The Cure for Backtalk

By Karen DeBolt | 14th Mar 2009 | Filed under Parenting, Techniques, Uncategorized

Many parents have identified back talk by their children as one of their most difficult parenting challenges. After all, when your child back talks you isn’t your first urge to give it right back? Yet, this urge is actually counterproductive because you are modeling the very same bad behavior you want them to stop doing.

Doesn’t work so well. . .

So what’s a mom or dad to do? Well, let’s look under the hood and see what is underneath that snotty remark. Those bratty remarks and obnoxious comments are actually covering up some other concern. For example, your child might be feeling overwhelmed by what you just asked him to do, but rather than say that, he spouts off with back talk.

So the trick is to address the underlying feeling rather than the angry words. By ignoring the obnoxious remarks, you are not giving that behavior any of your energy. Also, you are not modeling that same anger back which does nothing to address the real problem. This anger is a distraction from the real underlying issue and by addressing that you get what you want and your child’s concerns are addressed—win/win.

So instead of yelling back, you tilt your head to the side in a quizzical expression and ask calmly “What’s got you so upset?” or some other open ended general question. Your child will respond. Repeat the words your child says in the form of a question, then wait for more information. Continue doing this until you get down to the real issue at hand.

Here is an example of how it might work:

Mom: Joanie, go clean your room!
Joanie: Forget it! I’m not doing it!

Mom: What’s up with that? (Voice is calm, expression questioning)
Joanie: You are so mean to me all the time!
Mom: I’m so mean to you all the time? (again calm, questioning)
Joanie: You are always getting on my case and telling me what to do!
Mom: I’m on always on your case? I just asked you to clean your room?
(notice how Mom doesn’t engage that and brings things back to the current situation which is the room cleaning)

Joanie: It’s too much to do! (Ah, now we have the turning point—a sign of overwhelm)
Mom: Oh, it seems like too much to do and maybe you are feeling overwhelmed?
Joanie: Yeah, just look at it! I don’t know where to start!

Now Mom knows that Joanie is overwhelmed by the idea of cleaning her room and doesn’t know where to get started. Mom can help Joanie to break the project up into smaller steps so that it doesn’t seem so overwhelming. Joanie is calmer now because her concerns are being addressed. Mom never lost her cool, and the room is getting cleaned. Everybody wins.

Now you may ask how does the actual back talk get addressed? By not acknowledging the anger and instead addressing the real concern, you are modeling good communication skills to your child. Over time, your child will begin expressing their feelings more directly, but this is a skill that comes with maturity. You might even mention later when everybody is calm that Joanie could have said that she felt overwhelmed in the first place.

Give it a try at your house and let me know how it goes!

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