How to Deal with Back Talk from Your Kids

by on January 30, 2012

Don’t you dare talk to me that way!

When a child is being verbally disrespectful, or as we called it in our home, emotional biting someone, a parent’s defensive wall goes up and she screams right back! Jodie Moss, 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 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.

Cause

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

Stopping

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 “Your 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 doesn’t address or resolve the original feelings. It doesn’t teach a child how to manage the tidal wave of intensity he or she is feeling. Punishing makes her swallow her intense emotions, and will only cause those same feelings to erupt again in a different form.

Acceptance

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, out of control, and feels as if her feelings have a life of their own. When you say, “Stop it now,” she thinks “Okay, 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.

Understanding

Imagine for a moment that a parent and a child are standing opposite of each other. Stretched between them is a rope. As she yells, she pulls on the rope. 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 is literally 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.

Next?

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!

Finale

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, release your anger though exercise, (whatever the rule is in your house) before talking to me. 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. Just thought this might be helpful.

This article shows you that back talk can cause confusion and reactions. For a list of reminders to help keep you clear about what to do, read, The Wild Child.

Sharon Silver is the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding and the Skills e-class. Go to proactiveparenting.net to download two free chapters from her book and learn about other Proactive Parenting programs. Find Sharon on Twitter and Facebook.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

ARC January 30, 2012

This is great.  Thanks for the concrete strategy in how to handle it.  We're not quite there yet (BabyT is 2.5) but we are starting to hear her say some not-so-nice things to us (I think not so much out of anger, but just testing them out.)  I'd like to handle things calmly and learn to manage my *own* anger :)

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felicia January 30, 2012

This is great advice- Thank you!  We are really going throught this right now with my 11 year old daughter.  It has been so hard to deal with her ever since she started Junior High School.

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Grace June 1, 2013

Hi Sharon, u hv pointed out a very impt point ie to allow our child to be able to feel his emotions and to learn how to manage them. I have a 3 yo son and he is beginning to express his emotions such as anger by shouting. Eg after i told him to stop climbing the chair n do the nec explanation in a calm but firm voice, he understds n would let out a loud “ahhhhh” to express his displeasure. I know he doesnt hv t intention of shouting TO or AT me. I do allow him to do so now but i am in a fix as to whther there is a better alternative of letting him vent or express his anger instd of shouting cos i deem shouting as inappropriate esp if in public or worse in school if he is upset with his friends etc. What other appropriate ways of expression wld u suggest to stil allow him to vent?

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