Nor can we deny those feelings of hurt and anger when our child snaps back at us.
“The primary reason why kids talk back is that they have feelings and haven't yet learnt to process them well (especially in the moment),” notes Katy Harris, a child behavioural therapist who runs Family SOS. “Sometimes, kids also experience feelings of powerlessness ― when a parent appears to hold all the power because they are not explaining why decisions are made.”
The family may also have the habit of talking back, she adds. In such instances, family members don’t make an effort to talk respectfully, and tend to throw words around rather than direct them meaningfully.
If your child talks back regularly, it may be time to take action, so that you’ll regain control of the situation. We offer helpful solutions for nipping this negative behaviour in the bud.
As tempting as it might be to lash out or belittle your child when he or she tests your patience, try to keep your head. “Negative reactions may further reinforce anger or frustration.”
#1. Identify possible triggers
When your child answers back on a regular basis, get to the root of the problem ― analyse where this behaviour is coming from, suggests Vyda S Chai, a clinical psychologist at Think Psychological Services.
Try to track down timeline triggers that may have ignited this recurring behaviour. Have there been recent changes at home or school that may cause your child to feel angry, upset or frustrated? Does this behaviour occur across different settings, or is it isolated to the home?
As such, these emotional triggers may cause them to act out by talking back. Once you’ve managed to successfully identify the triggers, you’re in a better position to understand their point of view and address their behaviour. If possible, you may also need to deal with the circumstances that triggered their behaviour.
#2. Stay calm
As tempting as it might be to lash out or belittle your child when he or she tests your patience, try to keep your head. “Negative reactions may further reinforce anger or frustration,” Chai explains.
If your child answers defiantly, respond with helpful statements such as “we (everyone applied) don’t speak that way” or “use your words nicely”, she notes.
Should their behaviour escalate, stay calm and wait patiently until they are able to self-regulate and speak nicely before you respond. This way, you’re only reacting and reciprocating when they communicate respectfully.
On responding to students who talk back in class, local Primary school teacher Joel Tan says, “I would remain calm and ask the child to tell me who I am (that is, his teacher). Then, I will take time to ask the child what is the acceptable behaviour towards a teacher. Usually, they would understand and proceed to speak respectfully.”
#3. Acknowledge your child’s emotions
It might help to acknowledge the way your child is feeling when he or she answers back, Harris notes.
Do this when you respond with phrases like, “I can see that you are not happy about that”, “I know you don't like that task” or “‘I can see that frustrates you”. Through such responses, your little one is made more aware of his or her inner state.
Then, suggests ways for your child to manage that frustration. Explain to them that freedom comes after they complete a task, or help them understand which situations they have a choice in as well as what is beyond their control.
#4. Teach your child how to self-regulate and manage their emotions
Teach your child ways to cope with disappointment or displeasure without having to talk back or yell, Chai suggests. “For example, encourage your child to vocalise frustration and feelings of sadness and not internalise these feelings until they explode.”
This may be done through role-playing exercises such as using teddy bears or puppets to coach junior in communicating more effectively. Reinforcing your child positively (through verbal praise) when they do speak nicely and respond appropriately is also a great way to affirm good behaviour, notes Chai.
Harris also suggests that you guide your child to self-talk their way through difficulties, instead of answering back at parents.
For instance, share with your children how you would “self-talk” if given an instruction or task you’re unwilling to complete. An example would be: When I don’t want to do something, I tell myself… “come on, it won’t take that long” or “it has to be done, don’t waste energy making a fuss”.
If you want your child to mind their language, be conscious of your own. It’s no secret that extremely impressionable children tend to mirror the behaviour of the people around them.
#5. Explore your child’s perception of the problem and help them understand the bigger picture
If time allows, it can be constructive to use this opportunity to explore your child’s perception of the problem, Harris notes.
Asking questions such as, “why is this a problem for you?” or “what are you thinking?” can help to find more useful ways of thinking about a particular situation.
After you’ve explored their point of view, encourage junior to think about better ways to view the situation they’re in, or how others might think and respond in the same situation (that does not involve answering back to mum or dad).
“Asking whether your child understands the reasoning behind your decision or instruction is also helpful,” Harris adds. “Your child may benefit from some assistance to see the bigger picture, especially the needs of others or the reality of their needs in relation to the moment.”
#6. Explain and model appropriate behaviour
“The way kids speak can be a reflection of how their parents speak to each other and to others. If parents are aggressive or impatient in their tone, kids generally would emulate this,” Tan observes.
Parents should also avoid having arguments in front of their child as their children are always watching and learning from them, Chai points out.
So, if you’re in a conflict with your spouse or simply in a bad mood, resist the urge to snap back. Responding with kindness and patience can go a long way in teaching your children the value of watching their tongue.
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