Mrs. Henderson told her son, Jon, for the third time that evening, “You had better do your homework before it gets too late.
Jon shot back, “If it is so important to you, why don’t you do it!”
Mrs. Henderson was shocked. After all, she was only trying to help. She reacted by saying, “Don’t talk to me that way, young man. I’m your mother.”
Jon reacted right back, “Well, don’t talk to me that way. I’m your son.”
At this point Mrs. Henderson stepped in and shouted; “Go to your room right now. You are grounded until you can learn to be respectful.”
Jon shouted back, “Fine,” as he stomped off to his room and slammed the door.
What creates a scene like this? Was Mom modeling respect as she shouted at her son to be respectful? No. Was Jon being disrespectful to his mother? Yes. Was Mom being disrespectful to Jon? Yes. Let me count the ways.
- She nagged.
- She took control and gave orders (no matter how pleasantly).
- She robbed Jon of learning responsibility by taking over the responsibility of his homework.
- She didn’t invite Jon to figure out what he wanted and how to get it.
- She is not willing to allow him to experience the consequences of his choices—and to learn from them.
Why is it that parents think it is their job to see that homework gets done? Oh, I can hear your objections already: “We can’t just let him fail.” Of course parents don’t want their children to fail. All the more reason to teach children self-discipline, self-control, goal setting, and problem-solving skills instead of trying to control them. All the more reason to communicate WITH children instead of TO them, FOR them, or AT them. How to accomplish respectful communication and help children develop a sense of capability and self-discipline is the focus of Positive Discipline.
For now let's discuss “backtalk” and how to stop “back talking back.” The following suggestions are from the book Positive Discipline A-Z by Jane Nelsen, Lynn Lott, and H. Stephen Glenn.
- 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?”
- Count to ten or take some other form of positive time-out so you don’t “backtalk” in reaction. Avoid comebacks such as, “You can’t talk to me that way young lady.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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..
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.’”
- 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
- 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?
- Make sure you do not “set your child up” by making disrespectful demands. Instead of giving orders, create routines together during family meetings.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.