Wise Words When Your Children Talk Back

talk back

Nothing makes correcting a child more frustrating than to have him constantly “talk back” or offer a defense to everything you say. It’s doubly upsetting if those retorts are disrespectful. So how do you nip this back talk habit? We’re in it with you!

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. {Tweet This} 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 _____________.”

And while you want to choose the wise words to say, there are also 15 things moms should never say.

What wise words do you have when your children talk back?


  • 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.”

    • 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.

      • Becky

        I actually have 4 kids and 2 stepchildren, and was never told that to me at all..not saying that I am some kind of brilliant parent just lucky. I remember having those thoughts as a kid from a very controlling father. I told my kids I love them so very much that I think the thought just didn’t come out of their mouths. They were always mortified when they heard their friends say that. Just lucky.. I heard a phrase” marinate them in love” All you can do show love respect, and tolerance for childish behavior. Never let direct disobedience go unpunished.

  • 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.

    • 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

    • Your Sistah-Girl!

      He is a young adult, and maybe giving him his responsibilities in a reward system would help to mentally think without you always redirecting and arguing with him. For example, speak no words to him but when you give him his chore list the first time – just as a supervisor does. You could say…dish duties Sat, Mon, Tues, Wed will earn you the weekend out with friends or not, cell phone use on the weekends or not, $20 to spend as you please ect. Waking up on time for school and getting dressed with no confrontation 4 out of 5 days, will earn….blah..blah….but don’t attach a consequence to this. Make the award juicy!! Less talking…give him more options to CHOOSE his path to take and opportunities to demonstrate humility and respect. Also, get him a mentor to help you reinforce and redirect your morals and values. Hopes this helps to get your wheels turning.
      Your Sistah-Girl, Coach LaKendra Anderson

      • Tamela Hunt

        Uuuh. This woman’s son is 14. He is not a young adult. Also if he does not want redirection from his parents and less arguing then he needs to take his young adult a$$ to work, get his own place and take care if himself. Mam!

  • 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.

    • Jennifer

      And they don’t explicitly learn it from parents. They also learn it from peers, other adults and shows as well. For such an educated person that’s a very naive statement. Parents will deal with these issues no matter how well they talk to their kids. It’s unfair to lay the blame on parents.

    • MKS

      I agree, the change starts with the parents because children copy what the parents have done or are doing in their communications with their children, anyone else in their home & friends/extended family. Only after this is modeled over a period of time (if not from the beginning) can some of these tactics be used & the behavior corrected.

  • 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.

  • rebecca m

    Ha….I’ve tried all of these polite responses, and my 16y.o. becomes more defiant and rude. When I was 16, I got my a** beat for acting lile kids do today. We’re not allowed to punish our children for fear of going to jail or having them removed from our custody!!! It’s a sad time. I know a lot of children who would benefit from a good spanking and mouth slap, once in a while! I’m not promoting beating your child, but I do condone punishment. I turned out to be a hard working contribution to society. I don’t hate my parents for they way they disciplined me as a child!

    • Leigh Futterer

      I do agree to some degree, however, I recall being scared to death when I did something wrong. If I even Thought something disrespectful or bad, shed know and “punished” me… severely! If any of my siblings did wrong, say got into a fight with each other, we’d ALL get a beating. These beatings hurt me, and yes, made us try to stop each other from doing wrong which really didn’t work. I lost one sibling to drugs and the other to prison. Years later, I told her that I believed she owed me an apology to which she responded, “Back then, it was called discipline. You aren’t allowed to discipline your children today, and maybe that’s why the jails are filled to overflowing.” I think she may be correct on that. I’m tired of getting dirty looks when i am reprimanding my children in public. It feels sometimes like Im expected to be smiling and sweet in the grocery store while my child rams the back of my foot with the cart for the hundreth time and my other angel demands the sugary crap. Since one has some neurological issues, he will then throw his 9yr old self on the floor and i will have to stop him from hurting himself and others (yes very well a form of autism). Once, a woman walking through our parking lot watched as i pulled my car over, and stepped out of it to calm down before i said something psychologicaly damaging to my children, who again were duking it out in the backseat. She called the police and CPS came into our lives. I don’t believe excess is the answer however, from experience I can say no I didn’t care for the beatings, not to be confused with spanking, but do believe in spanking. The words spewed in anger at me had much more far reaching devastating consequences than even the physical abuse. I learned to believe those words and as an elder parent, Istill fight those inner verbalization ever now.

  • Jusing Krimmel

    Sorry, the response to, “I don’t have to do what you say,” shows very little imagination. In the good old days, when I had young children, I would have said: “Bring me my belt and assume the position.” However, at 69 years of age that approach is now a bit strenuous. So I would try: “I assume that you will be cooking your own dinner, washing your own clothes, spending a lot of time in your room without the benefit of internet, etc…”; or even better, ” right now, put your cell phone, all electronic devices, and all similar toys on this table, and, a week from today, you will explain to me how you have thought differently about your response to the extent that you are worthy to have all these ‘luxury items’ returned to your possession.” As a former high school teacher, I know that discipline that is effective is preemptive, quick, and made a bit sweeter by a sense of humor laced with a degree of positive sarcasm. You don’t explain why you are the boss, you show them by (in their own parlance) “regulating” them.

  • Deanna

    There are now simple ways that will work with all kids. These would work well with my eldest and very rational child (11 year old). He however does not talk back and is respectful of everyone. My youngest on the other had. these statements would just escalate his issues. He is 5 and ADHD, ODD and SPD. I have learned with him he just needs clear consistent parenting and when he does search for the fight. It is best to send him to his room while showing no emotion until he is calmed down. For those who say it is all the parents. Explain how both children raised by the same parents can be such polar opposites in behavior. They just need different parenting methods. These method will work for some but not all. every child is unique.

  • Patriot

    Once you get to defiance, its pretty much defiance from then on. Time for the school of hard knocks. Experience is the best teacher. Sometimes you have to let them hit the wall, hard.

  • Nathansmommy

    What if the backtalk is from a 3 yr old who really doesn’t understand some of the above? My son just turned 3. He is struggling with listening and will stomp away or give a snarky grunt when you walk over to him to get him to listen. Then if i ask him to do something, its as if he is disregarding what i said and he will proceed to do what he wants and when i tell him that if he doesnt do what he is asked he will then backtalk telling me things like “im not picking up my toys” or he will look at me and yell telling me to stop talking or say he doesnt want to talk anymore. It just started and seems like a power struggle attitude thing im not sure how to approach. He will then come to me knowing im not happy and tell me im sweet and beautiful. Can they really manipulate like that at 3???

    • Rascal McDoogle

      Only if you let them, remember who is the adult and who is the child, stop reasoning with a three year, start doing.

  • Allison Stadler Hendrix

    I LOVE this post!

  • Amanda B

    I could seriously use some advice with my soon to by 5yo girl. She has always been strong willed and a bit defiant, but lately it is getting worse. She talks back CONSTANTLY, stomps around, and NEVER listens to me. It doesn’t matter if I ask her nicely or get angry, she will not do what I ask unless I count down and she still waits until I’m at 0 (or a second later). I enforce the consequences (taking the toys away because she didn’t put them away by the time limit, time outs for back talk, losing privileges, etc), but NOTHING seems to work! She just gets more defiant and more disrespectful, but at the same time is emotionally clingy with me and cries constantly. Please help! I’m about to take her to a shrink!

  • AJDanko

    My husbands cousin uses, “I love you too much to argue with you about this.” It always ends the situation…. I keep trying to remember this phrase when it counts…

  • Mrsimegdu

    My parent had a great way of taking care of back talk. We got our mouths washed out with soap! Worked for me and worked for my kids. Parents are too worried about hurting their kid’s feelings or self-esteem. That’s a crock! We were put here to be their parents, not their friends!

  • I find a good whooping does the trick. Yeah there are chances given first but when they run out…!

  • Stephanie Hines

    Help 6 old and teenage talk back pay everything want

  • Stephanie Hines

    Help me stepmother problem teenage and 6 old beat she tell quite

  • Stephanie Hines

    Tell do dishes a attitude to try back talk he13 boy teen tell 6 old do something attitude to try

  • Stephanie Hines

    God hand my head hurts attitude is bad tell be quiet listen me turn. Phone down attitude ask do attitude clean up room no 14 old years and 6 old best real mom I stepmother listen my I love we . Listen to me say in god hand Christian go church show love

  • Follower4ever

    I used Child Wise by Haru and Ann Marie Ezzo books to help us in our parenting journey. They teach thst you can nip talk back in the buD very early (age 2) by training your child to respond with “yes mom.” So if you give an instruction and they argue or give and excuse or give no response the parent says “say yes Mom” and they repeat. That is the main first step. Second step after they have come under the parents authority, only then the parent can invite them to respond (or not) “if you want to say something respectfully you have the chance to so that now.
    For older kids (age 8 and up) they respond with yes mom then have the freedom to say “may I apeal?” And the parent chooses if they can say their peice. We have found this to teach great honor for the parents and not let the kids walk all over parents.

  • Lisa Bettis

    I’m a 44 year old Mother of a 15yr. Old Daughter & 8yr. Old son. The key to making any of these idea’s work is to always stay calm when dealing with your child. I’ve learned the hard way, Yelling, getting angry, arguing never works. Just like adult’s when someone yell’s at us in mean, hateful manner it just fuels even more anger. Same for Children. If I can’t talk to my kid’s in a calm manner I’ll give them the ” Mom” look and say ” Will deal with this when we’ve had time to calm down, until then go sit in your room ” I’ll wait 15min or so then revisit the problem. ” Never ever argue with your children, this just Set’s them up for even more disrespectful behavior ” I tell my Daughter ” until you can talk to me with some respect, No talking at all”. My Daughter will usually apologize. My 8yr. Old son on the other hand is dealt with differently because of his age and the fact he is very hyper. Any punishment I give him is always to sit 8 min….He talk’s back, sit and no talking for 8 min. Us as parents are all learning. We will all do thing’s differently when raising our children. I pray the choices I make for my children are the best of my abilities for them. When I send them out in the world I hope they’ll be productive, positive members of society.

  • Ettina

    I don’t think children owe their parents respect. Respect should be earned, not demanded. If you are a good parent, with the right balance of caring and discipline, your children will naturally respect you, just like I respect my parents. But if you’re an authoritarian bully who expects blind obedience, then opposing you is the moral thing to do.