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Talks Back

What to do:

Self-Talk. Say to yourself, "I don't like backtalk because it's disrespectful, but I can deal with it."

Empathy. Tell yourself, "I understand that when my child feels angry and frustrated, he talks back to feel more powerful. I sometimes want to do that, too. I get that he needs to learn how to deal with his feelings without talking back when he's upset."

Teach. Tell yourself, "I can teach my child the difference between disrespectful backtalk and saying he's frustrated or angry without using backtalk. I will help him be aware of not only what he says, but also how he says it, too."

What is Backtalk? Sarcasm, name-calling, shouting answers, and defiant refusals all constitute backtalk. Simple refusals like, "I don't want to," or "I'm not going" may be statements of opinion, and questions such as, "Do I have to?" are not disrespectful unless they are said with shouting, sarcasm and a hate-filled tone of voice. Make sure your child understands what you mean by backtalk.

Be Polite and Show Respect. You are your child's role model. Calmly give an example of answering a question, such as "How was your day?" in a caring, loving tone of voice, so your child will know what you mean by being "polite".

Say to your child, "Let's treat each other with respect. Please calm yourself down by taking a deep breath and counting to 5. It's hard to think when we're mad. Then answer me again in a polite way like I'm doing now."

Use Empathy. Ask your child how he thinks you would feel if he shouted angrily at you. Then listen for his response. Say that you wouldn't like it. Tell him that disagreeing is okay without being disagreeable by shouting his disagreement. Practice asking him to think about how his tone of voice and words impact someone else. That practice in being empathic teaches him to put himself in another person's shoes...and think about what he says before he says it.

Share Feelings. Saying, "What you said hurt my feelings," is a good way to respond to backtalk without using offensive language or tone of voice, and encourages empathy in your child. He needs to know that what he says makes a difference-and can hurt someone's feelings or help them feel loved simply by how he says it.

Praise Kind Words. Every time that your child uses a calm tone of voice, and kind and respectful words words, compliment his behavior. Say, "I'm so happy that you calmly and politely told me that you didn't want to go to bed when I told you it was time. Your tone of voice was kind and respectful."

Stay Calm and Ignore the Backtalk. Ignoring backtalk takes its power away. Calmly say, "What is it that is upsetting you? You must have really been upset to talk to me that way. Anything I can do to help?" Your calm kindness will reduce the tension and help solve the problem.

Use Calm Time. When you have tried everything else to get your child to respond in respectful ways, and he still answers you with backtalk, taking him to Calm Time can help. Say, "I'm so sorry you chose to talk back to me and were disrespectful. I'm taking you to Calm Time, so you can think about how you can answer in respectful ways." Then, when Calm Time is over, sit down with your child to talk about what upset him and how he could tell you what was bothering him, instead of talking back to you.

Use Grandma's Rule. Take away your child's phone as a natural consequence for speaking to someone rudely with back talk. Say, "When you talk to me in a respectful way, then I'll know that you can communicate politely, and you may have your phone back." When your child understands privilege comes with cooperation, backtalk will end.

What not to do:

Don't Play a Power Game. Since you know that using backtalk is one way your child tries to get power over you, don't use backtalk yourself. She may find fun ways of entertaining herself by seeing how she can get you mad or get your attention by using backtalk. You don't want to encourage that.

Don't Teach Backtalk. Sarcastically or angrily shouting answers back at your child, or anyone else, only shows her how to use backtalk. Although it's hard not to yell when you're being yelled at, teach your child how to be respectful by being respectful to her.

Don't Punish Backtalk. Backtalk is, at worst, annoying. No evidence supports the belief that we make children respectful by punishing them for disrespect. Only fear is taught through punishment.

The authors and Raised with Love and Limits Foundation disclaim responsibility for any harmful consequences, loss, injury or damage associated with the use and application of information or advice contained in these prescriptions and on this website. These protocols are clinical guidelines that must be used in conjunction with critical thinking and critical judgment.