Lately, my almost 8-year-old daughter, a formerly sweet child who has historically seemed to like me, has decided that when it comes to certain situations — getting dressed, taking showers, doing homework, going to bed . . . really any time I'm moving her toward a task she's not excited about — I am the enemy. And in her little world, enemies deserve some serious sass, and boy, is she dishing it out. As a person who appreciates sarcasm and has been known to roll my eyes and deliver a healthy dose of cheek, I get the impulse, but as her mother, I am not appreciating being the target of her back talk.
"Honey, we're running late; you have to pick an outfit for school now," I'll say, trying not to get angry that the clothes we laid out last night specifically to avoid this situation are now lying in a rejected heap on the floor. "I'm trying to, mo-om, but you're not helping, so whose fault is this? Yours!" she'll respond in the meanest voice ever, terrifying me because can you imagine how bad her teenage years are going to be?! "Please talk to me kindly and respectfully, and I'll be more willing to help," I correct her, long ago learning that talking back to a back talker goes nowhere. And that's when the huffing and eye rolling begin. Luckily, I've started using a few tactics to change her attitude, and they seem to be working (most days). If you're in a similar sassy situation, here's how to deal.
- Keep calm. You'll probably want to remind your child that you don't deserve their vitriol (hello, you're the parent!) and start doling out major consequences, but instead, take a deep breath . . . or 10. Talk to them in a calm, kind tone and hope they'll respond similarly. Think before you speak; you don't want to add more intense emotion to the situation. Are your words going to escalate the problem or potentially defuse it? If you can't get your child to calm down and you feel like you're losing control, walk away and give yourself and your child some time to regroup.
- Understand the root of the problem. Your child is acting out to you because you're a safe place, so don't take it personally. Ask pointed questions about things that might have caused your child's distressed state. Did something happen at school or at a sporting event? By trying to figure out the root cause together, you're teaching your child that they need to take time to evaluate their negative emotions instead of just taking them out on others.
- Talk about acceptable behavior and create consequences. Once things have calmed down, it's time to set some boundaries for what will and will not be tolerated in your family. While expressing emotions is a good thing, name calling, yelling, and making irrational demands are not. Tell your child that participating in those behaviors will have consequences — loss of play dates or screen time usually works in my house — and be sure to follow through with those consequences if your child goes off track.
- Take a look in the mirror. Our children learn from our behaviors, even when we wish they wouldn't, so do some self-evaluation. Do you talk to your spouse, friends, or other family members in a condescending or derogatory manner? Make sure you're always speaking in a respectful way, and your child is more likely to do the same.
- Praise better behavior. When your kid gets through a tough situation that has formerly led to back talk and meltdowns without resorting to those bad behaviors, be sure to praise them: "I really like how you listened when I said it was bedtime and went without complaining. Now we have time for an extra book." Rewarding good behaviors is a helpful deterrent for future bad ones.