Monday, July 2, 2007

Don’t Backtalk Back


Help! Jane I REALLY need your help. My 4 year old daughter will not stop saying UGLY and I mean Ugly things to me when she does not get what she wants or when she does not get her way. I have recently purchased your book Positive Discipline and your CDs. Maybe I have not read far enough on what I am to do. I can not tell you how much I love your advice so far, but I am despite. I feel so out of control and it is really upsetting. If you have your words of wisdom for me I would REALLY appreciate it. Thank you so much for all that you do to help parents like me. Regards Heidi


Hi Heidi,

Following is an excerpt from the revised Positive Discipline A-Z. I've inserted a note in brackets regarding my favorite suggestion, but they are all good. Choose what works for you and let me know how it goes.

Backtalk and Disrespect
"I asked my daughter to pick up her shoes. She replied, 'Why don't you. You're the mother.' I couldn't believe it. Why would she be so disrespectful? Even more important, what should I do about it? I can't just let her get away with that, but the more I punish her, the worse it gets."

Understanding Your Child, Yourself, and the Situation
There are many reasons for backtalk and disrespectful behavior. Sometimes children are simply testing their power—especially during the pre-teen and teen years. On the other hand, it could be that they feel that they have been treated disrespectfully (perhaps by parents who make demands or give orders) and are fighting back. Children might talk back to get a reaction—or may simply be having a bad day. Another possibility is that they have not been taught (by example or otherwise) respectful communication and interaction.

  1. In a calm, respectful voice, tell your child, "If I have ever spoken to you that way, I apologize. I don't want to hurt you or be hurt by you. Can we start over?"
  2. Count to ten or take some other form of positive time-out so you don't "backtalk" back in reaction. Avoid comebacks such as, "You can't talk to me that way young lady."
  3. Use the "back talk" as information (it could tell you that something is amiss) and deal with it after you have both calmed down. Look for places you have been turning issues into power struggles with your child.
  4. Instead of focusing on the disrespect, focus on the feelings. Say something like, "You are obviously very upset right now. I know it upsets me when you talk that way. Let's both take some time out to calm down. We can talk later when we feel better. I'd like to hear what you are upset about.
  5. Do not use punishment to "get control." When you have both calmed down you can work on a respectful solution that works for both of you.
  6. Share your feelings, "I feel very hurt when you talk to me that way. Later I want to talk to you about another way you could tell me what you want or how you feel." Or you could say, "Whoa, I wonder if I did something to hurt your feelings, because that certainly hurt mine."
  7. Don't respond to demands. Decide what you will do instead of what you want to make her do. One possibility is to simply walk away. Instead of trying to control her behavior, control your own. Calmly leave the room without saying a word. If your child follows, go for a walk of get into the shower. After a cooling-off period, ask, "Are you ready to talk with me now?" This is most effective if you let your child know in advance what you will do. "When you talk disrespectfully to me, I will leave the room until we both feel better and can communicate with love and respect." [Note from JN: This is my favorite because kids do what works. When you just walk away, instead of reacting, children lose their power to get you to react. Of course, it is important to follow-up when you have both calmed down.]
  8. Use a sense of humor. Say, "I must have heard that wrong. I'm pretty sure you were meaning to say, 'Mom, would you mind picking up my shoes because I'm too lazy to do it myself right now.'"
  9. If you are not too upset, try hugging your child. Sometimes children are not ready to accept a hug at this time. Other times a hug changes the atmosphere for both of you to one of love and respect.
Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems
  1. Be willing to take a look at how you might be teaching the very thing you abhor in your child by being disrespectful to her. Have you created an atmosphere of power struggles by being too controlling or too permissive?
  2. Make sure you do not "set your child up" by making disrespectful demands. Instead of giving orders, create routines together during family meetings.
  3. Instead of saying, "Pick up your shoes," ask, "What about your shoes?" You will be surprised how much more inviting it is to ask than to tell.
  4. Once you have both calmed down, let her know you love her and would like to work on a respectful solution to what happened. Take responsibility for your part and work on a solution together.
  5. Apologize if you have been disrespectful. "I can see that I was disrespectful when I demanded that you pick up your shoes. How can I ask you to be respectful when I'm not?" Let her know that you can't "make" her be respectful, but that you will work on being respectful yourself.
  6. Have regular family meetings so family members learn respectful ways of communicating and focusing on solutions.
Life Skills Children can Learn
Children can learn that their parents are willing to take responsibility for their part in an interaction. They can learn that back talk isn't effective, but that they will have another chance to work on respectful communication.
Parenting Pointers
  1. Many parents want to "set limits" and tighten controls to teach their children that they can't get away with misbehavior. This makes matters worse and does not teach respectful communication.
  2. This is a good time to act instead of react. It is very tempting to get revenge by punishing when your children hurt your feelings. This models disrespect while trying to teach respect.
  3. Remember to see mistakes as opportunities to learn—for both of you.
    Booster Thoughts
From a note sent by a grateful parents: "I'm all choked up right now because my fifteen-year-old daughter just came in and said, 'Mom, are you planning to do some washing today so I can include my jeans, or should I put in a load before school?"
It was such a respectful departure. Thank God for family meetings and calm dialogue instead of yelling, reacting, and the angry feelings have had experienced in the past.


Two and a half year old Ross threw his hat on the sidewalk and said, "I don't want to wear this hat. You get it and keep it for me."
His grandmother looked at him and said, "I'm sure there are a lot of people walking by who would love that good looking hat. If you don't want it anymore, leave it on the sidewalk for someone else."
Ross looked shocked, put his little hands on his hips, thought for a minute, and then picked his hat up.
His grandmother said, "If you don't want to wear your hat right now, would you like to put it in the backpack? I'd be happy to open it up for you." Ross walked over, dropped the hat in the pack, put his hands back on his hips and shuffled along the sidewalk with a grin on his face. Several bystanders gave Grandma big thumbs up.

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