Child Discipline

Wise Words When Your Children Talk Back


Nothing makes correcting a child more frustrating than to have him constantly “back talk” or offer a response or defense to everything you say. It’s doubly upsetting if those retorts are disrespectful!

So how do you nip this back talk habit? Much of it relies on laying a foundation of respect. Next, move on to the nitty-gritty of targeting the talking back and taking it on! You don’t have to do it alone. We’re in it with you! And while you don’t want to engage in a lot of back-and-forth verbal volleyball with your child, sometimes the right response can calm the waters and defuse common kid tactics to distract from the real issues.

A wise mom will measure her words carefully when responding to back talk so that parental authority doesn’t dissolve in a verbal tug of war. The last thing you want to do is engage in a lengthy back-and-forth with your child. This only encourages future arguments about rules and boundaries. But on those occasions when you think your child’s back talk deserves or needs a response, here are some wise words when your children talk back.

“That’s not fair!”

Children like to believe that the only just way for them to be treated is exactly the same as their siblings or friends. But fair isn’t the same as equal or identical.

Mom Response: “I will always try to treat you and your brothers and sisters fairly, but I won’t always treat you the same. That’s because you are each different, just like everyone in the world is different from each other.”

“Everyone else gets to do it!”

Kids like to pressure parents by comparing them to other parents.

Mom Response: “Well, what other parents choose to do may not be right for us. In our family we believe _____________, so that’s how we’ll decide about this too.”

“You don’t trust me.”

Older kids will try to guilt parents who set boundaries by acting as if the implied lack of trust is damaging your parent-child relationship.

Mom Response: “Even if I trust you, which I do, my main job is to keep you safe. So in this case, it’s not about trusting you, it’s about keeping you safe and/or looking out for what you need.

“I don’t have to do what you say.”

This is one of those cases of back talk that shows defiance and disrespect, and should be dealt with accordingly.

Mom Response: Mom looks behind her and says, “Who are you talking to? I know you’re not talking to me.” That’s the “give them a chance to correct their attitude” approach. You can follow it with, “Okay, maybe you want to try that again.”
If they don’t get the point and keep talking back, take a stronger approach, “I am your parent, and whether you think that I’m right or wrong, you owe me respect and obedience. Because your attitude and words are showing neither, your consequence is…” (Note: this only has value if the consequence has impact and you have the backbone to enforce it.)

“Mumble, mumble.”

This is the ploy of the child who wants to get in the last word. You’ve said your piece, but they won’t let it drop. They either keep pushing or they mumble under their breath. Either way, it’s a power play.

Mom Response: “Okay, I’ve listened to what you have to say and I’ve asked you to stop talking.” From there you can either say, “If you want to get to __________, you will not say another word.” Or, “If you say another word about this, I will _____________.”
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IN THE COMMENTS

How do you handle disrespectful talk from your kids?


Dana Hall McCain writes about marriage, parenting, faith and wellness for print publications and iMOM.com. She’s a mom of two, and has been married to a wonderful guy for 17 years.



  • gatorgrl30

    My daughter hasn’t started with the disrespectful comments yet, but when she doesn’t like the answer or direction of the conversation she just burst out and tears. At this point it is impossible to hold a conversation with her, so I usually send her to her room and ask her to come back out when she can control

  • MollyK

    Any thoughts for, “I hate you!” My response was grounding – no device or screen time and missing two parties with friends.

    • Parker

      I would say either “that’s ok, I love you enough for both of us” or “you’ll change your mind after you’ve thought about it. I love you. Now go to your room and think about it!”

    • Dana Hall McCain

      That’s a tough one, Molly. On the one hand, it’s a rude thing to say, so that deserves correction. On the other hand, it’s how she feels, which–pleasant or not–is what it is, as they say. If one of mine said that to me, I think my response would be “I’m sorry that’s how you feel, because I love you very much and want what’s best for you. And we can talk about how you feel if you can do it with respect, but this is not respectful.”

    • http://theromancatholicvote.com/ catholicvoter

      When my son says “I hate you,” I respond back with, “Yeah, I know. Now go pick up your room.” When he sees it is not going to get to me, he drops the “I hate you” nonsense.

      • resar

        LOVE it!

    • Jamie

      My daughter used to say this to me all the time. Finally, I just looked at her and said “ok” and went back to the original issue. When I quit showing emotions, she lost. She couldn’t hurt me anymore or redirect the conversation away from the real issue. Do not reply to those outbursts cause that is their goal. When things are calm, you can try talking to them about how words hurt and can’t be taken back.

  • Heather Novak

    GREAT ideas, thank you! We use Love & Logic, but have recently added it’s big brother Loving Our Kids on Purpose by Danny Silk. It follows what you said about needing a relationship based on love & respect. Yesterday when my three year old yelled “NO!” when I sent her to her room, instead of getting all “Yellow Truck” on her I engaged in a conversation laid out my boundaries & expectations & we had a valuable engaged & loving conversation. PRICELESS.

    • Dana Hall McCain

      This is great, Heather! Thanks for sharing!

      • Heather Novak

        Thank YOU for your brilliance. We all need MORE OF THAT, Dana!

  • Joce

    I smack the hell out my kid, especially when the back talk gets disrespectful…NO I DON’T, BUT AT TIMES I REALLY WANT TO. First, I always talk to my son in a calm, respectful, stern manner. I try not to scream, yell, or have an attitude in our conversation. Second, when he back talks to me than I go on another level and he doesn’t like it; I just mimic back to him what he gives me. Once he decides he’s going to have an attitude, huff and puff, I do the same thing and when he gets upset at my actions I ask him “how does it feel”…well don’t do it to me. That normally calms him down. If not, I apply my third and final trump card “because I said so, this is final, and I’m done talking about it”. Once I say that I either walk away or I send him away.

    • http://theromancatholicvote.com/ catholicvoter

      HAHAHA! Your first sentence really cracked me up. I don’t smack my child either, but like you, there are times I want to. I live down here in the South and it is actually considered normal for folks to smack their kids. Your way of handling these situations with your son reminds me of my own mom’s tactics. Blessings!

  • drrichardnorris

    Some good points and reminders. I generally turn things around and ask them if they would like to be treated that way. They always say no. I just underline it and say that neither do I. End of discussion.

  • Kathy

    HI. These are all great techniques and methods for parents to work with their kids. My only concern is that you have phrased this as the “Mom response”, as if Moms are the only parent who needs to discipline. In our house, my husband is the one at home during the afterschool hours until dinner, and is the parent who often needs to handle these issues. Men, I think, find if hard to see themselves as valuable parents when society reminds them again and again that it is not their job, rather the Mom’s job, to handle the kids. It is a parent’s job. Thanks for the great ideas you wrote about for the parents in our household!

    • guest

      Take it personal much Kathy? It’s a site and blog geared for moms, fathers generally do no read parenting tips on blogs and secondly why should she have to change who its addressed to?

    • neon

      Kathy, I appreciate your consideration of our teammates in child-rearing, and think that you delicately put to words your thoughts/experience.

    • Mrs. C

      I believe they gear the articles, statements & titles to mom’s since the website is called imom. I don’t for a minute feel like they were saying it was only the mom’s job or responsibility!

  • Lisa

    I will speak to you when you speak to me respectfully until then you may sit in your room.

  • Momoftwo

    My son is 14, about to be 15. He constantly is rude, especially in the morning. Always having something to say back. Dad and I are at our wits end. Not sure what to do. Very disrespectful in how he talks to us. We talk to him, and tell him NO MORE. It’s always a new day. He was not always like this, its’ upsetting. He is a good boy, but we seem to have talk back on everything. When we say do the dishes, he says, let me finish this show. I say NO, and get in here now. Then attitude the whole time he does it.
    Any suggestions on how to respond in a loving way, but firm, (we are pretty firm).

    • teachermama2010

      Our trick is leverage. The “play time” is ALWAYS after the work is done. Never before. Just as I earn a paycheck AFTER I’ve worked my job, we play after we’ve done what’s expected. It’s tough to stay consistent on that, but it’s really paid off

  • John

    Sorry but as a board certified behavior analysis these so called “techniques” are garbage. Most like they will actually increase the likely hood of “talking back.” You don’t want a child to talk back? They always will it is part of our development and maturation process. If your child is talking back and saying certain things it is because YOU do. They learn these things from their parents. You need to be consistent as well and examine how you communicate with your child and in front of your child. Only then can you begin to limit (you will never get rid of) this “talking back” behavior.

    • Ayrn

      As an LPC and a mom, John I am in total disagreement with your statement. Consistency is important and I believe implied in the above techniques. Just because you don’t agree with something doesn’t mean its garbage.

  • Joni Hannigan

    I’m a mom of 2, but they are adults now. I’m not sure I ever remember them being outright disrespectful when they were young. I didn’t talk to them a lot, however, about boundaries, or anything. I just gave them a lot of love, expected them to respect me as I respected them and was mindful of their needs to be well cared for, well fed, and well-clothed–and didn’t worry too much about the rest. Yes, they often thought they were treated unfairly according to other kids who were allowed to do stuff, but I mostly ignored that and didn’t feel like I had to justify my parenting to children who wouldn’t understand anyway. I still feel that way and it drives me nuts to see parents try and explain and justify safety, nutrition and a myriad of other complicated issues to children who are still cutting their teeth, learning how to count, and won’t drive for years. Sometimes they need to be told what to do and parents need to teach them to trust them. And trust is built on seeing moms and dads and other adults who keep their word. I’m not perfect, but still learning. What I want to say to moms is believe in yourself! One of my good friends is Julie Barnhill who has written several book on parenting. Check her out!

  • Joni Hannigan

    And I forgot to say, well done Dana. Good fill in the blanks and ideas for those who need words. I especially like the “Who are you talking to?” When I taught high school, I used to walk into a classroom and say, “Excuse me!” and had everyone’s eyes on me in no time. Unfortunately, I also pointed my finger quite a bit — but I’m learning to control it now — because I finally got caught by a photographer pointing it at John McCain during an interview several years ago. I was mortified.







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