Beating the Backtalk Blues

One of the great joys—and frustrations—of living with children is watching their individual personalities emerge. It is fascinating to watch your child develop her likes and dislikes, but not quite so exciting when you ask her to do something and she says "No, that's stupid!" Backtalk. It's the not-so-positive side of your daughter exerting her independence. Here parents share their tips for controlling the smarty-pants syndrome while still raising a child that knows how to speak up for herself. Yes, it can be done!

Change the Way They Act By Changing the Way You React
"I learned how to deal with my kids' sassiness from their school. The teachers are always telling the kids to consider their words. It seems they understand that phrase better than just telling them to stop sassing or talking back. Instead of using words like 'Stop arguing,' 'Stop sassing,' or 'Stop talking back,' try saying 'Would you use better words when you talk to Mommy?' Or, 'Think about your words before you use them.' I also use my hand in the air like a policeman directing traffic to stop. When they start to get rude or sassy, I put my hand in the air as a signal that they are to stop right then. Then I tell them to think about what they are saying before they continue. When I first started this I had to tell them as I put my hand up that I wanted them to stop talking right then. They now respond to the signal. Then I quietly tell them to think about their words before they continue. Then I listen to them as they continue more reasonably. This works with my eight-year-old, six-year-old, and has even started working with my three-year-old."

—iVillage member KARENKWILT

When Everything Is "Stupid"
"I simply told my three-year-old son that stupid was not a word that we used in our house and started the 'bad word' list. Now, at four-and-a-half, he never uses it. It has worked so well that he recently decided that 'butt' (which we'd always allowed) wasn't a nice word and put it on the bad word list, so now Dad and I are trying to eliminate it."
—iVillage member LI

The Backtalk Crackdown
"This might sound mean but it has worked for us so make you own call. My son had become the king of the backtalk. We were enduring the 'last word syndrome' coupled with a bad case of the 'whys?' I realized that if we kept going this way he might not see five. So I had the backtalk crackdown. I explained that I didn't like the way he had been behaving lately, that when I asked him to do something or told him he couldn't do something that that was it, I didn't want to debate it. The part that is going to sound so mean is that I told him that all I wanted to hear from him was 'Yes, Mom.' And for about three days every backtalk was met with, 'What do I want to hear?' Now before you call child protective services, it became like a game after about six hours. He'd say 'Yes, Mom' in his best 'Yes, sir' voice, sometimes even working in a snappy salute. But you have to be consistent. I was the zero tolerance mom for about three or four days then loosened up a little. By then he was in the rhythm of it and we had greatly reduced the backtalk. I don't think this should be a long term thing because it is pretty totalitarian.'

—iVillage member LisaImhoff


For more information on this subject, turn to the book Backtalk: Four Steps to Ending Rude Behavior in Your Kids by Audrey Ricker, Ph.D. and Carolyn Crowder, Ph.D. (Fireside), available in your local bookstore or online at

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