Updated: Nov 20, 2021
Ranking high on the parent complaint list today is backtalk: rude comments made to someone in authority. I choose to define backtalk with a broader brush to also include non-verbal behaviors that may accompany rude comments. Safe to say that virtually every child will try talking back at some point. When allowed to continue, it provides children a level of control that is not appropriate or healthy.
Not all parents view backtalk the same. Some adults consider talking back to be a part of growing up and gaining independence - the child’s need to exert emotional power. They argue that with adults ordering them around all the time, children simply have to lash out. Many parents, however, willingly attest to the fact that their children’s backtalk is literally sucking the joy right out of their home.
Backtalk slowly creeps into a family when disrespectful comments are regularly overlooked, tolerated, or accepted. Comments such as: “Why do I have to?" “I'm not going to do that," “You can’t make me," may be accompanied by such actions as refusing to come when called, stomping off and slamming doors, all of which undermine authority. Over time, backtalk empowers children. They become increasingly more surly, demanding, and difficult. Make no mistake, children who talk back have been allowed to talk back. Those at their wit's end must first recognize backtalk for what it is. For sustainable change to occur, recognition must be followed by a resolute desire and unwavering determination to put an end to the behavior.
So, how does one put an end to backtalk?
First, both parents need to agree on what constitutes backtalk and be equally committed to the goal of ending it. Mutually creating a list of comments and behaviors that will no longer be tolerated ensures parental alignment.
Next, call a family meeting. Family meetings create a sense of heightened importance and allow children to see their parents presenting a unified front. Meetings should include all age-appropriate family members and take place with no outside distractions.
Finally, use the four steps outlined below to guide the meeting.
1. DEFINE THE PROBLEM:
At the outset of the meeting calmly, but firmly, state that this is your turn to talk without interruption and that the expectation is that the children will be good listeners. Your children need to feel the seriousness and sincerity of your words.
State why you called the meeting: to address backtalk, a problem that is dragging the family down.
Clearly define what you consider to be backtalk (some children may assume that their behavior has been acceptable because it has been tolerated).
2. ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR ROLE AS PARENTS:
Take responsibility and apologize for allowing backtalk to occur.
Acknowledge that, as the leaders of the family, you have done the children a disservice and, as such, have a responsibility to ensure that the family changes course - a commitment you intend to keep.
3. IDENTIFY WHAT NEEDS TO CHANGE:
Provide each family member with a list of observed comments and behaviors that have undermined the success of the family and will no longer be tolerated.
In addition to comments and behaviors that are to discontinue, outline new expectations (a chart is recommended). Expectations such as: speak in a respectful tone, listen without interrupting, respond when spoken to, etc.
Make sure your children understand that all expectations apply both in and outside of the home (whether other families have the same expectations or not).
Stay on point. Less talk is best.
4. HOLD CHILDREN ACCOUNTABLE:
State that you hope the issue of backtalk will finally be put to rest but that there will be consequences for backtalk when/if such behavior occurs.
Consequences will be given on a case-by-case basis (not to be discussed at the family meeting).
[Close the meeting by reiterating that you have the family's best interest at heart and are committed to the goal of creating a more peaceful, healthier atmosphere.]
Keys Points for Parents:
Your words must be believable to your child/children. This should not be difficult if you are deeply committed to the mission.
Stand firm. Children will test to see if you mean what you say. Do not waver. Consistency is essential.
Discuss proper ways to disagree respectfully (teens). Be mindful that the teen years are a time to mentor (avoid an authoritative approach). Teens want and need to be heard but also need to understand that there may be some issues about which compromise will be an option and others not. Clarify acceptable ways for your teen(s) to express their views.
Follow through with consequences. Though not the end-all-be-all, consequences serve a significant purpose in child-rearing. It is important that parents give thoughtful consideration when setting consequences for infractions. The most effective consequences are those that are most meaningful to the child. The child should be feeling the pain, not the parent. Keep in mind that (after age 3) consequences do not have to be delivered immediately. Taking away an upcoming special event may have a much greater impact than being sent to bed early.
Keep your own behavior in check. Earning respect from your children is not the same as demanding it. The former is sustainable, the latter is not. Model what you want to see in your children.
Putting a stop to backtalk will benefit the entire family!
© Sharon Knapp Lamberth, February. 12, 2021