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How to Deal With Back Talk From Kids

How to Deal With Back Talk From Your Kids

When a child is being verbally disrespectful, or as we called it in our home, "emotionally biting" someone, a parent's defensive wall goes up and she screams right back! Reader Jodie M. wonders how "to manage her own anger when dealing with oppositional kids." Most parents who are having loud, ugly words screamed at them would react. The question is, "is there another option?" Yes, there is.

First, let me say that I firmly believe that parents should not be disrespected or have to endure any kind of emotional rudeness, but it does happen. Once it happens a parent feels like there's only one thing to do to stop it: punish! I want to offer another way, one that not only stops the rude and disrespectful behavior in its tracks, but also teaches.

Remember when your baby's cry was her only form of communication? Rude, disrespectful behavior is also a form of communication. Verbal disrespect and rude words are a volatile expression of feelings that haven't (otherwise) been verbalized. The feelings need to be released or all sorts of things may happen.


When a child is screaming horrible things at you, the first thing you need to be aware of is your desire to scream back, "Don't you dare talk to me that way!" or "Who do you think you are?" or "You're g-r-o-u-n-d-e-d!"

I'm not going to lie; it's hard, and it's normal to want to retaliate. But screaming and punishing in response doesn't address or resolve the original feelings that caused your child to be disrespectful. They don't teach a child how to manage the intense tidal wave he or she is feeling. Punishing her makes her swallow her intense emotions and will only cause those same feelings to erupt again in a different form.

Parents tend to think children get angry on purpose. Your child doesn't know how she got so mad. Her anger is a mystery to her. It's also a cry for help. To a child, being really mad feels scary, like she's out of control and her feelings have a life of their own. When you say, "Stop it now," she thinks, OK, but how do I hold this tidal wave of feelings back? Please show me, don't punish me.

Parents need to accept that intense feelings are part of growing up. You are their safe place; you need to teach your child how to deal with volatile feelings by doing it yourself. How? By showing her something other than reacting, retaliating, and screaming at her.

Imagine for a moment that a parent and a child are standing opposite each other. Stretched between them is a rope. As the child yells, she pulls on the rope and lets go. A tidal wave of emotion leaves the child and travels across the rope and hits the parent. Now covered in imaginary emotional goo, the parent pulls on the rope as she yells back. It becomes a tug of war, an emotional war.

In order for a parent to teach a child how to handle a tidal wave of intense emotions, the parent has to disengage and drop the rope, thereby stopping the tug of war, before any talking or resolution can begin. This is the crucial turning point. You've stopped things from continuing to escalate, and have turned things toward resolution.

Your child will try to get you to reengage. She'll scream mean words at you and she'll be rude. Stay silent. Do not reengage; do not pick up the rope! As soon as your child realizes that you're not reengaging, she will also realize she was out of line. Now is the moment for action.

You might say, "When you get this upset, you need to calm down first, hit something, and release your anger (through exercise, or whatever the rule is in your house) before talking to me." Once your child has released the anger, invite her to talk: "Now please begin with an apology and let's talk about your feelings calmly."

By dropping the rope and stopping the emotional tug of war, you're able to get to the crucial turning point and turn things toward resolution instead of keeping the "war" going by yelling and punishment.

Sharon Silver is a parenting educator and the founder of Proactive Parenting. She's also the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding: 108 Ways to Discipline Consciously and Become the Parent You Want to Be.

CoMMember13630779697374 CoMMember13630779697374 2 years

advice like this is why we have the problems that we do today with young people

TeresaF62861 TeresaF62861 2 years

Seriously?? Hit something when they're angry?? Worse advice I've ever read on here. What if the hitting was on the parent or a sibling?? Smh

PriscillaLyonLeuschen PriscillaLyonLeuschen 2 years

I think metaphorically speaking I'd used the rope to discipline my child's ass! 1st attempt would be correct your tone and tell me what is wrong...2nd would be using the rope. Because in my house...That wouldn't of flown in any way, shape, or form. You get respect when you give it! This article makes me laugh for the simple reason it give the child rights in my opinion to walk right over me. Not happening.

TwilaHansen1370382358 TwilaHansen1370382358 4 years
When my kids were 3,5 even 8 these tactics would work. However once the teen years hit they push harder than ever. A time out in the corner doesn't work. Then I started taking game time or cell phone at first that worked but then one day that seemed to start causing more problems instead of helping. On top of whatever had gotten their privilege taken came more disrespect. Telling me I was unfair. This I could ignore but when that didn't work it seemed that instead of yelling it was running away or making unsafe decisions like running off to have sex with an older boy. When all police will do is bring them home. My teen then developed their are no consequences for my actions attitude. Continuing to make bad choice after choice. Even counseling had not managed to help. There were times when I could no longer drop the rope and watch my child run away. Many times I found myself picking up the rope and arguing. Only no matter what I did it seemed that things just got worse. When consequences were given, I became the abusive mom that never let her make her own mistakes. My willingness to stop her aside she had made her choices and ended up in situations that didn't make anyone happy. Still she didn't stop. Finally she moved out and I hoped that we could repair our bond. Only she didn't want to visit or har me visit. She told me she hated me and would kill herself if she had to live with me again. I had long since stopped arguing. I backed off and decided that she could reap the wrath of her choices. She did and moved again this time with dad. In a very short time things were explosive there too. She moved again with a friend and told me they were her family now. Still in shorter times she was blowing up any good around her and ending up in bad situations. Still not taking any accountability for her choices or actions. It was always someone else causing the issue. Her mind still said there were no consequences and she continued to lash out at us. She was going to a counselor and on medication and still seemed more out of control then ever. When she had ruined her stay with the friend she decided she would come back to me. Two days of nice and she was right back to picking fights. We are now counseling together and I am trying hard as I can to not pick up that rope. I have walked away mid conversation when she refused to listen or be respectful. It hasn't stopped her yet. At 5 that worked now she cry's no one cares. Now this is one of 4 teens. I am not an ameture by any means but wow neither is she.
Csacsa1365335075 Csacsa1365335075 4 years
This method is hard but doable. Will take a lot of effort and discipline from my side.
TealRose TealRose 4 years
I am appalled at the lack of empathy here in some of the comments. Children are humans just like you or me. And they don't need or deserve to be hit, or stood in the corner or yelled at just because YOU feel they 'need to learn a lesson'. Children's minds do not and CANNOT work in the same way as yours - it takes them years to be able to think and evalue and understand even though they can speak fairly clearly from toddlerhood. A lot here need to learn about 'age related behaviour' and also need to learn that a few shouting matches from their children are NOT the end of the world and that they DO need to help their children learn how to deal with their emotions. It's so sad that some of you who have children sound so angry and full of vitriol instead of joy in your children. Perhaps if you gave THEM a little respect and helped them you'd get some back - and life would be a lot more pleasant for you all !!!
RobinGarland1372209141 RobinGarland1372209141 4 years
This article is right, I have three adopted boys that have behavior and attachment problems ,every child Therapist tells us to do the same why argue back that's just teaching them that you can't control your anger either.
carlavanwalsum carlavanwalsum 4 years
Great article! What about PARENTS that talk back? Stress-full, over controlling, criticizing, always commenting, judging, yelling parents? For a frustrated child to stay calm can be too difficult, to judge that behavior as "disrespectful" is just an interpretation. In therapy we learn, as adults, to not take things personally. It helps to maintain healthy relationships. I rather have a child that sometimes "loses" it, which is authentic, then a child that out of fear for punishment, doesn't express himself. Live the example of respect, it will come back to you. ...My practice is loaded with people who never dared and learned to express themselves because nobody really listened anyway or they got punished, severely. Some call that "discipline". Well, obviously they face problems later in life and relationships. Respect comes from inside and is not the same as superficial politeness. What do we care for: true connections of fearbased behavior?
SerenaLauture1364852750 SerenaLauture1364852750 4 years
Hit something first so you can release your anger? Seriously?! Grate advice.... :/
Thats the problem with some parents that can not handle their children. Too much pleading and less discipline for the child to behave properly. When you allow your children to misbehave with no consequences, there's no reason for them to change their behavior. Children need to be taught discipline.
JessieSanchez JessieSanchez 5 years
I can not imagine my kids having the nerve to talk back, and in our house eye rolls count. I would absolutely never get into a screaming match with my kids because they would never think it was ok to scream at me or my husband. Are you kidding me? If you properly discipline your children and treat them like children, not little adults then all this back talk isn't a problem. I see way too many kids who are treated like their house is a democracy. My kids do what they're told. Period. Misbeahavior lands them in time out which is standing facing the wall, hands at their sides no leaning. I don't put up with any crap and I have VERY well behaved kids because of it. My kids are not unruly in public, they do their chores without complaint, and when they are asked to do something they do not complain. Now don't get me wrong, they're kids (and only human), obviously they're not perfect, but they are never disrespectful. I feel bad for parents who have kids who are, but I can't help feeling like they've brought it on themselves by indulging their little darlings in too much and not punishing them when it's due. Telling a kid "honey please don't do that" after repeated misbehaviors is not going to make it stop. I guess this article is good for parents who have kids who would yell at them in this way, but jeeze people discipline those little angles more often and maybe they won't feel they have the right to yell at you. My kids sure don't!
TarynW TarynW 5 years
This is a great article . In my house we do a time out till my 3 year old is quiet and then when she is calmer and not being nasty with us we get her out of time out and talk about what happened and that we all get upset and we apologize and talk about what we need to do next time.
IyiolaAdebajo IyiolaAdebajo 5 years
great advice - i have tailored it for my three-year old
JanetTurner20546 JanetTurner20546 5 years
what a load of twaddle - all this nonsense of "talking your child round" please get real!!! if children are bought up properly right from the begining - taught right from wrong and given the occasional smack - which i may add doesent do any child any harm - and please not - there is a big difference between just a "smack" and a "beating"!!!! maybe if parents gave out a few more smacks then there would be a few more well behaved children in the world!!!
MargaretWing MargaretWing 5 years
Thanks for this article. Having been brought up in a household where disagreements escalated every time, and where there wasn't a day without shouting and tears, it's been hard for me to be different with my own children (apart from resolving never to physically touch / hit them). The advice in this article will help me go the next step to neutralise the anger before I react myself.
LucyForristall LucyForristall 5 years
I agree that you need to stay calm and not "pick up the rope"; however to tell a child to hit something to release anger is teaching them to hit something to realease let's imagine this child as a teenager or an adult that is married...he/she gets angry and has to hit something to release anger before they can engage in conversation...I hope it's not my grandchild they are married to! Children need to be taught to express their emotions in words calmly so they can become functioning adults.
franceesguerramontemayor franceesguerramontemayor 5 years
Thank you for this very nice article
NatashaLowenthal NatashaLowenthal 5 years
This is all very 'matter of fact'. In theory, yes I agree that staying calm is the best policy. I also agree with the other parents that giving the OK to go hit something is NOT an option when there are other children in the family. Physical expression of their emotions is not the best outlet, especially as they get older. I am often frustrated with this sort of advice as it is geared toward parents with one child who is likely quite young. I would really like to have advice on how to juggle situations where there are more than one child involved in the situation. Consequences are hard to enforce when you are literally outnumbered!
BethVeres BethVeres 5 years
The entire first section was emotional goo to me. And I will not suggest hitting something to my child. It might be his sibling.
JudithObatusa JudithObatusa 5 years
This has been bothering me in recent times. I'll use these tips and see how it goes. Thanks.
JaneBittick JaneBittick 5 years
Good article, but do not agree with telling them to "hit" something. This will only give them to okay to possibly "hit" the wrong thing when they get older. Hitting (abusing) other people has become a too familiar scene in the world nowadays. I would refrain from suggesting any hitting whatsoever!
TeriRodgers34341 TeriRodgers34341 5 years
As a grandmother now and I totally agree with for young adults (age 8 on up). But, for toddlers I am not as sure the waiting for cool down is appropriate. I believe a toddler needs quicker response time but as I agree it should never be out of reaction.
Julie81316 Julie81316 5 years
Parents often forget one important fact: - that child learned to talk that way from someone..."
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