7 Ways to Deal With a Sassy Child

sassy child sticking his tongue out
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Whether your 5-year-old says, "You're not the boss of me!" or your 15-year-old says, "You're so stupid. I'm not listening to you," sassy replies are a serious problem. If left unchecked, disrespectful kids will turn into rude adults.

All children are sassy at one time or another. As toddlers, they often talk back in an effort to test limits and gain independence. At that age, responding isn't so hard. As your child ages, there are fewer excuses for sass, though nearly all children go through mouthy phases at one time or another. While you want to pick your battles, this rude behavior shouldn’t be tolerated.

How to Stop Sassy Behavior

Teach a sassy child how to be more respectful with these strategies.

Offer a “Deactivating” Response

As much as you want to throw a sarcastic comeback right back to a sassy kid, resist stooping to your child’s level. Instead, respond with a neutral phrase that shows your child that you heard what they said, but you’re not going to react.

Options include, “Thank you for your opinion” or “That’s interesting.” If it’s a teachable moment, use it as such. In response to a sassy comment about doing chores, say “A more appropriate response would be something like, ‘I’ll shut the TV off and come help you right now, Mom.’”

Cut Back on Television

There are myriad reasons why screen time isn’t ideal for young ones, and it includes their mimicry of sassy characters on TV. They’ll pick up words and phrases from shows (either their own favorites or even one of yours) and parrot it back to you without truly understanding its meaning.

The way to stop that sass? Turn the TV off. You might think children’s TV is probably OK, but when you really listen to some characters’ dialogue, you’ll be shocked at the disrespectful language you hear. When you discover characters using sassy comebacks, talk to your child about why saying those things is inappropriate. Say something like, “That was a rude thing to say and it might hurt someone’s feelings. What could he have said instead that would be nicer?”

Take Back the Power

Part of a child’s mouthiness is an attempt to gain a little bit of power in the parent-child relationship. If you respond in an irritated manner, you give their words strength. Instead, take back the power that belongs to the parent. When you tell your child to complete a task, and they respond, “Do it yourself,” don’t allow that to stand. Be clear: “I instructed you to do it, and I expect you to do it as I asked.”

Avoid getting into a power struggle when your child tries to lure you into a debate. Arguing with your child only helps delay how long they can put off following through with your instructions. So, rather than get into a lengthy debate, enforce consequences if they are not compliant.

Ignore It

Selective ignoring is another way to take back the parenting power. If you simply don’t acknowledge the disrespect, your child will figure out quickly that it’s not going to get your attention or change the circumstances.

Simply look in the other direction or walk away without saying a word. This is an effective message when you know your child is trying to get your attention and their words are meant to shock you. The lack of response will send the message that inappropriate words won’t get the attention they are looking for. Re-engage again when they start to behave appropriately. And when everyone is calm, hold a conversation about the importance of using kind and nice words toward one another.

Provide a Single Warning

Sometimes kids need a reminder that sarcastic responses aren’t appropriate. So whether your child says, “Duh, Mom, you’re such a loser,” or mumbles, “Whatever” under their breath, address it. Stay calm, and say, “That’s inappropriate. If you are disrespectful again, we’re going to go home.”

It’s especially important to address your child’s sassy comments if they are showing off in front of guests or trying to look cool in front of friends. Make it clear that you aren’t willing to tolerate that type of disrespect and tell them what will happen if they do it again.

Follow Through With a Consequence

If your child’s sass doesn’t stop after a warning, or if they said something extremely inappropriate, follow through with a consequence. Appropriate consequences might include leaving the playground or friend's home immediately, a time-out, or loss of privileges.

Make sure the consequence is time-sensitive. Telling your child you’re going to take away their trip to Grandma’s house next week isn’t likely to be effective. Find something that will work right now, so they will think twice about being disrespectful next time.

Model Respect

Make a household rule that emphasizes the importance of treating other people with kindness and respect. Then, make sure you follow that rule as well. If your child regularly sees you giving sass to those around you, whether it’s your significant other, your mother, or a restaurant server, don’t expect to tame their mouth. Model respectful, polite language in all aspects of your life.

Respond to sass with respectful behavior as well. Stay calm and use polite words to address misbehavior. Show your child how to deal with anger and frustration in a socially appropriate manner.  While you might have to get somewhat used to sassy comebacks, as they’ll probably pop up through your child’s teenage years, rest assured that it’s likely a phase. Do what you can to minimize the backtalk, but keep in mind that other parents are dealing with the same issue as you.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Nemours KidsHealth. Disciplining your toddler.

  2. Nemours KidsHealth. Disciplining your child.

  3. Brown A. Promoting disrespect through children's television. Master's thesis. Cleveland State University, 2011.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Steps for using consequences.

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.