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Parents Talk: A Better Way To Handle Back Talk

Back talk is the bane of many parents of grade-schoolers, but experts say they are more constructive ways to deal with it than sarcasm or punishment.

My daughter, Nora, is only 5. But lately, I feel like I’m parenting a 15-year-old.

Things like “No, I don’t want to, you do it,” “You can’t make me” and even “Mom, stop talking and just leave me ALONE!” are coming out of her mouth, and she’s stomped up the stairs and slammed her bedroom door more than a few times after having it out over what she’s wearing or eating.

I thought I still had a few more years of snuggling and reading books in bed, painting each other’s nails and gardening together. So what gives?

The fact that I’m a single parent made this even harder for me. Am I not doing enough? Do I not give her enough attention given all the other things I have doing on and her special needs brother?

What I found out is back talking is pretty common among grade schoolers, partly due to peer pressure (what they see or hear their schoolmates saying) and partly as a way to express anger, fear, hurt or frustration.

It’s hard not to levy punishment for back talk, but experts say a wiser course of action is to get to the bottom of what’s bothering your child and teach them better ways to express their feelings and deal with them. 

Babycenter’s Karen Miles has some great tips on what you can do about back talk: 

1. Keep Your Composure -- Don’t overreact to your child’s mouthing back or respond in kind. The best way to teach your grade-schooler to speak respectfully is to do so yourself. So tell them, "I think you can find a better way to say that."

2. Turn A Deaf Ear -- If your grade-schooler's suddenly turned nasty, don't negotiate, compromise or even discuss his opinion with him, which will only reinforce the behavior. Briefly and calmly let your grade-schooler know that being nasty -- no matter where or when -- doesn't cut it. Find a quiet spot and tell them that if they do it again, there will be a consequence.

3. Offer Choices -- If your grade-schooler has some say-so during the course of his day, they’re less likely to feel the need to assert themselves in offensive ways. So give them plenty of opportunities to make choices, like what’s for dinner or what to do that afternoon.

4. Draw The Line -- Make sure your grade-schooler understands what is -- and isn't -- OK to say, and stick to those limits.

5. Get Behind The Back Talk -- Acknowledging a grade-schooler’s emotions -- "Boy, you sound really angry about this" -- often takes the wind out of their sails, because it removes you from the adversarial role. If you can get past the tone, you can focus on the message they’re trying to convey. 

6. Focus On Solutions -- You may discover in your child's calmer, more polite moments the real reasons behind their defiant outbursts. Maybe they get angry about cleaning up because you always ask when they’re in the middle of something. If so, offer to give them a five-minute warning the next time you need them to do their chores. If you keep an eye on your goal -- harmony and mutual respect -- you'll be better able to keep your cool when your grade-schooler mouths off.

Editor's note: It's your turn, Maple Grove. Tell us in comments how you handle back talk with your children or how your parents handled it with you.

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