talk” or offer a response or defense to everything you say. It’s doubly upsetting if those retorts are disrespectful. So how do you nip this back talk habit? Much of it relies on laying a foundation of respect. Next, move on to the nitty-gritty of targeting the talking back and taking it on. You don’t have to do it alone. We’re in it with you. And while you don’t want to engage in a lot of back-and-forth verbal volleyball with your child, sometimes the right response can calm the waters and defuse common kid tactics to distract from the real issues.

A wise dad will measure his words carefully when responding to back talk so that parental authority doesn’t dissolve in a verbal tug of war. The last thing you want to do is engage in a lengthy back-and-forth with your child. This only encourages future arguments about rules and boundaries. But on those occasions when you think your child’s backtalk deserves or needs a response, here are some wise words when your children talk back.

“That’s not fair!”

Children like to believe that the only just way for them to be treated is exactly the same as their siblings or friends. But fair isn’t the same as equal or identical.

Dad Response: “I will always try to treat you and your brothers and sisters fairly, but I won’t always treat you the same. That’s because you are each different, just like everyone in the world is different from each other.”

“Everyone else gets to do it!”

Kids like to pressure parents by comparing them to other parents.

Dad Response: “Well, what other parents choose to do may not be right for us. In our family we believe _____________, so that’s how we’ll decide about this too.”

“You don’t trust me.”

Older kids will try to guilt parents who set boundaries by acting as if the implied lack of trust is damaging your parent-child relationship.

Dad Response: “Even if I trust you, which I do, my main job is to keep you safe. So in this case, it’s not about trusting you, it’s about keeping you safe and/or looking out for what you need.

“I don’t have to do what you say.”

This is one of those cases of back talk that shows defiance and disrespect and should be dealt with accordingly.

Dad Response: Dad looks behind him and says, “Who are you talking to? I know you’re not talking to me.” That’s the give them a chance to correct their attitude approach. You can follow it with, “Okay, maybe you want to try that again.” If they don’t get the point and keep talking back, take a stronger approach, “I am your parent, and whether you think that I’m right or wrong, you owe me respect and obedience. Because your attitude and words are showing neither, your consequence is…” (Note: This only has value if the consequence has an impact and you have the backbone to enforce it.)

“Mumble, mumble.”

This is the ploy of the child who wants to get in the last word. You’ve said your piece, but they won’t let it drop. They either keep pushing or they mumble under their breath. Either way, it’s a power play.

Dad Response: “Okay, I’ve listened to what you have to say and I’ve asked you to stop talking.” From there, you can either say, “If you want to get to __________, you will not say another word.” Or, “If you say another word about this, I will _____________.”

Sound Off

What wise words do you have when your children talk back?

  • Greg Lane

    I think it’s all good advice but I have a problem with the words “need” and “obedience”.

    While we know better than they do I don’t feel you can ever say completely you know what another human needs. I think reusing the word safe by saying “looking out for what I think will keep you safe”. This might not be for everybody but if I had somebody telling me they know what I need then I shut them out at that point, and I imagine my children will be some what like I am.

    Obedience is a powerful(sometimes derogatory) word and to me is demeaning and subservient. I will not teach my daughters they are not subservient to no one. I also don’t think it is owed, just like respect it earned and if you expect your child to do both then you should earn it and not say it is owed.

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Huddle up with your kids and ask, “How do you respond when you feel disrespected?”

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