Last weekend my son argued with me when I brought up the fact that he always argues with me. OMG, the back talk! They will argue about anything, won’t they? I am so. so. so. sick. of. the. arguing. It makes me turn from Dr Banner into the Incredible Hulk in about 45 seconds flat.
Here’s the thing: it’s a good thing that our kids give us so much back talk. It is. As much as it would make our life infinitely more peaceful, we don’t really want to raise mice. We want our kids to stand up for themselves, practise their persuasive skills and form their own opinions. Backtalk is all that in action.
As much as it would make our life infinitely more peaceful, we don’t really want to raise mice.
Trouble is, back talk is also disrespectful, whiney and irritating. It can be an absolute punish to have to listen to it. Nothing gets a mum more frustrated than having to listen to back talk when JUST DO THE THING I ASKED ALREADY!!!!
Okay, so how do we deal with it? How do we make it go away, or at least make it quieter for a while? When the kids back talk, how do we not completely lose our shit, turning into the Hulk and smashing through our entire home and the world (see, back talk is really, really, really frustrating)?
10 ways to deal with back talk without going full Hulk mum
1. Understand their frustration
Yes, the back talk makes us very, very frustrated, but ironically we are just getting frustrated at our kid’s frustration. They have reached an age where they are craving independence and control, and we are the ones constantly taking that away from them. We want them to take the garbage out now. Issuing a direct order used to be beneficial because it gave our little kid complete direction as to what was needed. Now that the little kid has grown up, they just see our direct approach as storming through their independence.
2. Request, don’t order
Instead of ordering the big kid around, try requesting things instead. Now, I know this isn’t going to work every time, but it should definitely work much of the time. Instead of “you need to wash the dishes right now, because I said so”, try “When you’ve finished what you’re doing, I’d love it if you could do your chores. Let me know if you need help, and, please get it done, I don’t want to have to ask again.” See, it’s nicer and it leaves the when and how up to the surly child – they will feel nicely in charge. (Even though they are not.)
This might help too: A quick guide to connecting with tweens and teens
3. Halt the anger
When your kid goes straight to back talk without pause, simply listen and then ask, “Is there any need to speak to me like that?”. Remain calm, try not to react to their venom. Ask, “Why are you so angry about a simple request? What’s really going on?” Remember, keep your voice quiet and measured: don’t be the angry mum. They are the ones losing their cool, not you. With a bit of luck, they will calm down and give you a decent response.
4. Don’t stay and listen
If your kid goes from back talk to berserk over a simple request, you’re not under contract to stay and listen. Simply say, “I’m not liking the way this is going” and leave the room. They will likely follow you, harping on about how unfair and awful you are, but you don’t need to listen. Just calmly go to another room and gently shut the door. You can pop back out when the banshee has finished screaming.
5. Have a physical symbol that means ‘enough’
I hold my hand up, palm out, fingers down, at shoulder level as my symbol for “I’m not discussing this anymore, you need to calm down”. I simply raise my hand in that position and stay silent. When my kids see the hand go up, they know they need to pull their heads in. I’ve used this as our symbol for many years, but I reckon you can introduce something whenever you want. Stops the arguing, even now the kids are older.
6. Talk it through
Raise a conversation about how the constant back talk makes you feel and ask your child for suggestions on alternative things to do. “I need to be able to ask you to do things from time to time without the arguments. What’s a good approach for you?” It’s tempting to say, “Because I said so” and expect things to be done, but that’s not giving your kid the autonomy they are craving right now. Work together, don’t just issue orders.
7. Agree that some things will just get done
It’s nice to agree things and talk things through with the kids, but we all have pain points. As the parents, we get to have some ‘non-negotiables’ in there that we expect to just get done without arguing / talking through. For me, that’s when I ask the kids to do a quick job for me after I’ve been doing countless things for them. If I’ve slaved in a hot kitchen to get the dinner on the table and say, “Can you please set the table?” and I get the back talk, I’m going full Hulk mum. So, setting the table is on my non-negotiables list. You back talk about the non-negotiables, you are instantly off screens for a few days.
8. Insist on respect and manners
So, sure, go ahead and argue with me about the non-negotiables, but do not, under any circumstances, be disrespectful or rude. I won’t tolerate it and it will instantly shut me down and hello Hulk mum. It’s important that our kids learn how to argue with respect and courtesy (especially in these ‘outraged’ times), and this is a great opportunity to talk them through that. Keep your voice down, don’t exaggerate, try to see the other person’s point of view, don’t bring up things that are irrelevant, be nice.
When your child is being rude and mean, ask them “Would you speak to [insert other important person’s name here] that way?”
9. The ‘other people’ rule
When your child is being rude and mean, ask them “Would you speak to [insert other important person’s name here] that way?” Chances are, they wouldn’t dare. Remind them that you deserve the same level of respect as their school principal, the same level of kindness as their grandmother, the same level of care as their friends.
10. Give them an out
Kids say the stupidest things in the heat of the moment (don’t we all). Don’t make it hard for them to apologise; give them an out. So, don’t insist on following through on something that is clearly not going anywhere. Don’t embarrass or ridicule. Just wait out the storm and 9 times out of 10 your kid will come find you to say they are sorry. Then you simply say, “Thanks for apologising, what should we do differently next time?”
How do you usually deal with back talk?