Back talk or talking back is a way by which children express irritability towards their parents. It can happen at almost any age, starting almost as early as when kids master their first "No!". It’s a normal part of child development and most kids go through this phase of trying out rude behavior toward their parents.
There are several factors which could trigger such behavior. It can arise from a child trying to exert control over his own life, such as what he wears, eats, or does. It could also be his way of testing his boundaries.
Whatever the cause, back talk is something parents should take seriously. In these instances, it is important to come up with measures to address it immediately and effectively. Parents need to remember that it is their job and responsibility to instill discipline in their children and to teach them how to express their wishes and opinions in a respectful and constructive manner.
Here are some tips for parents when they are faced with children talking back at them:
1. Be Aware of the Environment Where your Child is and What Language Is Used Around your Child
- Children tend to model and/or imitate people around them, hence, pay attention to his environment – at home, in school, etc. where he could have picked up such behavior. Parents should be mindful of exhibiting undesirable behaviors and/or they may have to change the environment where the child is.
2. Be Observant of Your Child's Feelings
- Oftentimes, talking back is the child’s way of getting your attention especially when he feels ignored or abandoned. It is also his means of expressing his anger, frustration, fear, or hurt. Such behavior is commonly observed during times of transition, such as a new baby in the house, a change in a parent's work schedule, or something going on in school.
- Pay attention as well to his self-esteem, his sense of powerlessness and level of comfort. The back-talk probably occurs because the child has found that it is the most effective way to get an adult to listen to him and to get what he wants.
3. Establish Expected Behavior and Give Alternatives
- Parents have to teach a child that talking back is not allowed and should give alternatives on how he can state his needs/dislikes/frustrations. Simply say: "Talking that way is not allowed" and provide an example with the appropriate way to say the statement. Remember that consistency is the key to changing behaviors. Show children an alternative, polite way to use language.
4. Teach Consequences
- A child who back talks has to be taught a lesson, and be told of what the consequences of his actions are. Adults can simply say: "I am not going to talk with you or listen while you have this tone with me. Once you change how you talk to me, then I will be glad to listen." Parents and caregivers should always follow through with listening and paying attention once the child does change his tone.
5. Teach Proper Communications Methods
- At times, a child really doesn't know how to properly ask for things or to communicate; as such, they have to be taught how to do it. The good behavior can be reinforced with rewards through verbal praise or in other forms (e.g. extra time for play). However, be sure that he understands that simply asking respectfully still does not necessarily mean that he will get/achieve the outcome of his request.
- This can also be reinforced through role playing, where the parents create scenarios, e.g. games, which would show the child alternative ways to speak in certain situations.
6. Teach Your Child How to Handle Disappointment and Failure
- Oftentimes, talking back comes from a child’s feeling of being frustrated and angry. Teach him ways to cope with it or even to voice it out without talking back to an adult. Encourage him to express his disappointments and feelings of sadness, instead of keeping it to himself until it explodes - resulting to back talking.
How to Stop Your Child From Talking Back.
Updated September 2019
What’s the Best Way to Discipline My Child?
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About The Expert
DR. JOSELYN EUSEBIO, Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician
Dr. Joselyn C. Alonzo-Eusebio is a graduate of Doctor of Medicine from the University of the East Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center. She had her Pediatric Residency Training in the same institution, after which, she pursued a fellowship in Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at UP-PGH. She had had further trainings in Developmental Pediatrics abroad (US and UK).
Dr. Eusebio is involved both in teaching and in clinical practice. For the academe, she’s currently an Associate Professor of the College of Medicine of UERMMMC, and Clinical Instructor at the New Era College of Medicine and St Luke’s College of Medicine. Dr. Eusebio holds various positions including the following: Chairman, Department of Pediatrics, UERMMMC; Head, Section of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at National Children’s Hospital; Vice-President, Philippine Pediatric Society and the Perinatal Association of the Philippines.
She’s a much sought-after speaker in conferences, scientific symposia, lay fora, here and abroad, both in platforms and in media, most especially on the topic of child development and behavior.
The views and opinions expressed by the writer are his/her own, and does not state or reflect those of Wyeth Nutrition and its principals.