Creative Child

Top 5 Behaviors That Cause Parents to Lose Their Cool: #5 Back Talk

(and How to Fix Them)
by Rebecca Eanes

I recently surveyed a group of over 7,000 parents and asked which of their children's behaviors grated on their nerves the most. In this 5-part series, I will discuss these 5 troublesome behaviors individually and offer positive parenting tips to manage them. I will begin at number 5 and work my way up to the behavior most parents deem the worst. The fifth behavior that causes parents to lose their cool is back talking.

The way parents handle back talk in early childhood sets the stage for whether or not this will be a recurring problem when the child is older. All children will occasionally challenge their parents, but by having a respectful and connected relationship, you greatly reduce your chances of this turning into a chronic behavior problem.

It's important to note that, in early childhood, children are only beginning to learn to separate from their parents and assert themselves. What many parents consider as back talk can be understood as the child's need for autonomy. Positive parents respect this child's need and teach him appropriate, respectful ways to communicate.

The most important thing we can do first and foremost is to set a good example. This means we model respect in our interactions with our children. If we are prone to yelling, they will be as well. If we choose to ignore their requests without explanation, they will learn to ignore ours. We must set the example for how to communicate respectfully.

Related Article: Why We Yell and How to Stop

When your requests are non-negotiable, word them as statements, not questions.

Young children think in literal terms, so if you ask, "will you put away your toys," the child will interpret it to mean there is a choice. Instead, try "put your toys away now, please." If your request is met with "no" or "I don't feel like it," remember she's asserting herself and learning to voice her opinion. This doesn't mean you take no for an answer and pick up her toys for her, but it means you understand it isn't about defying you so that this doesn't trigger anger. You can make a game of beat the timer for young children or use when/then statements such as, "When your toys are picked up, then you can go outside to play."

For times when your child keeps arguing with you about a limit you have set, do not bicker back and forth. Acknowledge what your child is wanting, validate his feelings, explain your reasoning once, and then use a short and respectful statement to disengage from the argument, such as "I've already answered that" or "I won't be arguing about this." If you're experiencing hurtful or rude comments from your child, such as "I hate you" or "you're stupid," understand what she's really saying is "I'm upset and don't know how to handle this."

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