Backtalk is the bane of every parent’s existence. It makes us feel disrespected, and untrustworthy. Because we most often know what’s best for our child, backtalk is that reminder that tells us — you’re still not in complete control. It shows us that our children have their own desires, struggles, and opinions. At the end of the day, they will still make their choices, and to some parents, that feels scary.
So before we delve into some solutions to this problem, let’s take a quick look at why kids backtalk, and how it’s not always a bad thing — and how instead of reacting negatively to it, we can use it for a teachable moment.
Why kids talk back
As parents, we sometimes forget that our children are their own person. And even though we make the rules until they leave the house, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hinder them from sharing and voicing their own opinions. Oftentimes, parents use their authority to overpower their child’s voice, and this is dangerous. This will hinder their ability to think for themselves. This world needs more free thinkers. People who can reason and even question authority when it’s wrong. After all, do we really want our kids following the loudest voice or do we want them to follow what is right?
Related post: 7 Ways to Show Your Kids Respect
But here’s the problem. Kids most often talk back because they aren’t quite sure how to filter their voice and opinions quite yet. And in their adolescence, their maturity is lacking, which means that their opinions are often fueled by their selfishness. In moments of backtalk, it usually looks like this in response to telling your child it’s time for bed.
“But I want to stay up later! That’s not fair that I need to go to bed.”
Instead of responding with,
“Okay, mom. I’m pretty tired, so you’re right. I need to go to bed.”
But that response is a little bit unrealistic with kids, right? Because they often aren’t even aware of what they NEED, they will argue for what they WANT. So, they need instruction on how to be respectful and know it’s okay to question something productively. And that’s where we come in. Instead of telling our children that they may not ever question what we ask or tell them, we instruct them (and model for them) how to do it respectfully and lovingly.
Backtalk solutions made simple
So how can parents do this? How can we teach them that it’s okay to think for ourselves, question things so that we better understand, and do it in a respectful and kind voice? Because ultimately, isn’t this what we want our kids to do once they embark out into the wide world? We want them to stand for what’s right and not blindly follow the crowd.
But we also want them to respect their authority.
Let’s talk about some great responses to backtalk, as to teach your kids JUST that. Because I stem all of my advice from my own experiences, as well as my faith, the way I explain things might not be your jam. But even if you don’t follow a faith, I truly believe you can learn something here. I think most of us parents want children who are respectful to authority, but also free thinkers. I love this quote by Malcolm Muggeridge.
Do we want our kids to follow what’s popular, or what’s right and true?
Logical responses when your child talks back in a disrespectful way
“Do you want to try that again in a respectful way?”
If you’ve already established a respectful environment in your home, when you respond to your child’s backtalk in this way, they will recognize immediately that what they said was disrespectful and unkind. I’m all about giving our kids second chances, especially if I can tell they’ve had a rough day or feel a little off. By saying this, you can immediately help them realize what they did wrong and help them work the problem. They can learn to think about another way to say what they wanted to say.
“Obedience first, then you may ask why.”
The word obedience has a bad rap, especially in America. We think that adhering to any kind of authority is a negative thing. But authority is actually good for the soul when we are obeying something good for us. In our home, we believe in God. So He is our ultimate authority. And the objective as parents is to be ambassadors of God’s authority.
I believe that God has gifted us with our children; therefore, I have an incredible responsibility to point my children to Christ and not just blindly follow suit of whatever I am feeling at the moment. First, I need to make sure that what I’m asking of my child is right and good. That my discipline isn’t governed by what I want, but rather by what God wants for my kids. Here’s what I do when my child responds with backtalk in response to me asking something of them.
Me: “Hey, go brush your teeth. It’s time to be done watching the movie and get ready for bed.”
My son: “But I want to finish the movie! There’s just 10 minutes left!”
Me: “Obedience first. Them you may ask why. Want to try again?”
My son: “Okay, mom. I’ll try again. Yes, I’ll go brush my teeth. Would it be okay if I first finished the movie before I go do that because there’s only a little bit left?”
If I recognize that my son’s reason is worthy of acknowledging, I’ll reconsider and possibly let him finish the movie. But if I have a reason, like, he slept really bad the night before, so the sooner he gets in bed, the better, I’ll tell him why.
Me: “I would love to let you finish, but the reality is, you didn’t sleep enough last night, so the more rest you get tonight, the better.”
If his response is AGAIN disrespectful and questioning my reasons, he knows he will get a consequence since he disobeyed. No questions asked. At the end of the day, you’re still the parent. You’re still the one who was placed in his life as the one to teach him what is right and wrong. And this is where I think a lot of parents back off. They give in. And when you do that, your kids will begin to think they are the ones who can make the rules.
Choose your and their momentary discomfort over convenience
I am definitely guilty of not doing this. Sometimes it’s easier to give in. It’s more convenient. But is that what’s best for my kids? Nope. They need structure. If they were allowed to do whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, they will not only think that life will forever and always go their way, they will learn to treat others with unkindness and disrespect.
You see, there’s a balance to everything. As we want to extend our children grace because we love them, sometimes they need a firm hand. Love isn’t always mushy-gushy feelings, and giving your child everything they want. Loving them is also disciplining them, so they learn.
I’m in a lot of parenting forums. One time, I read a thread where a woman asked, “I can’t get my 10yo to stop playing video games. It’s all he wants to do all day. What do I do?”
I wanted to scream at her, “Who’s the parent here? Just tell him NO.”
This is where I would ask this person. Is playing video games all day what’s best for your son? Is this what he needs? Or does he need an authority figure to come in and save him from himself? At the end of the day, because children are not yet capable of making decisions based off of what they need, they make decisions based off of what they want. Parents are there to protect them from this very thing.
Create moments with your kids for productive dialogue
I'll never forget the other day as I had a chat with my 10yo.
Every now and again, we have a little family meeting. We discuss things going well and things that perhaps need some work on both our end and our kids. We allow our son to express what he thinks about both of those things. When I asked him what he thought is going well in our family, he responded, "I'm happy you don't just let me play video games all the time. I can tell how it makes me feel crabby if I play too much." This was the moment I realized that even though in the heat of the moment when I ask my son to stop playing video games, he gets upset, he recognizes the benefit from it. It showed me that my authority is beneficial, not only for his life now but for the future.
Can you imagine how hard his relationship with his future spouse might be if I allowed him to do whatever he wanted, especially when it came to video games? He would not only have a BAD wake up call from his wife, but the relationship would be negatively affected by his inability to have self-control. Authority and discipline will teach your children self-control.
On the other hand, if I kept him from doing something he enjoyed because I was afraid of him getting addicted or negatively affecting his life, he wouldn't have a chance to learn to have self-control with something. Once he left the authority of our home, he would do whatever he wanted, without having learned how to do the things he enjoyed with self-control.
Remember that you're the parent
Our job as parents is to learn this balance. That doesn't mean we don't have times we take video games away because we see some unhealthy habits. There is a time and place for that. But we use the things our son really enjoys for teachable moments in his life. The same goes for backtalk. We use those moments of disobedience to teach him the right way to respond, instead of just sending him to his room because he talked back. That wouldn't be dealing with the heart issue, but rather the behavior. We cannot address the symptoms if we don't first understand and listen to the source -- their heart, soul, and mind.
The hope here is that your responses will eventually help turn their disrespectful backtalk into a productive conversation beneficial for everyone. Sometimes, I even have to apologize and admit that I was wrong! I had forgotten that I had promised him something that I took back. These moments will only happen if I allow my child to be a free thinker, respectfully ask questions, but ALWAYS obey first.
I hope this was helpful for you. I know how frustrating it can be to break the cycle of unhealthy and disobedient backtalk. Be patient with your kids! If they've been used to responding disrespectfully, it can take some time to implement the healthy in.