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How do you handle back talk? When I tell my 4 year old son to do
something he doesn't like, I often get back talk, e.g., ''You're a
bad guy!'' ''I'm going to shoot you!''. Usually, the task gets done
without further escalation (time out, toy removed), but with
anger/resistance expressed with unacceptable backtalk. How can I
get rid of the back talk without escalating things further? I
usually tell him we don't talk like that and it's ok to say
you're angry but not to use words to hurt. It doesn't seem to be
reducing the backtalk, though.
Bad Guy Mommy
I know what you mean! My four and a half year old is like a
teenager! I usually try ''engaging'' him (read: tricking him)
into getting stuff done by telling him a story or making a game
out of tasks - even for mundane things like putting on his
jacket (a magic cape!). It doesn't always work, though, and I
can't do it all day long or we would never get anywhere. My
therapist says to get down to his level, look him in the eye,
say ''Mommies are the boss'' and really mean it. I don't think
she has kids, though, and in our case it really drives him
crazy and escalates the situation. It seems like it's all
about control for him, so I try to get him to do things without
bossing him around. Sometimes I remind him that I've already
asked nicely. We also have a ''no arguing with a teacher''
policy that I am strict about, because while he reserves back-
talking for me, I've noticed he's begun to question the
authority of other adults. Anyway, I hope you get lots of
advice. I'll be reading the posts with interest, too!
Just keep doing the same thing you been doing and once he grows
out of this phase the backtalk will abate. In the meantime
there are only two alternatives. 1. Put up with his backtalk.
2. Spank him, which worked really well with me when I was a
kid. However, since I am sure you are abhored by idea number 2,
you will simply have to put up with the backtalk for a while.
That is just part of his healthy development in seperating
himself from you and learning to be an independent person.
This may not be the usual recommendation, but I'd try completely
backtalk. Pretend the child didn't even say it. If the task gets done,
great. If it
doesn't, use whatever consequence you usually use, because the task
didn't get done.
This sounds like it might be one of those things kids do because they
know it bothers
you. If it gets no response at all over several weeks, he might stop.
this is easier said than done, but try the reverse. look for
times when he doesnt back talk and then overly praise him, ''hey i
really liked how you did what i said when i asked'' so basically
positive reinforcement for positive behavior. it is easy for us
to focus on the behavior that we dont appreciate and especially
as our kids get older we have expectations for them, but i have
found that my 4 year old will modify her behavior and respond to
my praise more than responding to negative consequences.
Yes, we tell our son the same things when he backtalks. But I
think sometimes just sitting there trying to verbally reason
with a 4 year old gets you no where but giving them a little
power trip. They'll tune you out, or think they can get away
with it. So when our giving our son a consequence turns into
back talking, I send my 4.5 yr old in for a time out. Sometimes
I have to pick him up and put him in his room. We tell him it's
unacceptable to talk to his parents that way. I'm talking about
a 2 minute time out, and then we talk about it when he comes
out. At first it seemed like the timeouts weren't working, but
then he got it. The back talk has decreased. And sometimes when
he forgets and does back talks or sticks his tounge out, he'll
go and put himself in a timeout, knowing he did wrong.
Yes, physically putting one's kid a time out sounds harsh, but
not being consistent with consequences will only come back to
haunt you later.
If it's any consolation, I think it's a stage. My daughter went
through the same thing as well. It's hard for them to express
frustration and sometimes the sympathetic approach (I know you
are frustrated, I know you don't want to do this) helps. But do
make clear that this is not the way to talk to mommy and have
your husband back you up.
Have you read the book Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen? In it, he
children talk back because they feel powerless and isolated. He
reconnecting through play. For example, if a child tries to shoot him,
he says he's
been shot by a love gun, and he tries to hug the child in a big, clumsy,
Or if someone calls him a poopy-head, he says you learned my name! but
better not call me platypus foot. And when the child calls him platypus
whatever other goofy name you can think of, he fake cries, or says well
but you'd better not call me clicker-wicker. (Again, whatever funny name
think of quickly.) He says that children start giggling when you do
these things, and
then the power struggle is over and connection occurs. I haven't tried
myself since my baby is only 7 months and not talking yet, but what he
sense to me. And the book is a pretty easy read, not too technical.
hoping to be a playful mom
We are having the same problem with our 4 yr old. So is every other mom in my
parent's group. Look in the archives, it's textbook behavior, which made me
lot more calm when dealing with it. When we are not fighting, I tell my child
have two rules: Be safe and Don't be rude. Using mean words in anger,
and violence all fall under ''Don't be rude''. Our kid gets one warning and/or
immediate consequence depending on the situation (which is often being forced
leave--''You are being rude. Rude people don't get to be with us and do ___)
always say, ''You can be mad, but you can't be mean. When you're mad say ___''
Also, if our child uses strong, but appropriate language when mad, I try as far
possible to give them what they want intstead. I can't say that this method
stopped the backtalk, but then I think it is a phase and there is not much I
about it. But this method has made me feel like I am responding to it in the
from what I've seen, 4 yr olds are developmentally compelled to test us. Pick
discipline procedure and/or consequences you can live with and implement it
and consistently every time you don't like what he does. If it keeps
happening, in my
experience that means the consequences weren't strong enough. It's gotta hurt
otherwise it just won't make sense to him to stop that behavior and do what you
Be clear about what you expect, give one warning, then follow through.
this page was last updated: Oct 21, 2008
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