If you’re sick and tired of yelling at your kids and dishing out time outs in response to poor behavior, this post is for you! Disciplining toddlers, kids in elementary schools, tweens, and teens isn’t easy, but these behavior management strategies can help. If you want to know what to do when kids talk back, we’re sharing 8 positive parenting tips and techniques that don’t involve yelling, times outs, or consequences. Best of all? They work!
Why Do Kids Talk Back?
Pushing limits and testing boundaries is a normal part of a child’s development, but if you’re seeing a sudden increase in poor behaviors and your child is pushing back on you more often than not, something deeper could be going on. Sleep deprivation, sickness, and hunger are common causes of poor behavior, but your child may be acting out due to feelings of anger, frustration, worry, and/or anxiety about something that is happening either at school or at home. Your child may also be feeling insecure in his or her relationship with you, and acting out as a way of gaining your attention.
Keep reading for tips on how to figure out the true reason behind your child’s behaviors, and how to fix them.
What to Do When Kids Talk Back
1. Get to the root of the problem
One of the best parenting tips I’ve learned over the years is to always look beneath the surface when it comes to figuring out the motivation behind a child’s behavior. I often talk about The Iceberg Model, which suggests that the challenging behaviors we see in our children are only the ‘tip’ of a much bigger iceberg. And since only about 10% of an iceberg is visible to the naked eye, The Iceberg Model theorizes that the drivers behind our child’s behaviors live beneath the surface, and that we must find a way to see and understand these drivers before change can occur.
This is obviously easier said than done, especially when emotions are high and your child is copping an attitude. The answers won’t always be easy for you to see, but if your child is frequently talking back, take some time to reflect, think outside the box, and track the events that occur before and after your child lashes out at you.
Sometimes a simple, calm conversation with your child can open the door and help you understand what’s really going on. Acknowledge your child’s thoughts and feelings without judgement (‘you seemed really angry when we were talking earlier…’) and offer a listening ear. You may be surprised at what your child will share with you when you approach him or her with empathy and understanding instead of anger and frustration.
2. Develop ‘house rules’
Another helpful tip for those who want to know what to do when kids talk back is to develop a set of ‘house rules’ that clearly outline what is expected of your child, and to enforce logical consequences when these rules aren’t followed. The easier the rules are, and the more consistently you reinforce them, the easier it is for your kids to meet your expectations. Visual schedules are a great tool to use for younger kids and/or those who require extra prompting throughout the day.
3. Prioritize one-on-one time
Another one of my favorite parenting tips to ward off bad behavior is to ensure you’re spending some good ‘ole quality time with each of your children each day. Keep in mind that I’m not referring to things like watching TV, going to the grocery store, or spending time with other families at the park. I’m talking about proper, distraction-free, one-on-one time. I was first given this advice when my daughter entered the Terrible Twos, and it’s taught me to evaluate how much solid one-on-one time we’re spending together every time I noticed her engaging in poor behavior.
Keep in mind that spending quality time together doesn’t need to be an olympic event where you try to recreate crafts you see on Pinterest – it just needs to be deliberate and intentional. Turn off your computer and put your smartphone away and give your child your undivided attention. Play a game, read a book, go out for ice cream, or just sit and talk for 20 minutes.
Last year I hung a daily chalkboard similar to this one in my daughter’s room, and every Sunday we sit down for 5 or 10 minutes and brainstorm small activities we can do together after school each day. I find writing it down gives us more accountability while also giving us something to look forward to each morning while getting ready for school. Give it a try!
4. Consider your child’s thoughts and feelings
If you’re trying to figure out what to do when kids talk back, set aside some time when everyone has calmed down to consider the situation from your child’s perspective. Think back to the things you were asking of him or her, how they responded, and then do a gut check. How would you have felt if you were on the receiving end of your requests and demands? Were you barking orders and nagging your child? Did you fixate on something unimportant simply because your child was pushing your buttons? Be very honest with yourself and consider how you can change your approach next time. And if you feel the situation had nothing to do with you and everything to do with your child, dig deep and assess if something else may have been causing their behavior, like lack of sleep, hunger, an illness, hormones, anxiety, etc.
5. Give your child more control
As mentioned earlier, children start to test their boundaries as they grow and develop, which often brings about behaviors we’re not used to as parents, including back talk. A great way to avoid this is to proactively allow your child greater control over his or her life. For younger kids, this can be as simple as offering choices (carrots or peas? jeans or a dress? bath before or after dinner?), but for older kids, you may need to loosen your grip a little bit and offer them more freedom. This can seem scary at first, but if you set clear rules and expectations and keep the lines of communication open, you’ll likely improve your relationship with your child. If you’re unsure how much freedom to allow your child, reach out to the parents of some of his or her friends to get a sense of what they do/do not allow.
6. Offer a do-over
Another great tip for parents who want to know what to do when kids talk back is to think carefully before you speak. It can be so difficult not to react in anger when our little ones lash out at us, but try to remember that yelling can actually negatively reinforce your child’s behavior if they are seeking your attention. A great tip I recently learned was to pause, take a deep breath, acknowledge my daughter’s reaction (‘I can tell you’re upset’ or ‘you seem very angry’), and then ask her if she felt her reaction was appropriate for the situation before offering her a chance for a ‘do-over’. I find this gives her a chance to express her thoughts and feelings while allowing me to fully explain my request, and when we start over, we both feel heard and come to a compromise instead of allowing our emotions to get the better of us.
7. Use positive reinforcement
Reinforcement is an effective technique parents can use to encourage the behaviors they want to see in their kids.
- Positive reinforcement involves rewarding a child with something pleasant as a means of reinforcing a particular behavior. For example, if a child completes his or her chores, he or she may earn additional time on the iPad as a reward.
- Negative reinforcement occurs when something undesirable is removed as a means to reinforce a certain behavior. For example, a child may complete his or her chores in response to his or her parents complaining. Once the chores are complete, the complaining stops, which negatively reinforces the child’s behavior and encourages them to do it again.
Many people confuse negative reinforcement with punishment, but the 2 are very different. With negative reinforcement, something is taken away in an effort to encourage a specific behavior, while punishment involves taking something away to decrease/weaken behavior.
While both types of reinforcement can positively influence a child’s behavior, research tends to suggest that positive reinforcement is the most effective. This can come in the form of praise, or you can take it a step further and develop a sticker chart to make things extra motivating for your child. This post contains a list of all kinds of fabulous reward charts you can use to positively reinforce your child’s behaviors. The point is to focus on the good behaviors instead of dwelling on the bad so you are creating a positive environment for your child, and encouraging him or her to make good choices.
8. Know when to do nothing
My final tip for those who want to know what to do when kids talk back is sort of a continuation on the point above: know when to do nothing. While it can be difficult not to react when your child is giving you an attitude, it’s important to consider the impact your reaction will have. While yelling, enforcing time outs, grounding, and/or taking privileges away may be effective, ask yourself if those reactions are aligned with the kind of parent you want to be. Do you want to perpetuate the negative cycle of emotions and behaviors that are threatening to take over your household, or is it better to ignore your child’s negative behavior and find ways to call out his or her positive behaviors in the future instead?
If you’re trying to figure out what to do when kids talk back, I hope these positive parenting tips inspire you! Remember to dig deep and get to the root of the problem first, to prioritize quality time with your child, to consider your little one’s thoughts and feelings, allow more control, and use positive reinforcement wherever possible!