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Behavior Makeover: Talking Back

Four Steps to Eliminate Back Talk
You can use the following four steps to guide you in squelching your kid's back talk and rudeness.

Step 1. Call Out the Back Talk on the Spot
Determine which behaviors you consider disrespectful so that your child is clear on what you expect. All kids slip every once in a while, but is there a disrespectful word, phrase, or body gesture your child is using fairly frequently? That's the behavior you can target. And whenever your child does display this behavior, name it on the spot. Here are a few examples of how other parents have done this. Notice how their message addresses only the disrespectful behavior and not the child's character:

"When I talk to you, you roll your eyes. It looks disrespectful, and you need to stop."
"Telling me to 'chill out' when I talk to you is unacceptable. You may not talk that way."
"You use a complaining voice whenever you want something. You need to use a more respectful tone."

Step 2. Refuse to Engage When Your Kid Talks Back
Studies in child development reveal that kids are much more likely to stop talking back if they see it's ineffective in getting attention. So stay neutral and don't respond. Don't sigh, shrug your shoulders, or look exasperated. Also do not coax, bribe, or scold; such tactics almost never work and will probably just escalate the behavior. If you must, look at something else or, if all else fails, go lock yourself in the bathroom. Just refuse to continue the conversation until your child stops talking back – and be sure to respond in this way every time. Usually when kids see you are not going to give in, they will stop. Here are a few examples:

"Stop. Telling me I don't know anything is disrespectful. We'll talk when you talk right."
"I don't listen to sass. If you want to talk to me, talk respectfully. I'll be in the other room."
"We'll talk when you can listen respectfully without rolling your eyes and smirking."

Step 3. If Back Talk Continues, Set a Consequence
Suppose that you've been clear with your expectations, yet the sass and back talk continue. Now it's time to set a consequence for the rudeness. Effective consequences are clear to the child, have a specific duration, relate directly to the disrespectful deed, and fit the kid. Once you set it, consistently enforce it, and don't back down! For repeat offenders, it's best to develop a written plan that is signed by all involved and readily accessible. One more thought: do consider letting your child participate in creating her own consequences; they often are much harsher than ones you'd set. Many moms have told me they've had success in eliminating back talk by having their child repeat a phrase more respectfully at least ten times. For example, "Yeah, right" would be repeated using the correct tone that says, "Yes, I will, Mom."

Step 4. Encourage Respectful Behavior
One of the simplest ways to increase the frequency of a behavior is to reinforce it when we see our child doing it right. Studies have shown, however, that the majority of the time we do the opposite: instead of catching our kids being respectful, we point out when they are acting incorrectly. So any time you see or hear your child practicing respectful behaviors, acknowledge them and express your pleasure. Here are a few examples:

"Danny, I like that respectful tone."
"Jenny, thank you for listening so politely when I was talking."
"That's a nice voice, Kelly. Good for you for remembering how to say your words right."
"I know that you were frustrated, Tyler, but you didn't swear that time. It's hard changing a bad habit, but you're really trying."


From No More Misbehavin' by Michele Borba, Ed.D. Copyright © 2003 by Michele Borba. All rights reserved. Used by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Buy the book at www.amazon.com.

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