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How To Discipline A Kid Who Talks Back

Does your child talk back to you? Some parents tell me that their children are little attorneys or litigators. And this is so frustrating for them. Other parents tell me that their children always have an excuse for why they can't do something they've been told to do or why they won't do something though they've been told they need to do. 

This is called talking back. In this article, we're going to talk about some of my foster care experiences and some of the main reasons people choose to talk back, and the 5 steps for disciplining a child who talks back. As a mother of four strong-willed children and as a previous foster parent of troubled youth ages 12 to 18, I have seen my fair share of talking back. 

In fact, with most of my foster children, I would know that we had really succeeded with their treatment when all of the urges to talk backstopped. That's right, it's an urge that a person has. And any urge can be controlled. I remember one of my foster daughters said to me once. "Nicholeen, I never thought that I could get rid of that urge to just shout back out what I was feeling or saying. I feel so free, so liberated. 

Do not have to follow through with that anymore." True. Not having to talk back but just choosing the better way to be understood is liberating. And don't we want everyone in the family to feel freer? There are 2 main reasons that children choose not to talk back. 

Number one, they want you to go off course. This means they want you to forget if they happen to earn a negative consequence or they want to steer you in the direction of power struggle. The second reason though, I don't know if people often consider but it's the most obvious. Which is maybe they just feel like they're not being understood and they want to know you truly understand them. So, they're trying to tell you something that they think you don't know. 

Before we villainize our children and put them in the number 1 category of trying to just throw us off course and litigate their way out of things, maybe what we should do is give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they just really want to be understood. In fact, they should be understood. It's healthy. When I was young, I would ask my father why when he would tell me I needed to do something or not do something even. 

He would say, "No, you can't go to the party." And I would say, "Why?" And he would get frustrated and he would say, "Because I'm the boss. That's why." But I really did want to know why. And whenever he would say that, I realized he wasn't understanding me. I didn't know how to break through that barrier of him being unwilling to understand me. 

Here are 5 steps for disciplining back talkers. In fact, I should call these 5 merciful steps for disciplining back talkers because you really can discipline someone in a merciful kind way. Step number 1, don't get emotional. Don't take it personally. They just want to be understood, there's a way to do that. They're not doing it the right way. 

But we can point them in the right direction. It doesn't have to feel like an attack. You get to choose what their words feel like to you. We process what they're saying to us. So, be calm. Because talking back to their backtalk just perpetuates a power struggle. In fact, it's one of my cardinal rules. 

If a child starts back talking to me, I will not talk back to them. So, what does that look like? Because I do say something, it does not look like this. If they say, "You don't even care about me." Then I don't say, "Oh, yes honey. I do, I love you so much." I do not say that. Of course, it's true. I care about them and I love them so much. But that is not the time. 

That is just throwing everything off course and throwing the whole communication moment into an emotional pit. Instead what I say is I say, "Honey, I know you want to talk to me right now about how you're feeling and about our relationship. But we can't talk until we're both calm. You need to choose to be calm first and then we'll talk about this. 

I just point them in the direction toward calmness instead of talking back. You can't accomplish any problem-solving with them unless you're calm first. So, allow yourself to be calm. Tell yourself that it's okay. 

Tell yourself that this teaching moment is natural normal, feels good. In fact, tell yourself "I was meant for this. I signed up for it." I don't know how many parents have told me, "I didn't sign up for this." And I think to myself, "Yes, you did. You had the child. You've got them. 

You signed up for this. So now, just live up to it." When you embrace, who you really are in the lives of that child, a teacher and you can be more calm more comfortable and you can communicate better with them. And then they'll communicate better with you. 

Step number 2. And this happens before the moment when they've never talked back. Teach them a skill called disagreeing appropriately. This is one of the skills in my teaching self-government implementation course that we teach. It has 7 different steps to it. 

First, they look at the person, then they keep a calm face voice, and body. They say they understand the other person's point of view then they share their point of view. Then they listen to what you have to say, they say okay, and then drop the subject. 

That's how a person disagrees appropriately. And if they know that skill then instead of just launching back to you with some emotional outburst, they can say, "Okay. May I disagree appropriately?" And of course, you will have told them that anytime they ask that question, the answer is, "Yes, you may disagree appropriately." And then you'll listen to them, share their appropriate disagreement which includes seeking to understand your point of view. 

Which is a really mature thing to do. And it draws them from the emotional place in their brain to the logical place in their brain which is super good for their own self-government and feeling of empowerment. Step number 3, in the minute, when you think the back talk is going to happen, they're just about ready to have it fly off the tongue, that is the time where a parent does pre-teaching. 

This is another one of the self-government skills that I teach with my parenting courses. With pre-teaching, there are 3 different ways to do a pre-teach. But in this instant, I would just do a quick prep and I would remind them of the skill they already know. I would say, "If you want to disagree appropriately, remember you can always disagree appropriately with me after I'm finished with this instruction or after I'm finished with this correction." And I will always listen to you then. If you just feel it's coming, you feel it's coming, be merciful. 

Tell them what skill to wait to use. And then when they use it, listen. Step number 4 consistently correct them every time the backtalk occurs. If they ever get away with the backtalk or you start talking back to them instead of correcting them as you should, that backtalk will be perpetuated. They will do it again and again and again. Even if they only get away with it a portion of the time. You've got to be consistent. And do a proper merciful connective and calm correction. 

Step 5, help them learn cause and effect by allowing them to earn an extra chore. That's the main negative consequence that we use in our family is extra chores. Because work is the antidote for a sick character. So, give them the chance to do a little work so that their character can improve. 

When a child is in the habit of back-talking, to break that habit, they have to be corrected again and again. And they need to have a negative consequence to accept again and again so that they properly learn that cause-and-effect principle. When they are working on that extra chore that they earned, doesn't have to be hard, can be easy. 

But when they're having that moment to do that work, they can reflect on why it is that they need to do that, what they need to improve for next time. Because of course during the correction, you would have already talked about that. For more help disciplining children who talk back.

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