The Childhood Art of Talking Back

As a mom and teacher, I’ve dealt with backtalk A LOT. Honestly, usually it’s just a vicious habit that you have to break, especially when they’re younger. Teenagers are a whole other story. Luckily my only teen is compliant and easy right now. I’m sure I’ll get more experience on that in a few years. But back to the elementary aged kids and even toddlers. It’s enough to make you want to scream and it is certainly NOT fine for them to talk back. But how do you get this to stop?

It’s actually MUCH easier to stop it before it starts, but it’s hard to see it coming. One day, you have an inquisitive 3-year old and then you blink and you’ve got a sassy 7-year old or a 9-year old telling you “no”. Unfortunately, it was probably happening along the way and you didn’t even see it. As kids are learning to talk and starting to understand their independence, the habit starts to form. You tell them to do something and you get an innocent, “Why?” It’s cute because they’re little and you think they’re brilliant because they just want to know more about the world around them. Unfortunately, feeding into this “Why?” will start a very bad habit that will eventually make you crazy! The “why” will turn into moans and groans or just flat-out refusal to comply.

At our house (and in my classroom), when you are told or asked to do something, you may only say, “Okay”. No questions allowed. Answering with “why” gives them the ability to challenge your authority. That’s all they’re doing. Very rarely do they actually want to know why you’re asking them to do something. My kids know that if they truly have a question about why they were asked to do something or need to seek clarification, they can always ask me about it later. Or they may seek clarification after they’ve said “Okay” and started toward the task. But never may they challenge what they’ve been asked to do by us. We are the authority in the house (or classroom!) and it is our job to lead and manage.

Of course, they know that with strangers or people they don’t know or trust, this is different. They know that being asked to do something that makes them feel icky or that they know is wrong is a different story. But when it comes to parents and teachers, they are to say “okay” and do it right away. Moaning and groaning is essentially the same as talking back to us. If I ask them to go put their shoes away and I hear, “Awwwwwww.” I answer with “I think you meant to say, “Okay”. Let’s try that again…” and I’ll give the direction again. If they don’t answer appropriately, I’ll interrupt and say the exact same thing over and over and over again until they give the correct answer. Like I said, it’s much easier to prevent the habit from forming than it is to correct it after it’s been a habit for several years. By the time they’re in school, you may have to repeat it many MANY times to outlast them. You may need to assign a consequence if they are really resistant, but it will be totally worth it.

Remember these words: I think you meant to say “Okay.”

And use them. Use them often and immediately and you will see change. Your life will become easier. Your kids’ teachers will thank you. Their future employers will thank you. Someday, THEY will thank you for loving them enough to command respect!

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