Posted in accepting decisions, Parenting

What to do When Your (Sassy-Pants) Child Talks Back 

Of all the negative behaviors I’ve dealt with (trust me, I’ve seen some really bad ones), talking back is one of those that really irritates me.  For some reason, it really gets under my skin.  I’ve worked with plenty of preteens/teens who want to argue with EVERY SINGLE thing (then sometimes giggle because they’re so funny…). The thing about arguing and talking back is that a response in any way reinforces it… because it’s giving the kiddo attention.  And also because sometimes kids are slightly evil and get enjoyment out of seeing their parents (or therapist) get worked up about it. When I did some training a few years ago, we had a speaker share this pearl of wisdom: Any time you start arguing with a preteen and/or teen, you’ve lost. 

So what do you do? Ignoring is an option, (but may not always be the best option). If your kiddo is only talking back occasionally, ignoring might be your best bet. It’s hard (trust me, I know it’s hard), but ignoring can work because it gets rid of that attention your child is getting for their negative behavior – just make sure you’re giving attention for the good things they do!

One reason ignoring may not always be a great option is that even if the parent(s) ignores, sometimes the arguer gets attention from siblings, which also reinforces the arguing (ugh). Another example of this is when I’ve done group therapy… if one child talks back, my ignoring doesn’t do a whole lot of good if the child’s peers are snickering.

If you’ve got a kiddo who is going through one of those really fun phases where they want to argue with everything, then you might consider a small consequence.  Emphasis on small because if your kiddo is talking back a lot, you’re going to be handing out that consequence a lot… you don’t want to run out of things/privileges to take away!

Some examples of small consequences:

  • Go to bed 1-2 minutes early every time they talk back (so a 9:30pm bedtime can become 9:15 or 9:00 if your child talks back 15 times that day).
  • Extra homework or reading time (decide a certain number of minutes) for every time they talk back/argue.
  • Losing 1-2 (or more) minutes of tv/video game/tablet/phone time for every instance of arguing.

The most important thing is finding something that motivates your child.  I’ve worked with some kiddos who don’t care for electronic time – so taking away electronic time won’t motivate them at all.

I’ve used small consequences like this in the past and found them to be very effective.  When I’ve done this, it only takes a few times of telling a child they’ve lost electronic time before they are suddenly (miraculously) able to control that urge to respond with their sassy comments.

In my opinion, it’s a good idea to let your kiddo know what’s up before you just start handing out the consequences. It doesn’t have to be a long drawn out conversation. Maybe something like this:

“Starting now, every time you choose to argue or talk back instead of saying “Ok,” you will lose one minute of electronic time.”

Obviously the way you phrase it might be completely different. I love throwing in “choice” or “choose” somewhere because it reminds them that it’s their decision to make and, thus, their “fault” if given a consequence.

Also, if you’re anything like me, remember to use any strategies you have to stay calm. A frustrated sigh has given me away a few times… kids can pick up on those cues pretty easily and it only fuels the fire. As with everything else, just do your best and cut yourself some slack… it might take a lot of practice.

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