Dealing with back talk

‘I hate you!’, ‘You don’t love me!’, ‘You love Sam more than me!’, ‘You are such a bad parent!’, ‘Get out of my face!’, ‘You only think about yourself!’. These are just some of the phrases we might hear from our kids. Any of these ring a bell for you?
Don’t take it personally…it has most likely nothing to do with you!

But it REALLY hurts to hear this sort of thing from someone we love so much, especially when we feel that we do so much for them but often get little appreciation or respect in return.

Why do they do it?

All the reasons are related to the fact that we take it personally and see it as an attack. So don’t! They are just doing what they need to do, or what we let them do. It usually has very little to do with us personally.

  • To break away: from the moment they are born their main goal is to grow up and become independent enough to leave you. In order to do so they need to break away from the one they love the most…you. They need to cut the close link that glues them to us, that keeps us together. Often this is done the hard way and is particularly the case with teens and toddlers. I have spoken to so many parents of teens and we agreed that it is almost like nature made them this way so it is easier to let them fly when the day comes. They are irritating, cheeky, moody and have no problem throwing plenty of backchat our way!
  • They also do it because they can. They have our unconditional love and know that we are not going to kick them out or turn our back on them, as a friend might do. They feel safe with us to ‘try it out’, to see what happens, gauge our reaction. It’s a way for them to become more socially mature.
  • To get attention: if we make it a battle and try to ‘punish’ them when they speak to us like this they learn that it’s a great way to push our buttons, fire up our emotions and get our full attention.

What to do when you get back talk

  • Awareness: how does it make you feel and why? ‘Kids are not supposed to speak to adults this way, when I was a child I wouldn’t have dared speak to an adult this way!’ It provokes some deep emotions in us which are often a mix of anger, frustration, confusion and sadness. These emotions make us do and say things that we often regret later i.e. ‘Well I hate you too. Why don’t you leave if I am that horrible?’, ‘You asked for it’, and off we go. Even though there is that little voice in our head saying STOP. Well do STOP, BREATHE and listen to that voice. Take a time out to pause and ground yourself. When you allow yourself to check in with your emotions and how you feel then you are more likely to do and say the right thing, or at least say something better. So the first step is to STOP, BREATHE and check in with yourself.
  • Stay curious instead of furious: once you have STOPPED, try to ask yourself: ‘WHY are they saying it?’ To get our attention? So make sure you give it to them at other times in a positive way. To break away? Make sure you offer them opportunities to become independent. To try it out? Maybe it’s time to ignore them to show that they get NOTHING out of it. Understanding the WHY helps you find the WHAT.
  • Listen: yes I know it’s hard to listen to what they say when it feels so horrible and unfair. But maybe by listening you will be understanding something you didn’t before. Listen even though you don’t like what you hear or agree with it. Listening, understanding and accepting why they are saying it is not the same as agreeing or giving in. Try to come from a place of, ‘I can HEAR what you are saying and that you are XXX and I get it, I understand that right now you feel XX and that is OK’. Maybe that is all it takes. To listen, understand and accept how they feel right now. CLICK here for the tool of how to listen
  • Translate their words: They might not have the maturity to say what they want to say so it comes out in a horrible way. Once you have done all the above, you are in a better position to understand what they are trying to say and help them put better words on it i.e. ‘I hate you’. For instance, ‘I get that right now you don’t like me’. Or, ‘You love Sam more than me’, you could try, ‘I am sorry you feel that I love Sam more than I love you’ (come on, they know you love them both equally, they are just playing with your emotions to get a reaction) or, ‘Go away’, ‘I get that right now you need some space on your own’.
  • Ignore: we don’t have to take on all the battles. I know you might feel that it is your job to ‘teach them’ to behave better. But bear in mind that ignoring is a form of consequence, where you deliberately remove your attention from unwanted behaviour and give it back to them when they show more desired behaviours – so you ARE teaching them. CLICK here to watch ‘Effective ignoring’
  • Say NO and give natural consequances: when they ask for something they want. You might want to say, ‘You know what…I don’t want to do that because I really don’t like the way you treated me earlier’. They learn the meaning of karma, where they experience and feel a direct result of their actions and behaviour. CLICK here to watch video ‘Say NO and set boundaries‘. 
  • Talk to them: in ‘peaceful’ times talk to them about how it makes you feel. How to treat people. How they would feel etc. Agree on other ways to express their anger, frustration, disappointment or sadness. Agree on the consequences and how you will respond (ignore etc.) and make sure these are clearly communicated

CLICK here to read about ‘why is my child defiance’

Best wishes,
Mette Theilmann – part of the Parenting Community team