You: “Can you please switch off the TV? It is dinner time”
Child: “That is not fair, my favorite show is on”

You: “Your room is a mess, clean it up in next 30 mins”
Child: “Whatever”

You: “Have you finished your homework?”
Child: (sarcastically) “No I was dancing in the room”

You: “No, you cannot do that”
Child: “I hate you”

Familiar? Is this how your child back talks?
Kids back-talk. Some more than the others. You do not have to wait till your child is a teenager to experience back-talking – even tiny toddlers back-talk. It is mostly impulsive, but it can be hurting and anger-inducing at the same time. Fortunately, there are multiple ways to deal with back-talking. But first step, as always, is to understand why kids back-talk.
Boy Arguing with father

Why Do Kids Back-Talk?
  • Feeling powerless: When you impose something on your child or taking away something from him, he is feeling powerless, as though he has no control of his life. This leads to frustration and back-talking
  • Influence of movies/cartoons: In TV shows and movies, a child who back-talks is considered funny and cute. This is a bad influence as your child thinks it is cool to talk back to parents
  • Testing limits: Kids like to test limits with their parents. This means that they want to understand how far they can push and get away with before you snap
  • Peer pressure: They feel that they are being deprived of something that their friends are not, which they find as unfair
  • Attention seeking: This is one sure shot way to get your attention. More than good behavior, it is the bad behavior of your child that makes you sit up and take notice – and your child knows it
  • Changes in life: Back-talking to you must be one of the ways your child is adjusting to a change in life – like a new house, new school, new nanny, new teacher or even your new job that keeps you in office longer
  • Result of bullying: many bullied kids tend to become more aggressive in home, in a way to compensate for the humiliation they face at school
  • Impulsive brain: Children are way more impulsive than us adults as their brain is still developing. This makes them talk before they can rationally think about it
  • Laid-back parenting: You have not stopped them from back-talking before, so now it has become a habi
How Can You Deal With Kids’ back-talking?

The kneejerk reaction of most parents during a back-talking episode is to get angry and ground the child. Is it normal? Yes. Is it wise? Nope. When you back-talk to your child’s back-talk, you are reinforcing your child’s belief that it is okay to back-talk. Instead, try some of the following 10 tips to deal with back-talking.

  1. Prevent it: It is easier than you think to prevent a scenario when your child might become angry/upset enough to back-talk. For instance, if he gets upset every time you ask him to do a chore while he is watching TV, you can plan ahead and tell him before he sits down to watch TV that he needs to finish a certain chore by a certain time. More clarity he has of his day ahead of him, less chances of frustration and back-talking
  2. Understand the root cause: We had listed multiple reasons for back-talking in the earlier section. Try to find out what trips his nerve and why. If it is a TV show, try to cut it down and explain to him that such behavior might look funny on TV but it is unacceptable in real life. If back-talking stems from a new life change the child is dealing with, talk about it and help him adjust to the new situation. If your child is being bullied in school, talk to the school authorities and take necessary steps to stop it
  3. Pick your battles: You cannot possibly react to every small remark your child makes in back-talking. If you overdo it, your child would not take you seriously, not to mention how frustrated and insane you will become. You need to first decide as a family how much of talking-back you can tolerate. Draw some lines based on your value system and stick to that consistently. One rule of thumb you can use is would you be okay if your child said that in front of your friends. If the answer is no, then it goes beyond the line you drew
  4. Daughter backtalking

  5. React tactfully: It is important to keep your calm no matter how insulting or embarrassing your child’s words are. You should neither overreact nor take it kindly. You need to be firm, assertive and respond with a “please talk more respectfully”or “do you want to think and put your words in a better way and tone?”If it happened at a public place, take him to a quiet spot to talk it out rather than get into a power struggle in front of others
  6. Let him know you care: Once you tell him to be more respectful, it is not end of game. You need to let him know that you understand his emotions. Tell him that you know he is very angry and encourage him to talk about it. Hold him close to you when he opens up. If your child feels that you do not understand him or the reasons for his back-talking, it will only flare him up further and increase the frequency and magnitude of the behavior
  7. Set ground rules early: If you and your child have sat down and decided on few ground rules – in terms of the cleanliness of the room, TV watching time, dining table etiquette and so on – your child will feel he is much more in control of his day and time. Once he knows something is expected of him, he is more likely to fall into the routine. This requires quite a bit of foresight and planning from your side – but it is totally worth it. Set rules around back-talking also
  8. Make him aware of the consequences: Tell him that it is not acceptable to argue and disrespect you or your spouse and if he does it, there would be consequences. Say firmly that you will not only walk away if he back-talks, but he will also face repercussions. This could be skipping TV time for few days, taking a game away from him for a week or reducing play time with friends. Whatever you decide, you need to stick to it for the duration you initially decided. If you are not consistent in your punishment, then your child will not pay heed to the consequences
  9. Do not negotiate: Make sure you do not get into a negotiation with your child. He wants to draw you into an argument because he thinks that if he explains it well enough you will back down. While a two way dialogue is good, you should tell him that what you said is not up for argument right now. However, once your child listens and does what you asked him to, then you can get into a dialogue to understand what he wanted to and why. Tell him you are reasonable but will not stand back-talking
  10. Don’t play the “been there done that”card: One of the most common things teenagers tell their parents is “you do not understand”. If you reply this with a “I do!”or “I have been your age too so I know”, it will only make them more upset. Instead if you say that “yes, I may not understand. So let us talk about it when you are calmer and less angry?” If children find it difficult to express what they are going through, you can get them to write about it as well and share with you
  11. Reward good behavior: Children usually get reprimanded for bad behavior, but their good behavior often goes unnoticed. When they behave in a responsible and obedient way, ensure that you recognize, compliment and occasionally reward it. Positive reinforcement always helps
Back-talking vs Verbal abuse

The entire discussion above is about back-talking. This is very different from verbal abuse and you need to be able to differentiate between the two. If your child uses bad words, curses, calls you names, says hurtful things or threatens you, that is verbal abuse and not back-talking. Both needs to be dealt with as both are harmful – but verbal abuse needs to be dealt with more aggressively and without delay. Please keep this differentiation in mind. Click more to read on insulting children and hitting children here and here.