How to Stop Your Child From Talking Back

Mother talking seriously with young son.
mother image/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Talking back, sassy comments and rude gestures by children are a common complaint among parents and can cause some problems within the family if the behavior is not acknowledged. What can parents and childcare providers do to put a stop to this unacceptable behavior? Here are some tips:

Be Aware of What Language Is Used Around your Child 

What kind of talk occurs around your child? How much sarcasm, fighting, and inappropriate language is he exposed to? Children model their parents and if you are exhibiting undesirable behaviors, then your child is sure to repeat them. If you know your home is not the place your child is picking up these behaviors, pay attention to his other environments, such as how daycare providers speak to each other, and how relatives speak to each other. If you notice one environment is where the bad behaviors are stemming from, you may have to change the environment.

Notice Your Child's Feelings

Often when a child talks back, he's really expressing is anger, frustration, fear, or hurt. Talking back guarantees you will pay attention, and negative attention is better than none.

Talking back and other behavior issues are more common during times of transition, such as a new baby in the house, a change in a parent's work schedule, or something going on in school.

Your child may feel ignored or abandoned and resort to backtalk just to get you to pay attention.

Pay Attention to Your Child's Self-Esteem, Sense of Powerless and Level of Comfort 

Does the youngster feel powerless or not listened to? Does he seem out of control? Is it possible that the back-talk occurs because the child has found that it is the most effective way to get an adult to listen to him and to get what he wants? Again, if this is the case, tackling these issues first may resolve the problem.

Establish Expected Behavior and Give Alternatives 

Teach kids that talking about it not allowed and give alternatives for what saying are allowed. Simply say: "Talking that way is not allowed" and provide an example with the appropriate way to say the statement. Remain firm and direct and coordinate these expectations with all caregivers.

Consistency is the key to changing behaviors. Show children an alternative, polite way to use language.

Teach Consequences 

This important lesson must be understood by a back-talking child. Adults can simply say: "I am not going to talk with you or listen while you have this tone with me. Once you change how you talk to me, then I will be glad to listen." Parents and caregivers should always follow through with listening and paying attention once the child does change his tone.

Teach Proper Communications Methods 

Sometimes, a child really doesn't know how to properly ask for things or to communicate. In an appropriate setting and time (and not when a child has just challenged an adult with back-talk), calmly explain to a youngster how to properly communicate. Reward your child's ability to properly community with positive reinforcement. However, be sure that they understand that simply asking respectfully still does not necessarily mean they will achieve the outcome they are requesting. Praise your child's good behaviors. You may say "I really like the way you said you asked for two more minutes on the IPad but it is time for dinner." 

Teach Your Child How to Handle Disappointment and Failure 

Many times talking back comes from a child feeling disappointed or angry. Teach your child ways to cope or even voice disappointment or displeasure without talking back to an adult. Encourage your child to vocalize frustration and feelings of sadness and not bottle these feelings up so later explode with an attitude.

Role Play Scenarios 

Reinforce that inappropriate reactions/behaviors should always be followed by an apology and an attempt to again relay the communication in a non-"sassy" tone. Role-play with your child alternative ways to speak in certain situations and make it fun and silly. Children are more inclined to participate in silly games and will remember the games when it is time to communicate properly.

Was this page helpful?