Backtalk, Make it STOP!


“Your not the boss of me”

“Do it yourself”

Sound familiar?

Regardless of our children’s age, toddlers to teenagers. Backtalk is a parent’s nightmare.

So what can we do to make this most frustrating of problems stop.

First, we need to understand why kids talk back. If we can understand why our kids are acting the way they are, we can better understand what we need to do to help.
Some of the most common reasons for back talk are…

  • Kids are looking to have control over their lives. As parents, if we are always demanding, and constantly ordering our kids around, we take away their personal power and independence. They talk back to try and regain some of that control.
  • Kids test our limits. They are looking to get a reaction out of us. They are exerting power and looking to see how we will respond.
  • Kids feel helpless, SO, the only way they feel they can fight back, is by talking back. They know they are dependent on us as parents and that we make the rules. The helpless feeling leads them to try to negotiate, talk back, argue, slam doors, roll their eyes and stomp off.
  • Kids are trying to exert their independence. It doesn’t matter our children’s age, they are always seeking independence.
It is vital to understand the why, but what can we do after that?
Do we Back talk?
Most often, yes. When our children talk back, do we respond by doing the same? Do responses such as “How dare you talk to me that way!”, or “You will do it because I said so!” come out of our mouths? These type of reactions only make the problem worse and perpetuate the back talk. Our responses teach our children how to back talk. And we wonder where they learn these things?
It is not about winning the conversation or fight, it is about recognizing that our children are looking for more control over their lives, and we need to find a way to give them more power, but keep them within the boundaries we have set in our home.
Look at our own actions
We need to reevaluate how we are talking to, and treating our children. Are our words and tone of voice bossy and demanding? Do we give orders to our children?
We are quick to point the finger at our children, but very often, we are the ones setting the bad example and encouraging the back talking.
Let our children choose
No one likes to be told what to do all the time. Put yourself in your child’s shoes. They are told when to sleep, when and what to eat, what to wear, how long they can play…etc…Their lives are filled with other people telling them exactly what they can and can not do. If someone did that to us, we would talk back too.
Children need to feel like they are making some of their own choices. Plus, they are more likely to behave when they have made their own choices. They feel ownership because they got to choose. For small children this means they get to choose between the blue shirt or the green one. Or they get to choose if they want to read the bedtime story before they brush their teeth or after. Keep the choices reasonable and within their abilities (by age and development.) Remember, this works for things as difficult as talking back about dinner and vegetables.
Give children enough attention
All kids need attention. Some need more than others. And every child needs to be given attention in different ways. Our son feels adequate attention when we listen to him. Our daughter on the other hand, she feels adequate attention when we play with her. If our kids don’t get enough positive attention, they will work to get negative attention. To them it is still attention. And, negative attention is better than no attention at all.
So… we need to put down the laundry and the computer and anything else that is in the way and give them more attention. Even 10-15 minutes of uninterrupted attention each day (per child) is usually enough to make them feel satisfied. Get down on their level and really listen, really be involved. When our kids feel they are getting enough attention, they will be much less likely to act out and will be more cooperative. What parent doesn’t want that?!
Make things clear
It is important that the rules, and consequences for breaking rules, are clear in our homes. We also need to make sure that the consequences are enforced when rules are broken. If kids do break the rules, WE HAVE TO FOLLOW THROUGH EVERY TIME. We don’t have to be mean, but we do have to be fair and consistent. Not setting clear rules and consequences first will confuse kids when they get in trouble for something they didn’t know was wrong. When kids get confused, they will talk back and fight back.
Don’t overreact
Our kids talk back to get a response out of us. When we get upset and respond by “talking back to them”, they have the power. Instead, we need to stay calm, and explain what will happen next.
“I feel disrespected when you talk to me that way. I am going to leave now. I will be happy to talk to you when you are ready to use a kind voice and respectful words.”
Then, really walk away.
The next time your child talks back, don’t explain yourself again, you have already done that. Simply stay calm, don’t show emotion, and walk away. Your kids will quickly come to understand that you have no intention of participating in that kind of behavior.
Kids are going to push our buttons and try to see what they can get away with. This is not behavior that we want to let go. It will take extra energy and effort on our part, but it will be worth it.


  1. 1

    This was so helpful! I’ve been looking for help on a few specific areas we’re dealing with with our 5 and 3 year old. I am completely guilty of teaching my kids how to talk back! I’ve really been working on my words and tone with them. Oh, and the other issue I’ve been having is getting and staying on top of good tooth care with kids that are often resistive. This Mom’s Guide has really good tips from infancy through teens, if you want to check it out.

    Thanks again for your insightful post. It’s given me a lot to process! :)

  2. 2
    Jennifer Reyer Young says:

    Thank you for this! My 4 year old is quite the backtalker and my 2 year old just started it up too! I need all the advise on this I can get, lol!

  3. 3

    I found this with my new I-Phone. I really like it when individuals get together and share experiences, great website, keep writing.

  4. 4

    I agree. I think to many parents forget what it was like to be a kid and always be bossed around. We are basically creatures of habit, and tend to treat our children in many respects as we were treated unconsciously. I think parents should talk to their children, actively listen to them, and not talk at them in a bossy fashion.


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