How many times have you thought, “Boy, if I ever back talked to my parents the way that my kids do to me, I probably wouldn’t be here today!” Well, if that’s a frequent thought in your home, believe me, you are not alone. Youth culture today, even with children as young as two or three years of age, seems to be sassier and perhaps more rude than in past generations.
Why? Well, take into account that they are hearing and seeing some commercial-grade language and “attitude” on TV, on the playground and in the halls at school, and are also picking up on this stuff via older siblings. And, as our lives have become more hectic, perhaps we as parents have not taken the time to notice, respond to and tone down this sassy behavior.
WHAT’S A PARENT TO DO?
Well, let’s first look at some of the most common backtalk retorts rendered by our children:
First, there’s the old stand by, found in every house that I know of where kids are old enough to talk, “That not fair!” When my kids were growing up, it was the rare week or perhaps the rare day that I didn’t have to deal with that one. The only sane response, I’ve learned, is to agree with the kid. “It may not seem fair to you at this moment, I understand. But just because your brother is getting new sneakers and you’re not (because you don’t need them) is fair as far as I’m concerned. There will be other times that you get something or are allowed to get a privilege that he won’t — that’s just how our family works. Those who need something get it, and those who don’t do not. End of discussion.”
Now, will Junior be happy with this explanation? Probably not, but if you repeat it every time that he comes up with the “it’s-not-fair whinathon,” eventually he’ll see that you’re sticking to your guns and complaining about it is only a waste of time.
Got a little one living in your house that’s a bit of a control freak and constantly responds to most requests with, “You can’t make me!”? Those are especially fun kids — saying no to a request even before they’ve had time to process it. This is also known as “cutting off your nose to spite your face” — when just doing the requested action is no big deal, but it somehow symbolizes to the little guy that he’s in charge.
Correct parental response? First, keep calm: He’s just a little kid and you probably outweigh him and are smarter than he ever thought of being. Plus, you’re the mom or dad and what you say goes. Give him the request, “Jason, you have to put your Legos in the yellow bin. I’m setting the timer for 5 minutes. Any Legos left out will be thrown away — it’s your choice.” I’ve found that timers and “it’s your choice” are wonderful tools to use with ornery kids, especially little ones. The timer makes it black or white — the kids either cleans up the toys or pays the consequence (be it loss of the toys, a time-out, or losing a trip to the park planned for later that day). And, it’s Jason’s choice — kids need to feel some control over their actions, and by giving him the clear consequence (and you not freaking out and yelling, but calmly applying the consequence) soon he’ll be making wiser choices. Remember; never try to reason with the unreasonable. Little kids are very self-absorbed and often unreasonable and to expect your child to see things your way (picking up toys at the end of the evening so that the next day starts out orderly) is probably not on their agenda.
Now, how about the grade-schooler who all of a sudden wants to jump on trampolines (although you’ve restricted that in the past), play with toy weapons, ride his skateboard while holding on to the bumper of his buddy’s mom’s car as they cruise the neighborhood? Sounds like your child has been hanging around Evel Knievel a bit too much. And, when you say “No” to these requests, he either does them anyway or hits you up with “Everyone else gets to jump off the roof into their swimming pool. Why can’t I? You treat me like such a baby!”
Okay, after you’ve pulled yourself off of the floor, try to think of it from the kid’s perspective — probably at least one child is doing as least one of these things, and your son feels like he’s missing out on the fun by not being able to join in, or perhaps is being made fun of for not participating. Discuss options with him, such as coming home when the play gets too rough or suggesting another activity. But, definitely tell him two things:
1. Not everyone is allowed to do this dangerous stuff, and in your mind perhaps the parents who do condone it are not aware of the harm that could occur.
2. And, you are his parent and you make the decisions that are in his best interest for health and safety.
No ifs, ands, or buts about it. No means no when it comes to engaging in dangerous activities.Draw the line in the sand and stick with it. The kid may not like you for a day or two, but that’s okay — at least he’s safe.
That brings us to another backtalk high on the hit list — the “I’m so mad at you, I hate you!” retort. First, tell your furious daughter that you understand her emotion, and that you’ll be glad to further discuss the situation later when everyone has calmed down. But, let her know that you will not tolerate disrespect or meanness from any of your children. Teach her to verbalize, or write down, her feelings explaining her side of the argument. Agree that you will re-consider her request or issue if she’s polite in her approach, but that in no way guarantees that you will change your mind on the issue. The point is to let her know that you respect her feelings — mad, sad, happy, embarrassed — but that she is to present them in a civil fashion or you will be less likely to listen to her message since you’re so caught up in her rude tone of voice.
Preteens and teens are big on the next one — answering your request, suggestion or comment with “Whatever” or “What’s the big deal?” When my kids were growing up these really got to me, as they were usually accompanied by a well-rehearsed rolling of the eyes. Quite a feat, actually, but very, very annoying. My response, after I’d tried lots of other ineffective come backs was, “That’s disrespectful and I will not tolerate it. I don’t want to hear that in this house. Maybe I’m being too picky, but telling me “whatever” is like blowing me off, as if my words don’t count. That just earned you a “snotty bad point”, and if you get more than seven this week you will face a consequence (restriction, loss of car privileges, my not driving to an activity). Let your kids know (in 25 words or less — keep it short) that you do lots of extras for them, and that you’re not going to go the extra mile for a kid who is being rude to you. Now that will get their attention!
Trust me. These are only a few rude backtalks that kids come up with as they grow from toddler hood to their teen years. It’s normal, but very, very annoying. And, these snotty comments and poor attitude tone of voice statements will not go away until you make it very clear that you will not accept them, that there will be consequences, and that you expect civility in the house. And, one last point: If you expect your children to be civil, so must you. Watch out for how demanding you are (rather than polite asking), the language that comes out of your mouth, and whether you show appreciation when they are compliant and responsible. It’s a two-way street, and you are the role model for your children’s behavior. Sure, they are picking up some nasty stuff from their peers, but they can learn what is acceptable and respectful for your own home by your actions and verbalizations.
Ruth A. Peters, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and regular contributor to “Today.” Copyright 2003 by Ruth A. Peters, Ph.D. All rights reserved. For more information you can visit her Web site at: www.ruthpeters.com.