Backtalk is a hot topic for most parents because it’s one of those behaviors that most parents just can’t stand. Being met with backtalk after asking our children to get ready for bed, or come inside for dinner, pushes our buttons because it feels disrespectful. Instantly we feel like we must address the rudeness by asserting our authority (“What did you say to me?!”), which usually creates a shouting match, and harms your relationship with your child. So how can we put a stop to the backtalk without losing our cool?

First, remember that changing behavior begins with looking at the pattern of behavior. Does this behavior always happen at the same time each day, such as when your child is forced to give up his toys for bed? Maybe it began around the start of the new school year, the adjustment of which can often lead to less sleep as your child gets used to a new bedtime, and being around new children who may be modeling this behavior in the classroom. Also consider whether you may be modeling the behavior to your children or reinforcing it by engaging in a back-and-forth argument. Children often copy the behavior of those they admire and want to be like, including you, Mom or Dad!

Identifying the circumstances around the backtalk can lead to a Eureka! moment and give you an idea of how to prevent the behavior in the future. Also consider what causes backtalk in the first place – your child’s feelings of frustration and powerlessness – and do what you can to lessen these feelings by making your expectations clear, giving 5 minute warnings for when playtime is to end, and giving choices whenever possible throughout the day.

Next, consider what behavior you’d rather have in place of the backtalk. Often we tell our children many things they should not do, but we’re not as clear on what they should do. Plan to increase your attention towards polite talking and manners. For a young child, reward them with praise, hugs, and high-5’s when they use nice words. For a school-age child, add in the use of a behavior chart focusing on using polite words.

Once you’ve added in some prevention and reward strategies and used them for a while, re-assess the situation. Have you seen a decrease in backtalk? If so, congratulations! You’re on your way to more peaceful times with your child. If not, don’t give up! Behavior change takes time. While prevention and rewards are often the most effective ways to change behavior, you may also need to add in the use of consequences if you’re not seeing the change you’d like, especially if your child’s backtalk is bordering on verbal abuse-insults, cursing, and name-calling.

If consequences must be added in to your behavior change plan, begin by letting your child know what the consequence will be when backtalk occurs. Be very clear about what language is considered backtalk, and what the consequence will be, such as no TV for the rest of the night, or the loss of video game time. Then, be prepared to always follow through. Behavior change can be a challenging process, but it can also be a very rewarding one! And when your ultimate goal is a better relationship with your child, the hard work is always worth it.

What do you do to nurture a good relationship with your child?

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