neutralizing back talk
When children back talk it can make your blood boil …

  • No, I won’t!
  • YOU do it!!
  • You can’t make me!
  • I don’t LIKE you!
  • Grandma doesn’t make me do that!

When backtalk erupts it can trigger the survival centers in your brain, and your first instinct is to strike back.

“You’ll do it because I said so!”

“Don’t you DARE talk to me that way!”

As parents, we hate back talk. We just want the situation to go away.  But because we’re parents – loving parents – we need to deal with it right then and there, calmly and without anger.

(Keep in mind that while back talk may get your blood boiling, it’s an outgrowth of your child’s budding selfhood and growing independence.)

So instead of hauling out the big artillery, try to understand why your child is talking back.  Asking why helps you remain curious and open-minded.  It prevents you from just assuming she’s “making a poor choice” or “being rude.”  However, when you pause and ask why you might discover that hidden forces are driving her annoying behavior—forces that have a tight grip on her.   Even more, the alleged backtalk might reveal something more profound:  it may be an S.O.S. signal that she’s hungry … tired … afraid … or otherwise stressed out.  In the end, her backtalk might have far LESS to do with misbehavior and MORE to do with STRESS-behavior.

Below are a few simple strategies that can help you calm down, connect with your child, and neutralize those backtalk moments.

Decode the Behavior

So, if she says, “I don’t WANT to take a bath!!”, ask yourself why is she so resistant. Is she afraid of water? Does she have separation anxiety from mommy and daddy at bedtime?  Is she thirsty – did she not finish her milk at supper?

Knowing why can help you find a gentle and effective way to work with backtalk and eventually remove it.

Don’t Take It Personally

When your child talks back, she is telling you more about herself, and less about you.  Although it’s tempting to get instantly offended at the word NO, it’s often nothing more than a child’s intense (and immature) way of saying, “Please, understand ME!”  (Don’t forget; kiddos struggle to put language to their feeling states).

Now, About That Lesson

There are several ways to deal with backtalk moments.

Often, just knowing that she is being heard, understood, and validated is enough to stop the back talk. Try these statements:

  • You’re saying “No bath! OK, Sweetie, I do hear you.”
  • “What I hear you say is that you don’t want to share your toys because you’re afraid Jason won’t give them back. You know, I had a friend who made me feel that way too – right around the time when I was your age.”
  • “You are really Can you use your pleasant voice to tell me what you want?”

Sidestep the NO and Follow Through

At this point, you can make a smooth transition to what you want, by making yourself the “bridge” towards a better outcome. Try sidestepping the backtalk with an invitation for fun.

  • “Climb on my back, Cowgirl! We’re headed for the bathtub in them thar hills!”
  • “Let’s race up the stairs and see who gets to the tub first!”

Another way to sidestep the back talk is to offer your child another choice. Maybe one that’s unexpected but fun – and who can resist a little fun?

  • “No bath? Okay – how about I spray you off with the hose?”

It doesn’t really matter how the child gets clean, does it?  If it’s warm enough outside, a hose session might be just what you both need to lighten up.

Validate Your Child’s Independence

Believe it or not, you can encourage and validate your child’s independence without giving up your parental authority and control.

  • “No bath right now? Okay, we’ll wait five minutes, then you can look at what toys you want to play in the bath.”

Telling children they “may” do something can be magic. With a fun choice up ahead, you might not be able to restrain them from the bath!

Share The Control

Sharing some control with kiddos is a great way to reduce the backtalk.  So, before the bath, ask if she wants to be in charge of things like … Turning on the water? Adjusting the temperature? Choosing their bath toys? Taking off he clothing, or asking for help?  Ironically, sharing control gives you more control and helps neutralize backtalk moments.

Sometimes No is Still No

From time to time, as parents, we do need to put our foot down. Sometimes, the answer just needs to be a calm “No.”  But it’s entirely possible to say “No” with empathy and compassion. Try these statements:

  • “I’m sorry, sweetie. It’s bath time now. I know that makes you sad and that you wish you could play more. I bet when you grow up, you’ll play all night long, every night, won’t you?”
  • “I understand that you don’t want to go to Grandma’s house because you’d like to stay home and play. But, it’s time to get in the car so let’s get moving.”

Final Thoughts

It is your job as a parent to get to the root of the problem behavior so ask why before you take action.  If you are not careful, your assumptions about “poor choices” and “disrespect” can make you more confident than you are correct.

However, once you get to the root of the problem, finding ways to solve it becomes much easier.

Parenting this way helps you find “workarounds” that restores your family harmony and ensures a tranquil home for you and your lucky children.

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*An acquaintance of mine (let’s call him Alex) has raised three sons to adulthood. On the arrival of his firstborn, Alex’s brother-in-law bet him that it would be impossible for Alex to raise this child without ever using the phrase “Because I said so!” Shortly after his son’s 18th birthday, Alex collected on the bet.

It can be done. And you can do it!



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Steve Cuffari

Author: Steve Cuffari For many, Steve Cuffari is the mentor that parents call on to make their parenting style warmer, easier and more affective. He is the founder of inTouch Parenting, a company devoted to helping today's parents calm the chaos, raise emotionally intelligent kids, and nurture families that thrive.         read more about Steve Cuffari here...

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