What To Do When Your Child Talks Back

“I can’t wait to grow up so I can move out of this house!” declares a typical 10-year-old while arguing about cleaning up their room. Sound familiar?

Talking back is a normal part of growing up, but that doesn’t make dealing with it any easier. What’s a parent to do when a child talks back?

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How To Stop Back-Talking

A parent’s response determines the outcome of their interaction with their child.

When parents remain calm, their child is more likely to calm down too. However, parents often continue to talk back, saying things such as, “Don’t you talk back to me!” This inhibits communication and teaches the wrong lesson.

Parents can do many things to discourage talking back, including setting clear limits, explaining the behavior they expect, and reinforcing good behavior with praise.

It is also important to make clear what you mean by “talking back” because some kids might not understand and get frustrated when they get in trouble but don’t know what they did wrong.

Kids learn by example: They will learn to handle their own strong emotions the way they see their parents handling theirs.

An emotional parent might announce, “I’m so upset I need to be alone to calm down!” Using words teaches kids how to stop back-talking and how to take control of their anger and calm down.

Why Kids Talk Back

It’s important to consider the context in which your child talks back to identify patterns. For example, is your child tired or overstimulated when they talk back?

Try to remain proactive in your interventions. If the hour or so after school seems like a prime time for back talk, encourage your kids to take some downtime when they get home. Don’t overschedule them and be sure to spend time with them.

Kids often talk back because they want attention. When parents don’t take the bait, they discourage back talk. A non-response or purposeful ignoring is often more effective than engaging in a verbal battle.

Giving kids enough transition time between activities helps prepare them for what’s coming up and prevents back talk. For example, telling kids that “Dinner will be served in 10 minutes,” gives them time to think about the transition. Then, when dinner is ready, they will be less likely to resist and talk back.

Creative outlets can also help children express their anger. Here are a few ideas:

  • Have kids draw a picture or bounce a ball to release their strong feelings.
  • Try sticker charts and special incentives to motivate kids to behave well. Reward them with extra playtime or a trip to the park.
  • If the talking back persists, impose a consequence or an appropriate punishment for talking back, such as no TV that afternoon.
  • When an older child talks back, encourage a dialog by asking them how they think they can resolve the problem.
  • Listening is a critical part of communicating, and it’s important for parents to show their kids that they are listening. For example, you might say, “It sounds like you’re frustrated with me,” to let the child know that their parent empathizes with them.

The shows kids watch on TV can influence their talking back. Many popular TV shows feature children who talk back — but in a situation comedy, the back talk is funny and has no consequences. Monitor the shows your kids watch.

Remember that talking back is normal. It’s up to parents to avoid power struggles and to help children change negative behaviors.

About Pediatrics

From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is a national leader in pediatric care, ranking consistently on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. We provide expert treatment for pediatric diseases, along well-child visits, urgent care, and more. With locations across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia, you can find world-class care close to home. We also work closely with UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, a national leader in care for newborns and their mothers. Our goal is to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond. Visit our website to find a doctor near you.