So many of us know the situations all too well. You make a simple request like, “Please clean your room” and you get a face that could curdle milk and an accompanying, “I’m not doing that! It’s my room! You’re a jerk!”
Maybe your school age son asks, “Can I go to Jimmy’s house to play?” You reply, “Not right now, I’d like you to stay home for dinner.” His countenance falls and he shouts, “You never let me do anything! You’re so mean!”
Another fun one is when you think you are simply asking an icebreaker question like, “Working on your homework?” Then their eyes start to roll so far back in their head you worry they may be having a seizure and they exclaim, “No, I’m playing hockey” in a tone dripping with sarcasm.
Backtalk, How’s it feel?
It doesn’t matter that our children are less than four feet tall and fifty lbs. When a parent hears “I hate you,” “You’re so mean” or even the dreaded one syllable expression of defiance, “No!” They feel like they are being threatened by a thousand lb. grizzly bear. Heart rates increase and mood can turn on a dime.
Backtalk is normal as kids development, mature and seek greater autonomy but still lack some of the skills and faculties to be truly independent. Even though it is somewhat normal, it still catches us off guard. Regardless of its commonality, it is still inappropriate and requires that we teach something better.
It’s about cycles of respectful communication, not just backtalk.
It’s easy for us to judge other parents as we watch a backtalk exchange between them and their child. We exclaim, “I would never LET my child talk to me that way.” However, like any other interaction with our children, backtalk isn’t automatically replaced with respect when we demand, “Don’t you talk to me that way!” After all, that is the adult equivalent of backtalk.
We don’t “stop” backtalk. Rather than focusing so much on the “behavior” of backtalk, we should focus our energy on creating cycles of positive communication and respect starting with us. Some of the most important steps in changing backtalk happen before and after the rude words or gestures fly.
Don’t get the misconception that I am suggesting that disrespectful talk is OK, or that we do nothing about it. My suggestion is that we do more about it. We are always teaching whether we realize it or not. We simply need to understand that and be more deliberate about what we are teaching. It is our job to educate and guide our kids toward more regulated, kind, and respectful ways of talking and solving problems.
The following nine ways to overcome backtalk are not simply ways to interact directly with backtalk, but to teach respect throughout every day. For best result in eradicating backtalk from your home and family we need to apply true principles of respectful communication before backtalk arises, during the backtalk exchange as well as after the backtalk has ended.
Before backtalk arises
1. Speak respectfully to your children:
Speak respectfully yourself. Speak respectfully about your family members and others. Instead of making demands of your children, present tasks in a favorable way by including please in your request or asking, rather than telling them what to do. There are times that we need to give direction, but “Please clean your room before dinner time” is preferable to “Stop playing your stupid game and clean your room now.” Keep a perspective of how you would respond if someone spoke to you the way you speak to your children. Refrain from calling your kids names or saying other rude or disrespectful things.
2. Monitor environmental input:
Music, TV, gaming, movies, and all other forms of media are more accessible than ever before. Most of these media outlets are an example to our children and a source of the most rude and disrespectful content ever. Even Disney movies portray friendship and love riddled with rude and sarcastic humor and comments. Although I am not suggesting that media is the root of all evil in the world or that we cannot participate in it, I do believe that what goes into a bucket will inevitably come out of that bucket. If I pour sewage into a bucket, I will not get chicken noodle soup out of it a week later. The things that our children hear, play and see will affect how they act and respond to others. Their media consumption is as much a part of their education as school. We must at least monitor and discuss with them the value and affect of their media and environment.
3. Teach respectful communication during the good times:
Establish both planned and spontaneous times and moments of teaching respectful communication. Read together then ask and share how you feel about how the characters interact and treat each other. Do the same with movies that you watch. Play games and role play using manners and other respectful communication. Set up a weekly family night that is devoted to fun and learning together.
During a backtalk exchange
4. See backtalk for what it really is:
Recognize that backtalk is an expression, although an inappropriate one, of asserting control and independence, personal opinions and emotions. When it happens, backtalk is automatically perceived as a threat, but the threat is not real. Recognize the motive behind the backtalk. In the examples at the beginning of the post the motives were different in each one. In the first one the child felt the request was unfair and sought to postpone or avoid the task of cleaning his room. In the second, the child felt his request was not important to his mother and attempted to either express his anger or manipulate his parent to let him do what he wanted to do. In the third example, the child was possibly trying to concentrate and felt irritable at the distraction and simply expressed that in a sarcastic, disrespectful way. He may have intended it to be funny. He may just be parroting sarcasm he has heard somewhere else.
5. Respond calmly:
Don’t back talk, back talk. Stop the argument. Respond empathetically and avoid becoming defensive. Responding by lecturing about respect, being sarcastic yourself, yelling or getting angry may satisfy your own desire to correct them and say your piece, however, it will not teach the desired outcome or change the pattern of backtalk. To react disrespectfully or forcefully only appears hypocritical to your child.
6. Own and Share your feelings:
Recognize the reaction you experience and share it without lecturing or punishing the backtalk. Express that disrespectful talk is not OK and share how what they said felt to you in a short, assertive way. In the first example of the child that refused to clean his room you might say something like, “I’m sorry you feel that way but it’s not OK to call me names. I feel sad when you call me a jerk. I love you. Let me know when the room is clean.” After you have responded, remove yourself from any continued argument or rude talk. Go do something else that makes you feel better.
After the backtalk has ended
7. Assertively follow through with the initial decision or consequence:
This does not mean that we need to lecture or punish the backtalk itself. In the second example at the beginning of this post it would suffice to simply stick to your decision for your child to stay home and not go to Jimmy’s house to play. No matter how much whining, complaining or backtalk you get, simply follow through with the natural consequence or decision. In the third example however, the child was already doing their homework, which is a positive thing. There is no need to punish the back talk. Simply refer to number six on this list. You could say something like, “I am hurt by how you responded just now. Sorry I interrupted you. I’ll chat with you when your homework is completed.”
8. Forgive and/or apologize:
When your child has spoken disrespectfully to you, if you have responded as we’ve discussed above, your child understands that they hurt you and that their behavior is unacceptable. It is not helpful to continue to rehash the scenario. Drop it. Let it go and move on to the next opportunity to grow more respectful communication. Forgive any past offenses and if you have reacted with disrespect, apologize. Let them know that you recognize that your behavior was unacceptable and disrespectful and that you will continue to try harder.
9. Find ways to reconnect:
This is where we start to go full circle. Find ways to reconnect and forget about negative past experiences. Approach them with a smile the next time you see them. Play with them. Do something with them that you or they love. Reconnect with respectful words and treatment. Love teaches better than anger.
Establishing respectful and harmonious communication is an ongoing activity because we are always communicating. Model and teach the things you would like to see and watch for small improvements and growth. As you apply these TRU Parenting principles, backtalk will incrementally be replaced by continuous and ever growing respect. Start now it’s worth it!
Question: Why do you think backtalk affects parents emotionally so much?
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