Battling Backtalk

battling backtalk

This was an amazing article I received as part of a free webinar class with Positive Parenting & fellow coach Amy McCready.  I thought I would pass it along to all you parents out there because doesn’t every kid do this at some point?!?  No fear~ Amy’s here!

Whether it’s a toddler’s defiant “No” or a teenager screaming “you can’t tell me what to do,” backtalk is enough to make any parent’s blood boil. What’s worse, it often seems our natural reaction to backtalk (“How dare you speak to me that way” or “You’ll do it because I said so, young lady!”) only makes the problem snowball.

No one wants to raise a bratty kid, but it seems parents everywhere are battling backtalk. In fact, this is the number one behavioral issue mentioned by parents who contact me – filled with frustration and wondering where they’ve gone wrong.

So what can do we do to stop backtalk in its tracks? First, let’s look at the reasons behind it.


Kids talk back for a variety of reasons. They may be testing your limits or trying to get a reaction. Perhaps they’re hungry, tired or just having a bad day. However, if backtalk is frequent, it’s usually the child’s way of exerting his power and saying “you’re not the boss of me.”

We’re all hard-wired with a need for positive power – the ability to have some control over our lives. When parents over-protect, over-demand, or constantly order, correct and direct their kids, they strip them of independence and personal power.

The only way our kids know to respond is to fight back. It’s a basic fight or flight response – they can’t easily flee (your food and shelter are way better than they can afford on their own), so they fight back with backtalk, attitude, negotiating, arguing, stomping away, eye rolling, etc.

The normal parent “gut reaction” for backtalk is to clamp down, get tough, punish and yell. However, that’s just the reaction that will make it worse.


1) Own YOUR Role: Power struggles and backtalk are a two-way street and parents also play a starring role. Be aware of your day in and day out communication with your kids (and your partner, for that matter!) Watch your tone of voice and minimize the amount of ordering, correcting and directing you do. No one wants to be “bossed around” all day and the natural reaction is to fight back.

Remember, it’s not about “winning” the battle. It’s about recognizing that your child needs more control over her life and helping her find ways to have positive power within your boundaries.

2) Fill the Attention Basket: Kids of all ages have an attention basket – plain and simple. If they don’t get sufficient positive attention, they will use negative behaviors to provoke us until they get our attention. From their perspective, negative attention is better than no attention at all. Fill their attention baskets in positive ways by spending one-on-one time with your kids daily. It doesn’t have to be a long time – just 10 minutes when they have your undivided time and attention (if the phone rings, don’t answer… if a text comes in, don’t check it.) As you fill their attention baskets positively and proactively, your kids will become more cooperative and less likely to provoke power struggles.

Finding a spare 10 minutes to spend with each child can seem daunting in a busy non-stop life, but think of it as an “investment” in good behavior, a calmer home and less back talk. (Learning HOW to make this happen in your already too-busy life is covered in detail in Session 1 of the Positive Parenting Solutions Online course.)

3) Give Power to Your People: Find ways to give your people the positive power they NEED. Provide more choices – within your family boundaries – so they can have more control over their world. To a toddler, power means choosing between a Batman and Spiderman toothbrush. To a teenager, it can be allowing him to decide which restaurant the family goes to on Saturday night. (Choices are not the only way to give kids power. Many more strategies to give power to your people are revealed in Sessions 3 and 4 of our online course.)

Have a discussion about “responsibility and rope”. As your kids demonstrate more responsibility, let them know that you’re willing to let out a little rope to give them more freedom. Acknowledge that they will make mistakes along the way, but you’re willing to “let out some rope” because you have faith in their ability to handle it. When you express faith in them, most will reciprocate with cooperation and demonstrating trustworthiness.

4) Chill Out: Don’t overreact. Kids talk back to get a reaction. When you get upset and respond with “you will NOT talk to me that way, young man”, they score with a power payoff. (Session 4)

Instead, get eye to eye and very calmly say, “I feel hurt/disrespected when you speak to me that way. When I hear that tone of voice, I’m going to walk away. I’ll be happy to talk with you when we can speak to each other respectfully.”

Then – WALK AWAY! Next time it happens, there’s no need for even a warning—simply leave the room. You’re sending the message that you refuse to participate in a power struggle. And when there’s no one to fight with, there’s no fight!

5) Rule of Law: Be very clear about the rules in your house and be equally clear about the consequences if the rules are broken. Then, if kids push the limits, follow through – each and every time. Parents don’t have to be harsh or overly strict. They just have to set fair limits, communicate those limits clearly and be consistent in implementing consequences when appropriate. 

By following these 5 steps, you’ll be able to greatly reduce the amount of backtalk you hear from your kids. And isn’t that music to your ears?

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