The Discipline Solution For Back Talk That Actually Worked

The Discipline Solution For Back Talk That Actually Worked
How To Stop Back Talk From Toddlers to Tweens using positive parenting tools

“May I please have two extra minutes to try and get across? I am just so close. If I can’t do it in two minutes, I will jump off, no matter what. Deal?” My son was referring to the monkey bars and hoping my announcement that we were leaving the park might be flexible.

It was a nice to hear such a polite and reasonable request. Because there was a time when negotiating, say for staying at the park or for more screen time (ok, particularly screen time) sounded more like No fair…come on… ugh! I’m not going….I don’t care….Come on…mom!!

That kind of communication wasn’t at all helpful to our relationship. It felt an awful lot like back talk and nagging. So I decided that instead of getting into power struggles or listening to back talk, I would teach my kids the kind of back talk I wanted to hear.

Teaching Kids Good Back Talk

I decided I would teach my kids how to talk back nicely. In other words, teach them how to argue. How to argue well that is. Because arguing well is actually an important skill. Knowing how to communicate in a polite and assertive manner is certainly a desirable skill.

Children and parents are bound to have disagreements. So we might as well teach them how to bring their very best arguments forward. Teach our children how to present their case, instead of resorting to back talk, whining and power struggles. Because giving our children a chance to explain themselves isn’t at all the same as giving in. Katie Hurley, LCSW, is a child and adolescent psychotherapist / parenting expert and explains why teaching children to argue well is important. She says, “Kids are always told not to argue yet, we should be showing them how to argue. How else will they find their voices?”

Arguing well takes practice.

Sometimes when learning to argue well, children fall into what sounds like backtalk and whining. Trying to make a point calmly while feeling strongly about something isn’t always easy. Many adults struggle with such clear communication (Have you ever yelled at your kids about something you really cared about?)

That is actually why I welcome disagreements and arguments in our home. Because it gives me and my children a chance to practice. Practice not only presenting arguments but also practice in how to manage a full range of emotions. Nothing like a disagreement to bring up a bit of frustration or downright anger in our kids. Because there will be times when despite a good argument from my child, my answer will still be a kind yet very clear “NO.”  Holding a limit has it’s time and place.

Give Children A Chance To Talk Back (Politely)

Children can learn a lot about respectful conflict resolution by learning how to argue their point of view. If only we would let them. How often have you shut down a good argument before it even got started? It’s so tempting to meet resistance with more resistance right?

Kids Says                                                  

“No Fair MOM!.”

“This stinks”

How We Might Answer

“Well, life is tough sometimes kiddo!”

“Oh well, just DEAL with it!I did when I was your age!”

With a bit of mindfulness though, we can transform it.  We can encourage children to say words like “May I please…because….thanks for understanding mom!” If we are willing to listen.  And it’s so worthwhile to slow down and deliberately listen to what our children have to say.

Children that demand a lot and use back talk are likely feeling discouraged and uninvolved. Or feeling like their voice and opinions don’t count. Or maybe they just need practice with how to make clear, respectful requests.

Good back talk, the kind that helps your child express her needs and wants in a polite way reinforces a healthy self concept, and enhances both social and emotional intelligence.

As frustrating and disrespectful as backtalk is, it’s actually your child’s way of asserting herself. – Katie Hurley

Here are some ways to encourage healthy, respectful arguments at home:

1. Invite your child to share her ideas and to support her requests using respectful communication. Your request might sound like:
“Can you give me 3 solid reasons to say YES to your idea?”
“Please explain why this is important to you: ”
“What is your goal in doing____________?”

2. Open the door for discussion but make boundaries clear:
“I’d like to hear more about your idea, what else can you tell me about this? Once I know more I will give you my final decision. ”
“These are my 3 reason to say No, can you turn them around with some reasons of your own so I can consider saying yes? I will listen to you first, and then let you know my decision. ”
When Children realize they get a chance to share their point of view, they begin to feel a sense of acceptance and belonging. While we can’t always say yes, encouraging respectful communication keeps the lines open, and makes those inevitable NOs even more valid.

This attitude of teaching children how to argue also welcomes cooperation. While you probably want to avoid making everything an invitation to argue, encouraging healthy communication when appropriate is well worth the effort.

Remember the Monkey Bars?
After I said yes to the polite request from my son, he managed to get across, well before the 2 minutes even passed. He ended up walking with me to the car with a huge smile and a sense of accomplishment. Then he asked me what I was cooking and if I wanted help preparing dinner when we got home. I am sure that my flexibility and willingness to listen to him is what opened the door for his offer to help at home. And the more I am committed to listening and working together the more this happens over, and over again.

back talk discipline

So what do you think? Is it OK for children to argue with their parents? Also, if you are feeling challenged with back talk and would you like more tools and resources to transform your family communication from resistant to respectful I invite you to join our “Positive Parenting Complete Guide to Family Happiness.”

Positive parenting online class



Peace & Be Well


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Ariadne is a happy and busy mama to three children. She practices peaceful, playful, responsive parenting and is passionate about all things parenting and chocolate. Ariadne has a Masters in Psychology and is a certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator. She lives on top of a beautiful mountain with her family, and one cuddly dog.

10 Responses to The Discipline Solution For Back Talk That Actually Worked

  1. Could you give me some ideas on how to make this work for autistic kids?

  2. I totally and completely wish I had been taught to argue.
    Maybe then I would not find disagreements, or confrontations so hard because I would have a foundation of arguing respectfully. I’d rather learn this myself & teach my children so they feel like they can stand up for themselves and get results instead of just getting frustrated and ultimately shutting down.

  3. Hi Erin,
    yes I can’t tell you how many people share the same thoughts with me. Knowing how to stand up for ones rights and needs is important, so home should be that place where children can practice. Just this morning my daughter said to me “I want to tell you why this is important to me but if you need to tell me its not ok I will understand” this kind of dialogue is so helpful! Thank you so much for sharing your personal experience.

  4. I agree. I wish i grew up learning to “discuss”. Growing up i foubd myself avoiding conversations bc i did not want to disagree. Now i am adamant that my kids try to explain themselves. If i see then getting frustrated, i ask them to try to get me to understand a different way. Great read. Thanks.

  5. Thank you for offering empathy to this important discussion. It’s true, arguing or discussing matters is a life skill and one that can be taught through positive role modeling and at-home practice. These tips are worth trying and sharing with other families for a more well-mannered and polite society. Readers of this article may also like a recent newsletter of ours which focuses on the subject of manners.

  6. In an ideal world when you aren’t exhausted with the 2nd child who is still a baby, then you might have time for this. I do try, sometimes, but not enough with my son. I want to do this with him more often because i know he deserves it from me, but im just drained, all the time. He’s a good boy but the baby is very demanding. How do you manage conversations with a 5 year old when you are dying on your feet?

  7. Colin-
    First, I would say have a lot of grace for yourself. We ALL have times we wished we’d responded better. As a mom of 4 between the ages of 7 and 2, I have A LOT of those moments!!
    Second, print these out and tape them up everywhere your family commonly hangs out, even the car. It helps remind you and eventually your young reader.

    And one follow-up comment to the article, is that kids lose the privilege to negotiate/argue when they cannot respectfully accept parent’s final answer. They don’t get to resort to badgering if things don’t go their way.
    I love these clear boundaries and we will be posting them in our house pronto!

  8. You can start out just with small steps — since you know you want to have conversations like this, just give it a try and see how it goes. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just a start….Clearly you care a great deal about both the 5 year old and the baby – the transition time from one to 2 children is often super tiring. Is anyone available to give you a break, to help with the baby so you can dedicate some time to the 5 year old? To take a break for yourself? If you find your 1st is back talking a lot, this is likely because they are also transitioning to the idea of having a sibling. Again, small steps, use your actions and words to show 5yr old that you are still there for them.

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