4 Tips For Dealing With a Sassy Child

Verbal defiance from a toddler who is just beginning to test limits is relatively easy to take in stride, but many parents are unnerved when bigger kids talk back. As Amanda P. shares, it's not only irritating, but downright disrespectful: "My 7-year-old thinks he can smart-mouth us whenever he wants, and that it's fine for him to be disrespectful, especially to me."

Seeking suggestions from the community, Amanda asks, "What do you guys use for a disrespectful child? I don't want to sit back and do nothing only [to see] this escalate into something bad. Any advice?"

First, take a deep breath so that you don't wind up arguing back, say our moms. Then, try these four tips for taming the sass.

1. Model and Explain Respectful Behavior

The first step in quieting a mouthy child is to teach respect. Because children learn by example, it's important for moms to model respectful behavior — with their children and with other adults. After all, a member named Kathy says, you can't expect your child to be courteous if you're not.

For Rebecca N. and a mom named Kat, teaching respect means showing it to your children first by listening and then calmly and repeatedly explaining why the behavior is rude. Rebecca recommends attempting to empathize with your child and trying to find out what's bothering her to get at the root cause of the impolite behavior. But do not respond aggressively, Rebecca warns. If your child gets a rise out of you, it can reinforce the obnoxiousness.

"Be patient and try to explain your side rationally," Kat adds. "I guarantee that if you offer [your child] respect, she's more likely to return it."

Tara H. and Tammy V. both suggest showing your child how to rephrase rude remarks. For example, when her daughter says, "I'm not going to clean my room," Tammy instead teaches her daughter to say, "I don't want to clean my room because I'm too tired right now. May I please do it tomorrow?"

Assuming you have taught your child how to treat and talk to others respectfully, then in all likelihood your big kid knows that it's not nice to use a sassy tone or to say mean things. The best thing you can do when your child talks back is remind her who she is speaking to, talk with her, and allow her to talk to you, too, to make sure she understands why her behavior isn't acceptable, say moms Kandie K. and Kat P. "The point is to let her know that no matter how [she] feels about something, she needs to respect her parents and obey them," Kat says.

2. Give and Take Time-Outs

Past the preschool years, children may have trouble managing both their personalities and hormones. Sassiness sometimes results from built-up anger and frustrations, "and unfortunately, as parents, we often get the brunt of their frustrations," says Jennifer S. So if you find that anger is building, it helps to take a time-out. "I will tell [my children] that they've pushed me too far and I think we both need a break before we say things we shouldn't and make the situation worse," Jennifer says.

Taking a time-out and ignoring backtalk can often silence smart-mouthed remarks, because your child "will figure out real quick that sassing doesn't work when it doesn't get your attention or change the circumstances," Stefanie S. explains.

The important thing after tempers have cooled, however, is to quickly find the time to talk about the situation and make sure to listen to your children, Jennifer says. "Often, if I acknowledge my kid's frustrations/issues/feelings, it helps," Jennifer notes. Then use that calmer moment to firmly communicate that parents deserve respect and that there are consequences for impertinence.

Theresa D. agrees with this approach, noting that she gives time-outs when tempers flare and her daughter acts up. As a result, her daughter now knows that there are consequences for sassing and has learned that losing her temper gets her nowhere.

3. Offer Punishments and Rewards

To reinforce the notion that parents deserve respect, parents can use both carrots and sticks, say readers. When Sarah K.'s daughter is insolent, she loses privileges like being able to go out with friends or use the computer.

Similarly, a lack of respect from Jodi's 13-year-old son will lead to TV restrictions. And both Kathy B. and Abby C. ground their children. This usually translates into not being able to hang out with friends after school or skipping ballet practice.

Which privilege to remove depends on the particular child. The key to effectiveness, says Jodi, is to "find out your child's 'currency' — what is most valuable to him." For some, it's a favorite hoodie; for others, access to the hair straightener.

Some moms prefer to offer rewards to encourage better behavior. Amy K. uses ice cream, books, and inexpensive toys.

4. Be Consistent and Patient

Regardless of your approach, your reinforcement of it must be consistent, readers advise. Once you start letting things slide, you'll start to see the return of smart-alecky behavior, warns Angelique G.

Barb S. echoes this point, noting both that your child needs to know that "every time he smarts off, this is what is going to happen" and also that being this consistent can be hard. The reason? You'll feel like a broken record, repeatedly redirecting disrespectful behavior. But as Linda J. recalls of her child's "snotty stage," standing your ground and hanging in for the ride will pay off: "My 14-year-old has gotten much better . . . We have to remember that they all go through a lot of stress changing from little kids to young adults."