Volume 4, No. 1

What’s wrong with that kid?  No respect!  Every time I turn around she’s talking back. It seems as if she always has to have the last word. Kids today just don’t respect adults like they did in my day.”

Concerns about talking back are common and very frustrating. Solving the problem usually requires a behavior change in both the youngster and the adult. First, look at your own behavior because it is something you actually can control.  Listen for what you say the split second before the sassing begins.

Often the child feels criticized and was reacting to the criticism.  Even adults have a hard time handling criticism. In fact, criticism usually does very little good even when it is well intended. I wonder if you can remember a time when someone said “I’m only doing this for your own good.”

It is good practice to state reasonable expectations for a child.  It is also a good practice to apply consequences, with empathy, when the child does not meet these expectations.  Criticizing a youngster does not usually bring about any long-term behavior change. Instead, it breeds resentment and erodes self-confidence.

Talk to your child when you are both feeling loved and calm.  The purpose of the talk is to encourage the child to think about his or her actions and learn new ways of talking so there is better understanding. “Sandy, I’ve noticed that you often have words for me when I ask you to do things.  I wonder if I’m hearing it in the same way you really mean it.  I guess I’m pretty confused about what you’re trying to tell me. Are you trying to say that: you are embarrassed, or feel put down, or that you want to be the boss, or that you hate me, or that you don’t know a good way to answer…”

This usually leads to some kind of discussion.  It is absolutely necessary to listen without defending or judging.  “Thank you for sharing” is a great reaction to most answers. We often make progress with sassing by eliminating criticism, helping the youngsters express his feelings, helping the child find new words, and then by providing practice opportunities.