5 Simple Comebacks When Your Child Gets Mouthy

I was just finishing dinner at a favorite restaurant with my two teenagers when it happened. A family a couple of tables away had a child, probably around 7 years old, acting up. The parents were trying to rein the boy in without success. The boy was up from the table, being loud and making a scene. Finally, the father told the boy that he needed to sit down and be quiet. His son gave some serious back talk, mimicking his dad, and even sticking his tongue out at him. What the dad did in response shocked me. Nothing. He did absolutely nothing. My teens, who had been watching along with me, said, “Wow, if we had done that, it wouldn’t have gone well for us.” I joked, “No, you probably wouldn’t be alive.”

In all seriousness, I wouldn’t have hurt my kids. But situations like that are common, and most kids aren’t trying to be disrespectful. Most just mimic what they see on TV or even what they see us do. That certainly doesn’t mean we just allow it, but it can be tough to know what to do. Over the years, I have tried several responses to back talk, and there are several that have worked well. Here are 5 simple comebacks when your child gets mouthy.

1. “No.”

Firm, straightforward, and simple. This communicates that you will not allow your child to speak to you in a disrespectful tone. The only problem is they may ignore your stand, show defiance, or mock your no. If this happens, you need to re-establish your authority. Be ready with consequences. Figure out the top three things they don’t want to lose. The more they back talk, delay obedience, or display a bad attitude, the more they lose and the longer it will be gone. On the flipside, let them know that a respectful attitude and prompt obedience in the future can lessen the penalty.

2. “Try that again.”

After you have established that back talk will receive consequences, it becomes easier to try something like this. Give them a do-over. Kids are impulsive—they often respond without thinking. This gives them a little grace and a chance to think through their actions. Making them think through their responses will help them with your future interactions.

3. “Have I disrespected you in some way?”

This response works best with teenagers. However, it will only work if you speak to your kids respectfully. If they tell you that you have, then you need to own it and make amends. If you consistently treat them with respect, then this question should bring conviction. Speak with sincerity but not with condemnation. Again, you are trying to teach them to think about how they speak to people. Teenagers and younger kids have limited impulse control. This is an opportunity to develop it.

4. “Time out.”

This is another way of saying your kid needs to stop what he or she is doing without actually saying “Stop.” Taking a time out pauses the interaction so your kids can think about how they are speaking to you. It’s especially true if they’re taken captive by emotions. A time out can calm things down and bring clarity to the situation. Second Timothy 4:5 says, “But you should keep a clear mind in every situation.” A time out helps you stay calm and teaches your child to think more clearly. But if it doesn’t, then follow up the time out with one of these other statements.

5. “Whoa. Easy there.”

If you want to keep it light but also call out your kid’s bad behavior, then this is a good one to go with. Sometimes kids don’t even realize how disrespectful they are and calling them out harshly can create distance. It’s hard for them to paint you as the bad guy with an easy going response. The only risk to this one is that it may be too light, and your teen might not realize he or she crossed the line. Or teens can be emboldened to run you over. If that’s the case, you can easily follow this with either line from points one or two. Just make sure you tone is serious, firm, and resolute.

Sound off: What do you do when your child hits you with back talk?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What does it look like to treat someone with respect?”