|How To Set Limits To Backtalk With
The Preschool-aged Child
1. First label the behavior and let your child know it
is unacceptable. When your child responds to your requests
with a very insistent "No way, dummy" you can
label the behavior 'backtalk' or 'being sassy', whatever
term you feel comfortable with. Remember, it is the behavior
that is bad, not the child.
"That is sassy, Melissa, and sassiness is not allowed
in his house."
"I don't like backtalk, Michael, and it's against
the rules in our family."
Make sure you and your partner agree about these rules
and ask your child to repeat the rules back to you in
2. Make a distinction between backtalk
and appropriate expression of feelings
Your young child is entitled to have feelings and opinions,
and learning how to express these confidently and appropriately
is an important part of development. Offer your child
choices when possible ("Do you want a hamburger or
spaghetti for lunch, Sara?") and respect those choices.
Help your child understand the difference between a rude
way of answering and an acceptable one. Practice what
you mean. "This is what I mean by a rude voice".
(Mother demonstrates rude tone.) Above all, do not take
your child's good behavior for granted. Get into the habit
of praising her when she expresses herself in acceptable
ways. "I like the way you told me nicely that the
soup was too hot for you." However, do not allow
your child to get out of doing almost everything you ask,
just because she refuses nicely.
3. Establish a suitable penalty for
A suitable penalty for talking back is a few minutes
on a time-out chair (1 minute for each year of the child's
age.) Use a kitchen-timer and add another minute for refusing
to go the chair, for misbehaving in time-out (talking
or kicking the wall), for a total of 10 minutes in time-out.
When your child has served her time, make sure she does
whatever she was asked before leaving time-out. For example,
if your child talked back when you told her to pick up
her toys, she must go and pick them up once time-out is
over. Refusal will earn her another time-out.
4. Make sure backtalk and time-out
don't serve as escapes from tasks
Some children use backtalk to distract their parents
from enforcing tasks they don't like doing. Even time-out
may be preferable to doing the task. If the request was
appropriate in the first place, make sure your child does
what he or she was asked after time-out, or you may strengthen
backtalk in spite of using time-out.
5. Deliver clear, enforceable commands
one at a time
Many parents fall into the trap of delivering a constant
barrage of requests, commands, and admonitions to their
children: "Don't with your fingers, Mike. Now, come
on, sit up straight. What's the matter with you? Do you
hear me? Pay attention to me. Come on, now, eat your lunch.
Hurry up, we'll be late."
Aside from the fact that Mike can't possibly know what
exactly is expected of him, his mother can't enforce all
these requests and commands. (In this case, Mike responded
with backtalk: "Shut up, you loudmouth dummy!")
Constant parental nagging and nattering are destructive
to a child's self-esteem, and are common features of families
whose children engage in backtalk and to go on to develop
serious problems. We know that parents' behavior often
develops in response to a child's difficult and trying
temperament, but it is extremely important that parents
change their own bad habits first before expecting the
child to change.
6. Consider age and temperament in
determining appropriate expectations
Ask yourself what behavior you really want and if you
must demand it now. When Mike's mother analyzed the situation,
she realized she wanted him to get on with his meal because
they had to go out. Mike is a distractible, restless four-year-old,
but he is capable of finishing a meal within 20 minutes
if he is help to deal with distractions. Mike's mother
could have cleared the kitchen of distractions (e.g. turned
off the radio), sat down with him (instead of clearing
the dishes), focused calmly on him (instead of expressing
her exasperation), and said simply, in a friendly tone:
"Eat your lunch up now." Having appropriate
expectations may reduce some of the frustration that prompts
children to talk back.