How to Handle Back Talk

Mar 16, 2021

How to Handle Back Talk


“Don’t talk to me that way, young lady! I’m your mother, and you’ll show me respect.”

“Don’t talk to your father like that. Go to your room until you learn some respect.”


Did you ever hear something similar to that in your growing up years? Some people refer to it as sass while others use the phrase “back talking.” 


Back talk. We’ve all heard the phrase before; maybe we’ve been accused of it or accused our children of it. But what really is back talking? What can be done about it? These are some questions I’ll discuss in this post. Let’s dive in!


What is back talking?

Back talk is when your child says things like, “that’s not fair; you don’t love me; I hate you.” Even though this concept is usually associated with teens, back talk can happen at any age, so it’s important to respond appropriately (which we’ll get into soon). 


One way you can recognize it is when a child always needs to get the last word in when discussing or arguing something with you. Let’s look at a child who is argumentative by nature…we’ll call her Sofia. Sofia has always liked to argue her point, and when she was young, her parents thought it was endearing (most of the time). However, now that she’s a teenager, she has started talking back to her parents regularly in the form of always needing to explain herself multiple times to “make her parents understand her.” This often leads to her parents getting frustrated with her and dishing out some arbitrary punishment. 


Another way back talk is manifested is through phrases like “that’s not fair,” “you never understand me,” and “I don’t care.” This is probably what most people think of when they hear someone talking about “back talk.” This kind of interaction usually leaves both parties feeling hurt and frustrated, so it’s important to handle the situation respectfully and with positivity


How do I handle back talk?

Ok, now we have a little more understanding about what back talk is, let’s take a look at some suggestions regarding how we can deal with back talk situations to maintain a positive relationship with our children and teens.

Be the first one to de-escalate the situation.

Have you ever been angry, full of spite, and in an argument, but the other person suddenly apologizes and asks to hear your point of view? It definitely changes the atmosphere of the interaction and facilitates a calmer discussion. Let’s look at a situation to illustrate:


Jackie is trying to get her daughter, Scarlett, to clean her room. However, Scarlett is just not interested in doing that at the moment. Jackie asks again, but Scarlett just retorts with, “I’ll do it when I feel like it.” Jackie decides to give it a minute or two before insisting again, but with each passing moment, she’s feeling more and more frustrated. Once again, she tells Scarlett that it’s time to clean her room. Scarlett, who is also frustrated and annoyed, says, “If you want it cleaned so badly, do it yourself!” Now, Jackie’s first reaction is to yell something back like, “Don’t talk to me like that! Clean your room or you’ll be grounded for a week!” However, Jackie takes a mental step back and calms her frustration. Instead, she says to Scarlett, “Hey hun,  I can tell you’re upset. Can we start over?” Scarlett had expected her mom to yell back, so this unexpected reaction helps her calm down, and she has a good discussion with her mom.


If you keep yourself calm, it will set a positive example for your child and make you feel good too!

Focus on feelings, not the disrespect

Yes, back talk may seem disrespectful, but it often comes because something else is bothering your child. Focusing on the feelings behind the back talk can help you understand why your child is lashing out and will help your child know you care and are not just trying to assert authority over her.


Try phrases like “It seems like you’re upset right now. Would you like to talk about it?” Or you could use “I think we both need to calm down before we talk anymore. Let’s try again in 5 minutes.” Whatever you say, focus your words on how to help the situation and let your child know that you want to understand what is going on. 

Try physical contact

I use the word try because it may not work in all situations and may make your child more upset. However, if the situation is right, try a hug or even a hand on a shoulder. This act alone can change feelings of frustration to those of love, acceptance, and respect. Let’s look again at Jackie and Scarlett. Jackie could tell that Scarlett would not accept a hug when they were having their interaction, so she didn’t try that, but she knows Scarlett appreciates gentle hand squeezes. After Jackie de-escalated the situation, she gently squeezed Scarlett’s hand to remind her she loves and cares about her.


Closing thoughts on back talk

Back talk can feel uncomfortable to deal with, especially if you didn’t see healthy communication modeled in your home when you were a child. Remember that back talking, just like any other difficult behavior, is an indication that something else is going on under the surface. It’s another way children call out to us as parents for attention and understanding. Approach back talk with patience and positivity. Be the calming force your child, pre-teen, or teens needs and help them appropriately and respectfully deal with the situation. You can do this!

If you still have questions about back talk, you can always count on me! A great place to start is by checking out my Freedom Moms podcast for some helpful tips. You can also find out your parenting superpowers through taking my free quiz.


Crystal The Parenting Coach


Cover image for the parenting personality quiz, 4 sketches of a mom doing a different activity with her child
Cover image for the parenting personality quiz, 4 sketches of a mom doing a different activity with her child

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