There’s a long-standing joke amongst parents: We wait with excitement to hear their first words. A few short months after, we will do almost anything for a little silence. Happy childish chatter might make it hard to think, but it’s one of the many things that makes sharing time with your child sweet.

What happens when that sweet enthusiasm turns to angry back talk? How can a parent cut through the complex tangle of emotions that causes back talk and restore peaceful order to the family?

Why Kids Talk Back

Back talk is defined as disrespectful and defiant speech. This can mean anything from a toddler’s screeching protest to a teenager verbally refusing to follow directions.

The reasons why children talk back to the adults in their lives varies. However, those reasons are backed by a common need: differentiation.

Psychological differentiation is the process of separating the self from the group. In children, this means learning to make their own decisions, free of their parent’s guidance or preferences. When a child feels ignored, disrespected, or uninvolved in the planning and execution of their own lives, back talk is the first line of defense.

How to Cut Back on Back Talk

Parents can use some simple techniques to help their children express themselves in a more appropriate manner.

  • Give up control. Let your child make some of their own decisions. Offer guidance, if they want it, but give them the space to work out their own problems.
  • Listen when your child is talking. As parents, it’s easy to get caught up in making things work. Instead of focusing on the superficial problem, consider things from your child’s point of view.
  • Avoid responding in anger. Frustration can spread quickly. If the irritation is hard to handle, take a few moments alone to regain a calm mind before attempting to talk to your child.
  • Incorporate family time into your schedule. Resist the urge to fill the time with activities. Use your family time to get to know each other. Regular communication makes outbursts of back talk less likely.
  • Establish respectful communication as a family priority. Post the expectations, and consequences for violating the rules, where everyone can see them. Hold adults and children to the same standards.

Rude or disrespectful speech from your child doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent. It means they are outgrowing their childhood boundaries. Allow them the freedom to grow and explore, and back talk will disappear from your family’s environment.

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