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Fix a Child's Attitude Problem

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."

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Join The Conversation
loriellefisk loriellefisk 3 years

what they dont tell you is what to do when you have done all of those things and the child-teenager is still backtalking and extremily defiant, or if you have joint custody and the other parent refuses to work with you and allows the child to do what ever they want

LaustCawz LaustCawz 3 years

How many parents will make the imperative distinction between just a crappy attitude & a search/need for more independence/say in their lives. Every parent should watch yourself to be sure you know when to guide/make corrections & when to just back off. No, kids aren't perfect, but neither are you.

DebbiePreece DebbiePreece 3 years

There's a great parenting site that uses biblical concepts for helping children give happy first time obedience-Defines the difference between bribing, blessing and rewarding our children and how that fits in with the Garden of Eden. Really interesting and thought provoking. I decided to try the program and found it very effective in teaching good moral character, social skills, and family togetherness. http://christcenterdparenting....

jackturso1404047011 jackturso1404047011 3 years

best answer to slap her rr end n take her training bra away no cell phone and send her to counceling...wuse arse will be pregnent before 17,,parents fault

TJChristie TJChristie 3 years
Nobody is perfect. Every parent must parent their children as they see fit. However, I'm a grandma and I have to ask from the depths of my heart why some feel it's not only permissible but necessary - and encouraged - to hit a child. Do you hit children out of anger and frustration? If the answer is "no" because you are hitting children only as an exercise in discipline (not necessarily because a child has caused you to lose your temper, made you mad, "pushed your buttons," etc.), do you actually remain calm before you hit the child, and plot how many times you'll hit, what you'll use as your weapon of choice (if not your hands), and how hard/to what degree you will cause your child pain? Would it be OK for your spouse to hit you? No? Then why is it OK for you to hit someone smaller, younger and often weaker than you? I've heard about this "popping" of babies and toddlers to "teach them to listen" and do what they are told. It makes no sense to me to hurt them and make them cry so they'll want to obey out of fear and hatred instead of respect and love. When do they learn real cooperation and desire to please? Some people use the argument “Spare the rod and spoil the child” to support hitting children and assume it has a biblical basis. It does not. It comes from Hudibras, a mock heroic poem by Samuel Butler about the English Civil War of the 17th century. The narrative satirically praises Sir Hudibras, an arrogant, stupid, greedy, dishonest knight. Part two describes a visit to the imprisoned Hudibras by a widow he has been wooing. It is this section and in reference to squelching romantic feelings, that the phrase ‘Then spare the rod and spoil the child' appears. I am not Christian, but If you take the Bible seriously, notice Jesus' attitude toward children: wise, loving, compassionate. When adults wanted to chase children from his side, Jesus rebuked them. It's hard to conceive of Jesus hitting a child on any occasion or for any reason. It's simply not consistent with what he taught. If Jesus wouldn't hit a child, why should you?
Rob14903885 Rob14903885 4 years
Why is it in this modern day we always are told how to parent our children? Time outs do NOT work, which is obvious because of the steady increase in problems of kids becoming yet more troubled adults. Not to mention we live in a world where kids are put on more and more drugs to deal with problems ranging from ADHD to ODD, etc. Drugs are not the answer. Its just silly to think that parents need to resort to "special" schools where spanking (etc,) is a form of punishment. What ever happened to parents being able to actually spank their kids themselves? In the old days, kid didn't back talk their parents because they would get a slap across their face (mom) or their butt spanked (dad). But the way it is now, all they get is sent to their room or some nifty drug that is used as a base for yet another new street drug. Our political leaders need to stop sleeping with pharmasutical companies and start working on ways to actually better our country.
JoanneNermon1376786951 JoanneNermon1376786951 4 years
I agree with getting to the root of the problem. Frankly, children become sassy because there's somewhat of unhappiness brewing within. It's there way of surviving...sort of their way to fight back the emotional pain they are going through. Find the cause of it and they will become happier and a lot nicer! This is my 2cents opinion. LOL but I mean it.
DABilley DABilley 4 years
i cant agree with the "im tired can i please do it tomorrow" whatttt!!!! if i tell you to clean your room thats wat i mean lol but Im a young mother of two a 5 year old and a two year old my oldest is amazing when it comes to manners and i started her with it since she could understand what i was saying but my youngest is a little stubborn I have to pop that b utt to get her to listen at times and if thats what works for me then im goin to stick to it a lilttle beating here and there will not kill these kids its a part of growing up and they have to know the difference what will and can be tolerated if you dont get them started with respect and manners at an early age it gets harder as they get older i can give my gilrs the look and they know i mean business all im saying is if u spare that child you WILL SPOIL THAT ROD!
anonymousanonymous anonymousanonymous 4 years
A good friend of mine has an 11 year old daughter who is sassy to her mom and is impulsive. She and her husband have very differenting parenting styles and their daughter is smart enough to play one against the other. I took her to an activity one day and I had plans to go to the park afterwards but she was acting up and thought she could walk all over me. I calmly but sternly told her that I was taking her home because of her behavior. I also told her that she needs to learn to listen and not talk back. Although she hasn't been an angel, she has been far better behaved and listens when she needs to. Unfortunately, when her mother is around, she walks all over her and regresses back to her bad behavior. I wish I could get my friend to see that her daughter needs discipline and consequences with follow through but I think she's too soft and lenient.
Anon1364093280 Anon1364093280 4 years
This is some of the worst advice I have ever heard. Disrespectful children need discipline. A spank, time in the room, a corner, the take away game. Do not humor disrespect! Reinforce the teaching of the 4th commandment. Insist upon it, or your child will be disordered, and royally obnoxious to everyone and disliked. Respectful children are joys within their home, a blessing. So do your child, yourself, your family, your community, your world a service by insisting your child honor you!
JeanElizabethGlass JeanElizabethGlass 4 years
Kids have very little control over their lives. I have never given a time out and never offered rewards or punishments. I tell them that being rude hurts my feelings and that I would never willfully treat them rudely. To this day I have amzingly respectful children from age 13 all the way down to age 16 months.
SharonLetchford SharonLetchford 4 years
Absolutely, Crystal: those sassy rejoinders on "Life With Boys" might be funny on TV but when you hear them come out of your kids' mouths it's a different story! And I would NEVER let my kids (even the older ones) watch stuff like Two and a half men, which seems to be all about how not to treat each other! By the way: my three kids have all responded differently and I've used just about all the methods in the article. It's a tiresome journey - but I'm certrain it will prove to be a worthwhile one!
JeriHenderson JeriHenderson 4 years
@SarahWright11175 -- May I suggest when something like that happens, (and yes, take a deep breath and let it out slowly!) you simply get back in the car and go home. Yes, it will be inconvenient and means you must go out again. But the shock value of simply returning home, where you can enforce no TV or whatever you do, does work. I did the same thing when confronting behavior unacceptable in a store. I only had to do this about six times, with four kids. Another help may be laying out the entire trip for her before you leave, and talking about the other stops along the way. As mothers we usually have one stop that we can make the children especially like, and that could be the final stop. But if there is any behavior issues, they need to know up front that the trip is over and you are returning home.
JeriHenderson JeriHenderson 4 years
One of the things I hear frequently are parents of very young children opening talking with other adults (with their small children right there) about "Johnnie is developing quite an attitude" or "Jane is becoming 'Little Miss Attitude'", but it's said in such a way as to be almost bragging about it, and thinking it is cute. The little ones hear this, and of course to them it sounds like praise! So they keep it up. Problem is, they grow up, and it isn't so funny any more. Sassiness and attitude is not cute in toddlers, except to their parents. But letting the kids know you think it's cute will be regretted later on.
MaryONeillWood MaryONeillWood 4 years
Watch what your children are watching on TV! I found that my 7-year-old was picking up sassy remarks from some of these "Disney" channels, but she had no idea that she was being sassy. She was just imitating what she saw on TV. I closely monitor what she can see.
RegineProphete RegineProphete 4 years
My daughter is 5 now and she started talking back when she was 3. I put her in time out according to her age so now she gets 5 min sitting in a chair and thinking about what she did. She also miss ballet and swimming lessons that she loves very much. I also take out going to Chucky cheese's and out to eat. I don't play with that at all. The thing with her she only does it at home and everybody thinks that she is very polite. At school she is a Saint.
Yvonne1371161090 Yvonne1371161090 4 years
My 4year old very stubborn and it is getting harder and harder tp discipline her this has helped give us some ideas to work on.
Crystal14763693 Crystal14763693 4 years
Also consider what they are watching on tv. I have a nephew who basically just wanted to say smart things thinking it would be funny or cool like what he watched on tv and didn't get that it was rude or annoying or even hurtful sometimes. Monkey see monkey do and often what they see is repeated over and over on a box that we form our homes around.
SarahWright11175 SarahWright11175 4 years
I have a four and a half year old girl who most of the time is a super easy kid, but when she is willful, she is utterly noncompliant and the thing I am utterly at a loss for is about it is that it sets off something in me that I just can't seem to manage, which is that when she refuses to comply, shouts, "NO!" and won't budge, I can feel a huge wave of frustration rise up and I just want to grab her and forcibly make her do whatever it is I wanted her to do, for example, she won't get out of the car when we've just parked in a baking parking lot and I can hardly leave her alone in the car. I would like to be able to be calm but instead I tell her in a very angry tone that I'm very angry. And it escalates. Then having run out of options I coax her out of it by telling her I'll get her something or she can do something she likes to do. I don't like doing that but I feel cornered and as though I have to get her to comply at any cost, though I know that kids should do things because you told them, not because they're going to get a reward, though I find that if you say "thank you" and give them some words of appreciation and praise for good behavior, with a generally cooperative kid it goes a long way to avoiding this scenario.
ChetMC ChetMC 4 years
We really focus on the ideal that you can have your opinion, but you need to deliver it a respectful way. This doesn't mean people can't disagree or you can't stand up for yourself. It means that being rude, mean or hurtful is not appropriate. We talk a lot about how the tone of your voice can completely change the meaning of what you say. For younger kids, I also have no problem scripting what an appropriate response would sound like as opposed to a rude or sasy response. I also think it's really important to model appropriate and respectful interactions. Kids learn a lot by example.
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