How to respond when your kid talks back


When we become parents, we can’t wait to watch our child’s personality evolve. One of the most exciting milestones is when they start to talk. There’s nothing cuter than hearing your baby start to form their independent thoughts and ideas. With this newfound skill comes so much joy. But like most things with kids, it also comes with its own set of new challenges.  

It’s a rite of passage for your kid to talk back to you, but it doesn’t make it any easier to manage it! The good news is you’re not alone and it’s completely normal for our children to test their limits to see what they can get away with. 

So if you’re currently dealing with a child who just loves to talk back (“no mummy, no daddy, I don’t want to eat that, I’m not putting on my shoes!” — can anyone else relate to this never-ending soundtrack at home?), here are some practical ways to manage their behaviour.  

What does it mean when a child talks back?

While it can be exhausting to navigate, talking back is a very normal part of your child’s development. A child will often talk back because they are trying to gain control over their life — from what they wear, do, or eat. 

Another reason is that they are trying to test their boundaries and exert control. Or they could just be overtired, hungry, or in a bad mood — hey, we’ve all been there!

What to do with a kid that talks back?

Set boundaries: Kiindred’s child and family psychologist Jaimie Bloch suggests setting limits to help your child problem-solve and learn what is acceptable and what isn’t. 

Once they are calm, talk to them about their behaviour; be curious. For example, “Hmm, that looked like you had a really big feeling before. I wonder if that was sadness? I’m not sure. What do you think?”

Then be sure to reiterate to them that all feelings are ok but certain behaviours are not. For example, “I can see you don’t want to put your shoes on right now. It’s ok to be angry, but it’s not ok to talk to mummy like that.” 

Teaching and modelling the importance of respect in our behaviour and language will lay the foundations for being a good human. 

Enforce consequences: It’s often a rude shock for children to learn they aren’t the centre of the universe and can’t get away with doing whatever they want. That’s why putting boundaries and rules in place is paramount when it comes to teaching them about acceptable behaviour. 

Consistency is key so if they continue to talk back to you rudely, make sure there is an age-appropriate consequence. For example, “Because you spoke to me like that, we’re not going to ballet anymore.” And remember, our kids are sponges so model the kind of behaviour you want them to have. That means no talking back on your part either. 

Ask yourself if there’s something more at play: Often when our kids talk back, what they’re demonstrating is sadness, frustration, pain, or fear. Talking back means mum or dad will give them attention, even if it’s negative attention, and that’s better than nothing at all. 

Acting up and chatting back are commonplace during big periods of transition (think a new baby arriving, starting daycare, or a parent returning to work). At the end of the day, the most precious gift we can give our child is our time and undivided attention, so make sure you prioritise some one-on-one time with your child. Finding the root of the cause will make it easier to resolve the problem in the long run. 

Be selective about what TV shows your child watches: Look, no judgement with giving your kid some screen time. We get it! Life is hectic and sometimes you’ve just gotta do what you’ve gotta do to get through the day. But remember that our children learn a lot about their behaviour from what they are watching on TV. Oh, you’ve noticed that suddenly your son is super sassy and sarcastic and you have no idea where it came from? It might be time to do a stocktake of his TV diet and ensure he’s watching good-quality shows and movies with heart, soul, and a big serving of teachable moments. 

Don’t lose your temper: This one is easier said than done, especially if their back-chat is constant, but adding your own yelling or crying to the fire will only make the situation worse. Take a few deep breaths and remind yourself to not take it personally. 

Encourage good behaviour: Our children are no different to us! Think about how good it feels when your hard work is acknowledged — whether it’s by a friend or colleague. So when your little one communicates with you properly, praise this with a thank you, a hug, or a simple acknowledgement: “Well done, baby. That was a really kind way to speak to me. I’m so proud of you.” Children who receive positive reinforcement are less likely to misbehave down the track.  

There’s no denying that a kid talking back can wear you down. But keeping your composure and remaining calm goes a long way. Don’t beat yourself up if you do lose your cool; tomorrow is a new day. And like everything in parenting, just remember ‘this too shall pass.’

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